Season Wraps Up On a Snowy Saratoga Night
The 2013 racing season came to an end on Saturday night at Saratoga Casino and Raceway during the first significant snow storm of the winter. When Cigar Hall hit the wire first in the evening’s finale, the 73rd year of racing at the Spa was officially behind us. There were two Series Finals that took place on closing night for claiming trotters and pacers who took part in brief series’ in the past few weeks. Both Series Finals had odds-on favorites who were claimed out of the second leg of the series to compete in the Finals but on the snowy night, in races contested at varying distances, it would not be the favorites’ night.
Donttellmywife has had a dominant couple of months at Saratoga and wound up as the overwhelming favorite to the win the Final for trotters. The veteran trotter has been a winning machine since mid-October, securing a pair of victories in the $5,000 claimers and another pair in the $7,500 claimer before a second place finish at the $10,000 level. Leg One of the Series was a regular mile long race that saw Donttellmywife prevail by three and a half lengths. Following a claim, the classy gelding cruised to a nearly ten length laugher in Leg Two of the series and headed into the Saturday Final as a major favorite. To be eligible for the Final, horses needed to compete in both legs of the SHHA Trotting Series and gather enough points to make the Final. That wasn’t a problem for Donttellmywife who was the betting public’s 1-5 favorite in a Final that had a much different look to it than any other race we saw contested all year. In order to win the Final, Donttellmywife would need to prevail throughout three laps while on the front end as the race was contested at a distance of a mile and a half. The seven year old trotting veteran, who came into Saturday’s Final only a nose away from a seven race win streak, coasted through the first mile or so on Saturday night before getting a test from Psyched, the only other horse to be claimed out of the series.
While all signed pointed towards a Donttellmywife victory heading into the snowy Final, his chances appeared all the more convincing when drew the rail for the mile and a half mini-marathon. Psyched and driver Jay Randall would wind up having their say in the $10,600 Final though as they brushed up to give the favorite his first test with a quarter of a mile remaining in the race. Just as he did the previous week, Psyched flexed his muscles in the stretch and after overpowering Donttellmywife, held off rival Stormont O My to secure the win. Psyched went a mile and a half in 3:03.3 to score a big victory at the end of the meet for co-owner and trainer Jody Weidman. If his season is over, Donttellmywife, who earned the show spot on Saturday, wraps up the campaign with eleven victories in twenty starts with a record in his local starts of six for ten in the win column.
While not quite as big of a favorite as his trotting counterpart Donttellmywife, Johnny Grippa was the one to beat in the Pacing Final for horses who had a $5,000 claiming tag attached in Leg One and a $6,000 one for the second leg. Johnny Grippa came into the Final not only as a winner of three straight races but as the winningest horse of the season at the Spa. Trained by Jose Godinez all year long, Johnny Grippa made fourteen trips to the winner’s circle, eclipsing trotter CSI What’s My Name as the horse with the most local victories. Leg One of the pacing series was right up Johnny Grippa’s alley as it was contested at a distance of three quarters of a mile. The five year old is one of the quickest horses off the gate at the start of the mile that races at Saratoga so getting to race in a sprint was made for him. In Leg Two, Johnny Grippa again went wire to wire with ease and established himself as the favorite for the Final. While Donttellmywife was claimed in Leg One of the series only to return to his previous connections for the Final, Johnny Grippa moved barns after a claim in the series’ second leg. Conditioner Rene Allard claimed Johnny Grippa and acquired himself a pacer who would be the 3-5 favorite in a race where he would get the chance to get almost all of his money back in the matter of one week.
With early speed being his best asset, Johnny Grippa would have a bit of a daunting task ahead of him on Saturday night, needing to survive a mile and a quarter in order to complete the series sweep. Getting the early lead was no problem for Johnny Grippa who once again was winning turning for home but perhaps the extra distance proved to be too much for him. 7-1 shot B Blissfull, who had been a runner up to Johnny Grippa in two of the last three weeks, closed up the passing lane to win the Final in a time of 2:28.3 for the mile and a quarter over the snowy Spa oval. Ludi Christy, who had a win and a second in the two legs, was the runner up while longshot Celestial Dreams closed for third. Johnny Grippa had to settle for a disappointing fourth place finish. It wasn’t the favorites’ night in the SHHA Claiming Series Finals as Psyched and B Blissfull stole the show in the snow on closing night.
For the fourth consecutive year, Billy Dobson was the Saratoga driving champion, winning by a convincing margin over Stephane Bouchard. Melissa Beckwith secured her third consecutive training title by edging out Heidi Rohr. The season will forever be remembered for the world record performance that took place in August. Bolt The Duer not only broke the track record in the $275,000 Joe Gerrity Jr Memorial Pace but matched the world record with his dazzling 1:49 score. The fans roared for minutes as driver Mark MacDonald paraded Bolt The Duer back to the winner’s circle in one of the most exciting moments the track has ever seen. There was no clear cut top horse in any of the Opens this year which should make for an interesting awards ceremony next weekend at the annual holiday banquet. My final column for the season will be a recap of the 2013 award winners next week. Another year in the books and an historic one it was at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. 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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