Two series’ for lower level claimers got underway last weekend at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. This is the second straight year in which there have been series’ for $5,000 claimers to compete for bigger money than they have ever battled for before. The two series’ are not your run-of-the-mill competitions either. There are several nuances that make the races different and the strategies as far as potential claims unique. The Spa Loyalty Claiming Series’ are for horses whose trainers who have competed at Saratoga in at least half of their year’s starts. There are two legs in each series leading up to finals which will go for estimated purses of $25,000.
The Spa Loyalty Trotting Series got underway on Friday night and there were three divisions for $5,000 claiming trotters. The leg one races were regular one mile trotting events with horses starting to accrue points towards the rich final set for November 28th. Bluebird Jamaican was the fastest among leg one winners on Friday, scoring a nearly seven length score for trainer Jody Weidman and driver Jay Randall in 2:00.2. Veteran trotter Dancin Thea brought a two race win streak into her division of the series. The heavily favored mare brushed to the lead and became another open length winner in leg one, stopping the timer in 2:00.3. The third division saw longshot Game Changer overcome a nearly fifteen length deficit before coming on to prevail in 2:02.1, by far the slowest division on Friday night.
The most interesting aspects of the trotting series are two-fold. Leg one was the only one in which horses could be claimed out of. Owners and trainers had their chance to enter claims in leg one and would be guaranteed to have that trotter for leg two and if they qualify, the $25,000 Final. There were eight claims entered on five different horses in leg one with Dancin Thea being the only winner to be claimed. For $5,000 (or in Dancin Thea’s case $6,000 as she brings a mare allowance), these trotters new connections will get a shot at not only another $7,500 purse in leg two but will compete for their share of the $25,000 purse in the final if they accrue enough points to qualify for it since there is no claiming out of leg two.
The second unique and interesting aspect of the series is that the three weeks races will all cover varying distances. While the first leg consisted of one mile competitions, next Friday’s second leg races will be contested at a distance of a mile and 1/16. The $25,000 Final will serve as a mini-marathon as it will cover a mile and a quarter. Endurance will be key for these trotters who have competed all year long and now face their biggest challenge of the year in the racing season’s final month.
Saturday night served as the kickoff for the Spa Loyalty Pacing Series. This three week long competition is far different than even the trotting series contested on Friday night. While the trotting series was filled with almost exclusively $5,000 trotters, the pace saw a mixed group of $5,000 and $7,500 claimers. The claiming tag in leg one of the pace was $6,500 which made for interesting strategies for prospective claims. Driver Bruce Aldrich Jr. dominated the 3/4 mile dash races as he piloted wins in all three divisions. Aldrich scored front running victories with Reminic and Amped Up and came from off the pace with Celestial Dreams who emerged from a blanket finish with the win. Reminic was the fastest of the three leg one winners stopping the timer in 1:25 for three quarters of a mile while both Celestial Dreams and Amped Up’s scores came in 1:25.2.
There were a total of nine claims on six different horses in leg one of the series as several owners and trainers took advantage of the fact that the leg two claiming price will be $9,000. Two winners, Reminic and Celestial Dreams, were claimed and must compete in leg two of the series in order to be eligible for the $25,000 Final on November 29th. The strategy ensues now for potential leg two claims. Is it worth paying $9,000 for a horse previously in a 5,000 or 7,500 claimer? Does the chance to compete for $25,000 outweigh the cost of “buying high” on a horse eligible to compete in the Final? These aspects make the second leg of the series very interesting next Saturday night. The buzz that came from the highly competitive and unique races that made up the first leg of the series is likely to result in similar style races or series being offered next year. Fans no doubt enjoyed what wound up being exciting stretch drives and close photo finishes in the series’ first leg and will be treated to the variety that leg two and the final of the series will bring. You can be sure that whether there is significant or minimal claiming activity in leg two, the 1 1/16 mile Final will prove to be a great one. Keep an eye on the two Spa Loyalty Claiming Series’ as they unfold in the next two weeks as the connection changes and varying distances of the races are sure to create as much excitement as we saw in the first week of action.
Live racing takes place this week on Thursday through Saturday night beginning at 6:45pm and on Sunday afternoon kicking off 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