In seasons past, horses such as Lorenzo Dream and Mymomsablizzard dominated the Friday night action en route to being named Trotter of the Year and Horse of the Year. Last season, there was no clear cut trotting star and the Trotter of the Year race ended in a tie. It was the first time a non-Open horse took home at least a share of the award. CSI What’s My Name had a sensational season amongst claiming trotters at the Spa and finished in a tie for top trotting honors with Open competitor Bound For Fame. While a picture of consistency when competing at Saratoga, Bound For Fame only competed fifteen times locally (hitting the board in thirteen of them) and earned just enough votes to split the award with CSI What’s My Name. The fact that there was no clear cut top horse in any category gave us every indication that the wide open nature of the Opens would spill over to this season.
On Saturday nights in 2013, the Open Pace was so up-for-grabs as no horse stood out as the one to beat for any consistent stretch of time all year. From the end of June until the end of the season, there were 21 different winners in the final 23 installments of the Saturday Open. Bet On Roulette was one of only two horses to win the Open Pace as many as three times in a year where the feature was never more wide open. On the trotting side, while Bound For Fame was the most consistent factor when he was in town, there was no dominant winner in the trotting feature either. The first month of the 2014 campaign saw the trend of no repeat Open winners continue for the pacers or trotters. That is until Slugfest’s recent breakout.
Slugfest was a New York Sire Stakes star in his two and three year old seasons for trainer-driver Ray Schnittker. Immediately following his try in the Night of Champions in his sophomore season, the young trotter came to Saratoga and joined the Maureen Salino barn. Still fitting low “non-winners” races, Slugfest scored a victory in his first start out of the Salino stable and went on to win three of his first four starts. Jay Randall has been the regular driver for Slugfest in his post-Sire Stakes career.
After climbing the class ranks at Saratoga, Slugfest has become a factor while taking part in Open company. As a four year old last season, Slugfest established himself as a solid competitor in Open Two, the “undercard” to the Open. He rattled off several victories at that level and that allowed him to move up into the feature to compete about a dozen times. Unable to secure an Open win in the ’13 campaign, Slugfest was the runner up four times in the Friday feature including in a stretch of three consecutive weeks. In his final start of last year, the son of Conway Hall recorded a lifetime mark when he won in 1:56.3 in wire to wire fashion on a cold December night in Saratoga.
The hope of Slugfest’s owners Tom Vassilou and Nick Tallarico had to be that the sensational final start of last year would spill over to this season. What the now five year old trotter has done to start this year has probably far surpassed even their highest of hopes. In his first race of the ’14 season, Slugfest was in the $17,000 Open and got shuffled all the way back to seventh at the three quarter pole. The breakout local trotting star flew home and passed all of his rivals but one to once again be the runner up in the trotting feature. Slugfest would soon shake his Open “seconditis” though. In the start following his second place finish, Randall didn’t waste any time moving Slugfest to the front end and the rising star amongst local trotters secured his first ever Open victory, stopping the timer in 1:59 over a sloppy track. After breaking the seal on the Open wins, the victories have just kept coming. Slugfest became the first trotter to win back to back features this season as he again went wire to wire in his following start, prevailing in 1:57.2. The final time matched fellow Open trotter Turtle Express as the fastest for any trotter in the young season. Last weekend, Slugfest was assigned post eight in pursuit of a very rare Open threepeat. A razor sharp Slugfest was just as aggressive this week from the outside post as Randall blasted the Salino stable star out and didn’t stop til he reached the top. Once Slugfest got to the lead, there was no catching him. A rare hat trick in an Open of any kind was recorded by Slugfest who scored a 1:58.1 victory for his third ever win in a feature and third in a row. The career numbers for Slugfest are in 68 starts, the trotter has 15 wins, 18 seconds and 9 thirds en route to just shy of $275,000 lifetime earnings. It’s been a springtime tear for Slugfest who has established himself as not only a formidable Open trotter but one that has become what very few top horses at the Spa have in the past couple of years, a dominant Open force.
Live racing takes place this week on Wednesday through Saturday nights with first post times each night set for 6:45pm. Sunday matinees start back up this week with action beginning at 12:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!