In my opinion, this is the first year in the last few that we have a nominee that is the clear cut Horse of the Year. Panocchio was the most dominant force the Open Pace has seen in the last several years as he took the Spa by storm this summer in his first year competing as an Open horse. Panocchio, a five year old pacer trained by Jimmy Mattison, won the local Open seven times. Making that number more impressive is that the pacing star didn’t make his first local start of the season until mid-May and shipped back down south to Pompano Park in mid-October. In the six months that he was here, Panocchio was the dominant force in the regular Saturday feature. To put his accomplishments into perspective, no horse won more than three times in the Open Pace in 2013. One of those pacers, Bet On Roulette, is one of the other nominees up against Panocchio in this year’s race to be Aged Pacer and Pacer of the Year. Island Jet and Ronny Bugatti round out the nominees in the top pacing category.
While Panocchio seems like a near cinch to be the Spa’s Pacer of the Year, the race to be Trotter of the Year is one of the closest. Slugfest is the highest earning trotter this season, accruing over $87,000 at the time that the ballots were sent out. The Maureen Salino trainee was dominant early in the year and though he had a quieter summer has picked things back up late in the campaign. Trainer Paul Kelley has two of the nominees for Trotter of the Year as his tandem of Obrigado and Crazy About Pat each dazzled at times this summer. Together they won eleven times in twenty starts at the Spa. Obrigado tallied five wins and five seconds in twelve local starts, often overcoming outside posts to do his damage. Baby Boy Grin rounds out the nominees for the track’s top trotter for 2014.
Last season there was such an even split amongst voters that pacing mares Let’s Go Higher and Bell On Wheels each took home trophies. Let’s Go Higher has once again been such a solid Open threat in the Fillies and Mares feature that she is one of the three nominees in ’14. Campanile competed just twelve times at the Spa this year but behind five wins and four seconds has a big chance to be named the track’s top distaff pacer. Road Bet made her presence felt immediately after coming to town and has become a force in the Sunday feature for fillies and mares. Not much separates these three mares in the statistics so we are certainly in store for another close vote to determine the Spa’s top lady pacer for 2014.
There are so many quality claimers that compete each year at Saratoga that the votes are almost always close when determining the top claiming pacers and trotters. The four nominees for $5,000-$7,500 pacer all have very comparable stats. Big Bambu, Celestial Dreams, Major Stone and RD Donethat all have solid cases that could be made for them. The $12,500-$15,000 claimers feature Avogadro Hanover, Clooney Drummond, Legacy N Diamonds and This Is Wyatt while the $20,000 and up nominees are Coach Cal, Dash N and My Sugar Daddy. Claiming trotters at the lower level that are nominated include Dancin Thea, Four Starz Trump, Livid Luke, S F Ciro and Savage Cinderella. Claimers of $12,500 and above is a wide open group consisting of Baby Boy Grin, Fear The Football, Jack’s Reef, Morosita Bi and V I P. Claiming pacing mares from $5,000-$7,500 are Canamerica, Nifty Ace, Princess Bliss and Terror To Cam. Lady pacers at the $10,000 claiming level and above include Bettor B Genuine, Legerdepan and Shortest Distance. Both of the mares’ categories are wide open as a solid case could be made for any of the nominees.
The guideline for two year old horses to be eligible for awards is simply that they must have raced a minimum of two times at Saratoga in their freshman season. Two year old pacers nominated are Cowgirl Forever, Here Comes Karma, Mister Skitter and Starznheaven while the trotters are Cruzinwithmuscles, Henry Lee Brook and Kinda Naughty. Three year olds must have started at least five times at the Spa this year. Sophomore pacer nominees are Jokes Jet, Rock N Joe, Royal Reception, Sassy Hanover and Spreester. Trotters on the ballot are Cash Me Out, Flyhawk Thriller, Morning Joe and Stirling Cadet.
The “people” award nominees are as follows: Driver of the Year- Billy Dobson, Jordan Derue, Bruce Aldrich Jr and Wally Hennessey. Trainer of the Year- Melissa Beckwith, Jordan Derue, Allan Johnson, Heidi Rohr and Jackie Rousse. Horseman of the Year nominees are Bruce Aldrich Jr, Jordan Derue, Billy Dobson and Allan Johnson while Horsewomen include Melissa Beckwith, Monica Krist, Heidi Rohr, Jackie Rousse and Margaret Spagnola. Peerless McGrath Award nominees for up-and-coming trainer are Don Sherman and Alek Chartrand while Chartrand is also a Johnny Page award candidate for up-and-coming driver along with Austin Siegelman. The Groom of the Year will be announced at the banquet as well. As has been the case in so many years past, while there are some near shoo-ins, most of the awards are up for grabs in what has been another very competitive year of racing at the Spa. We will announce all of this year’s winners in this season’s final column in two weeks.
Only two weeks remain in the 2014 campaign with racing scheduled this week for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings beginning at 6:45pm and Sunday afternoon at 12:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!