Stalbaum Stars Shining in Spa Opens
Larry Stalbaum was a force in the Michigan harness racing circuit for decades in career that started in the 1980’s and really started to explode after the turn of the century. Stalbaum earned purses of over a million dollars as a driver every year from 2003 up until the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. Within that time, the standout horseman relocated from Michigan to New York where he has been a regular for coming up on two decades now. Traveling from track to track to participate both as a driver and a trainer, Stalbaum set up shop at Saratoga Casino Hotel a few years back and has enjoyed massive success in recent seasons.
The 60 year old standout owns more than 6,300 wins as a driver and is approaching the 1,500 win plateau as a trainer. His training tallies would be significant higher had he not ceded duties to Kim Asher upon coming to New York a few years after the turn of the decade. Here at Saratoga, Stalbaum has thrived as both as driver and trainer with his training really coming into focus in recent years. In the ’20 season, Stalbaum would likely have trained the Horse of the Year had there been a voting as his Crockets Cullen N was the dominant force among local pacers that year. Crockets Cullen N became a staple at the Spa in ’19 when he was named Pacer of the Year. Following a season in which there was no voting, Crockets Cullen N earned top honors among local pacers when in ’21 he again took home the trophy for Pacer of the Year and became the fourth horse in history to repeat that honor.
In 2021, while Crockets Cullen N remained the one of the top horses at Saratoga, his owner/trainer/driver Larry Stalbaum added his name to the history books at the Spa. The veteran horseman was the leading trainer at the track to be awarded Trainer of the Year and also took home the trophy for perhaps the track’s most prestigious annual award for Horseman of the Year in a season that saw him finish atop the trainer standings and third amongst local drivers.
The 2023 campaign at the Spa has looked a bit different for Stalbaum with the top-flight horseman racing only about half of his starts locally while competing at several other tracks throughout the state. Also, Stalbaum has handed the lines to other drives for the majority of his horses’ local starts. One thing that has remained constant for the ’21 Trainer of the Year is that his stable continues to pump out top-level talent to compete in Opens. Stalbaum’s Big Box Hanover was a Trotter of the Year nominee last season when he was the second leading money earner among local trainers by way of four Open wins. Early in the 2023 season, the Stalbaum trainee was a total force in the Open. After prevailing in the season’s first installment of the Open, Big Box Hanover rattled off three more scores in the trotting feature in March at the Spa. The six year old spent much of his summer and fall racing at Plainridge Park at Massachusetts adding a few more victories to his ’23 tally along the way. Stalbaum’s trotting star returned to Saratoga to compete in the Open on Sunday November 19th when young reinsman Matt Athearn sat behind Big Box Hanover and guided the talented trotter to his ninth win of the season and his sixth in the local Open. The six Open victories for Big Box Hanover tie him with Angel Nation for most among local high-steppers in the feature this year. Big Box Hanover will clearly be a nominee for Trotter of the Year at the Spa for the second consecutive season while in the midst of his incredible fifth straight campaign in which he has earned over $100,000 en route to a career bankroll of more than $600,000.
Stalbaum debuted a new lady pacer from his barn in last Monday’s installment of the Fillies and Mares Open. Magical Maya A had two winning qualifiers to her credit when she drew post four for her first U.S. start. The Aussie invader was the public’s 4-5 betting favorite off the strong qualifiers. Stalbaum piloted his new distaffer on Monday and settled Magical Maya A in early-on before brushing her A to the lead in a first quarter that went in just 29 seconds and never looked back. The five year old prevailed in her Spa debut winning the $15,000 Open in 1:56.1. The win for the promising mare was the second Open victory in just over a week for the Stalbaum stable who wouldn’t have to wait long for his next Open score.
Rocknroll Runa A won the season’s second Open Pace of the season contested back in February. After being a regular in the pacing feature early on in the meet, the Stalbaum trainee took to the road and competed at numerous tracks throughout the spring and summer. In fact, it wasn’t until October 7th when Rocknroll Runa A returned to the Spa where he prevailed in the Open. Matt Athearn, who guided Big Box Hanover to all but one of his local Open Trot victories this season, piloted Rocknroll Runa A to his February Open score but when the star six year old returned to town in October, Stalbaum assumed the reins himself sitting behind Rocknroll Runa A when he won his second local Open. Last Saturday, the speedy pacer was back in town and Stalbaum utilized the services of Athearn once again as Rockroll Runa A was saddled with post position eight while pursuing his third local Open score of the season. Athearn found early placement mid-pack with Rocknroll Runa A who came into the try as an eleven-time winner in 2023 and with seasonal earnings of more than $216,000. Athearn powered the race’s 4-5 up first-over approaching the half and the fast-footed phenom just unloaded on the leader before pacing himself into an insurmountable lead. Rocknroll Runa A was an impressive winner by almost three lengths in a mile clocked in 1:53.1 on the chilly December evening. Three straight Open wins at the Spa for Stalbaum trainees to give their trainer twelve Open scores in the ’23 campaign in a season in which the veteran horseman may not be atop the trainer standings but continues to thrive at the Spa where his stable has made about half of its seasonal starts. Magical Maya A joins fellow Aussie invader Rocknroll Runa A and talented high-stepper Big Box Hanover as Open stars out of the top-flight Stalbaum stable.
Live racing takes place every Saturday starting at 5pm and continues on Sundays and Mondays with matinees beginning at noon. This Tuesday (December 5) is the last of the Tuesday matinees for the season. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!