Sardella’s Column

Training Race Shaping Up to Be a Good One


Billy Dobson has been the dominant force in the sulky for the last several years at Saratoga Casino and Raceway and the track’s leading driver is well on his way to his fifth consecutive driving title at the Spa. Dobson, a Michigan native had never been a track’s top driver before coming to Saratoga in 2010 but didn’t take long to make his mark locally. At the age of 26 in his first full season at the Spa, Dobson won his first driving title by edging out the then-defending champ Frank Coppola Jr. In the years that followed, no one would get close to Dobson again in the driver standings as he has gone on to tally four straight driving titles heading into this season. The now thirty year old reinsman continues to be the track’s top sulky star and is in line for the crown for the fifth consecutive year. 

             While Dobson is pretty much running away with the driving championship this year (barring something unforeseen), the race to be the track’s leading trainer is up for grabs. For the past three seasons, Melissa Beckwith has bested the local trainers in the standings and is attempting to complete a rare training grand slam in ’14. Beckwith is one of the four trainers to be close enough to the top of the standings to be considered as a possibility to be the top conditioner this season. The only trainer with more starts thus far in the ’14 campaign is Heidi Rohr. Rohr ended up second among local trainers last year and won the awards for both Trainer of the Year and Horsewoman of the Year in 2013 after accruing the highest total purses of any trainer. Rohr has horses in a host of classes and once again has amassed more purse money than any other local trainer with still three months remaining in the racing season. Rohr has scored a few more wins than Beckwith and currently sits second in the trainer standings. 
             The track’s current leading trainer is a horseman that has competed at Saratoga for several seasons now but is only a few years removed from being named the track’s top up-and-coming driver. Jordan Derue has been establishing himself among local drivers for the past few seasons but it has only been in the last couple of years that he has become a top flight trainer. The 24 year old Derue opened up a pretty big training lead during the summer and despite having a dozen or two less starts than fellow top trainers Beckwith and Rohr maintains a small lead. Derue has a slightly higher win percentage than his closest pursuers in the standings and owns a significantly higher UDRS (training average) than the rest of the trainers near the top due to the fact that among Derue’s “non winners”, he has had more than ten second place finishes than either Rohr or Beckwith.
              Derue rode a pair of claiming pacing mares out to the training lead right from the get-go in the 2014 campaign. Mares Canamerica and Bettor B Genuine put together an incredible start to their seasons for Derue. Canamerica won five of her first six races this year and went on to hit the board in fifteen of sixteen starts for Derue before the mare was claimed from him just a few weeks ago. Canamerica’s stablemate all spring and into the summer Bettor B Genuine had nearly as impressive of a run. Racing almost exclusively in the $12,500 claimers, Bettor B Genuine had a little bit of “seconditis” this spring as she was the runner up in seven of ten starts beginning in April. She then discovered the winning way and rattled off three straight victories to start the summer. Like Canamerica, Bettor B Genuine was claimed from Jordan but not before scoring four wins to go with eight second place finishes and three thirds in 21 tries. While he has had some starts with horses in Open company, the majority of Derue’s victories have come with claimers. A mixture of successful trotters and pacers have given the young horseman a legitimate chance to become Saratoga’s leading trainer for the first time. Though there are still a lot of races to be run this year, Derue would seem to be the big favorite to earn the postseason award for Horseman of the Year as he not only has been atop the trainer standings for nearly the entire year but also sits in sixth in the driver standings. 
             Rounding out the top four local trainers is out-of-town based conditioner Allan Johnson. Johnson is the trainer of 2012 Saratoga Horse of the Year Mymomsablizzard but while that mare isn’t currently competing, there is a different pair of trotters who have established themselves as dominant forces at Saratoga this year. Claiming trotters Morosita Bi and V I P were both Johnson acquisitions this season and his local success this year can in large part be attributed to those two talented trotters. Morosita Bi was claimed by Johnson early this season and has simply gone on a tear. The four year old mare has become a consistent 1:57 trotter and has utilized a mix of early speed and closing ability to win ten times heading into last Sunday’s race. The mare has been taking on the top level claimers at the Spa and is one of the track’s winningest horses this season. V I P was a winning machine last year while competing at Monticello Raceway and Northfield Park. The then-seven year old won an incredible seventeen races last season and picked up right where he left off in 2013 when he came to town this spring. V I P has been successful for all connections that have had him as he has been claimed on a couple of occasions this season at the Spa. Johnson acquired V I P in early July via a claim and the trotter has thrived under his care. The speedy highstepper finished first or second in all six starts for Johnson since the claim heading into his Sunday tilt in which he started from the rail. Johnson has won a couple of Opens this year as well with former Saratoga two year old Pacer of the Year Ronny Bugatti in what has been a huge season for Johnson who currently sits fourth in the trainer standings and second in purses earned. While the driving title certainly looks like it will be Dobson’s once again, the race to be the track’s leading trainer is still wide open.
             Live racing takes place every Thursday through Saturday night with 6:45pm first posts and on Sunday afternoons beginning 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!         

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