Every year there are series’ that take place in the springtime that honor the memory of different horsemen and women that were instrumental in the 75 year history of racing at Saratoga. Last week, there were three series’ that kicked off featuring some of the top young horses at the Spa honoring the memory of past horsemen John Mongeon Sr. and JP Morel and the “first lady” of Saratoga Harness Virginia O’Brien. The series’ are for trotters and pacers that are five year olds and younger and have yet to achieve any kind of big time success thus far in their young careers.
The John Mongeon Sr. Memorial series got underway on Thursday afternoon. This is the fourth installment of the annual series that honors the longtime Saratoga horseman. Trotters that are five year olds and younger and were non-winners of two races or $20,000 lifetime (with an extra allowance for mares) as of March 21st were eligible for the series. The Mongeon series attracted enough young trotters to allow for four divisions of the first leg which each went for a purse of $7,500. Band Winsome was the fastest of the leg one winners on Thursday as the mare who was faced with tackling a rival who went off as the 1-5 favorite wound scoring impressively after her major danger made a break at the start of the race. Band Winsome, who was the only of the leg one winners to not go coast to coast for her victory, stamped herself as perhaps the one to beat in the Mongeon after scoring in 1:58.3 on Thursday.
HMS Firecracker overcame post position eight in his division of the Mongeon to prevail in 1:59.2. The four year old trotter is one to watch in the series as he has found a home for himself over the past month or so since joining the stable of conditioner Andy Sardella. HMS Firecracker followed up a second place finish in his debut for his new trainer with three consecutive victories after scoring wire-to-wire in leg one of the Mongeon. A Jersey Contract and Palmers Pride were the other series winners as they each prevailed on the front end on Thursday. A Jersey Contract was making just his second start of the year when he cruised to victory after having two of his chief challengers make breaks. After a solid two year old season in which he recorded a pair of victories, A Jersey Contract certainly offers major upside as the series moves forward. Palmers Pride was the “slowest” winner of leg one but could still be the one to beat among the young trotters. Don Sherman trains and drives Palmers Pride who is just now in his first season of racing despite the fact that he is five years old. While the late bloomer Palmers Pride’s victory came in just 2:00.2 on Thursday, the trotter has already recorded a 1:58.4 score this year and now has three wins, two seconds and a third in his six career starts. Leg two of the series will take place on Saturday with horses having their final chance to record points toward the Mongeon Final on Sunday May 15th which is set to go for a purse of $28,700.
Friday night kicked off the annual Virginia O’Brien Pacing Series. It is only fitting that the series which honors the memory of one of the most influential women in track history is comprised of fillies and mares. There were three divisions of the first leg of the O’Brien for lady pacers who were non-winners of three races or $25,000 lifetime as of March 21st. Unlike leg one of the Mongeon where two of the winners were the favorites, none of the favorites prevailed in the first leg of the O’Brien. 4-1 shots Frontier Sarah and B B Royale each secured Friday victories in 1:55.4 while longshot Harlot’s Dream lit up the toteboard while dismissed at odds of 50-1. Brian Cross co-owns, trains and drives the mare Harlot’s Dream who came from well off the pace to pull off the big time upset. While the race certainly set up for a closer, Harlot’s Dream had to earn the win by bypassing the race’s favorite Southwind Marilyn in the stretch. Southwind Marilyn was the only one of the favorites in leg one of the O’Brien to finish in the top three in their respective divisions. If the first leg is any indication of what the rest of the series will bring, we could be in store for some really good races as the O’Brien series moves towards the second leg next week with the $27,500 Final scheduled for Saturday May 14th.
Longtime local driving standout JP Morel passed away in 2012 and the annual pacing series in his honor kicked off on Saturday night. There were just two divisions of the first leg of Morel Series. In The Huddle went coast to coast with Kim Crawford in the sulky, prevailing in a career best-matching 1:55. It was just the third start of the season for In The Huddle who was by far the faster of the two winners in the series’ first leg. Brigadoon brought a three race win streak into the Saturday series, a streak that dates back to last year. Billy Dobson pilots the three year old pacer who continued his winning ways as he scored for the fourth consecutive time, stopping the timer in 1:56.3. There was no dominant force in either division of the first leg of the Morel pace which should make for an interesting leg two as they head towards the series final set for Saturday May 14th. The track will feature a rare doubleheader this Saturday on Kentucky Derby day and the matinee portion of the doubleheader will consist of mostly series races. The Mongeon, O’Brien and Morel Series’ second legs will all take place on the Saturday afternoon card as the trotters and pacers get their final chance to qualify for the series’ finals that will be contested the following weekend.
Live racing takes place this week on Thursday starting at 4:00 and continues on Friday night beginning at 6:45pm. The lone doubleheader for the season is set for Saturday and there will be a Sunday matinee as well. First post for the afternoon race cards is 12:15pm while Saturday night’s program will kick off at 6:45pm, soon after the completion of the Kentucky Derby. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!