Sunday afternoon marked the conclusion of the 2017 racing season at Saratoga Casino Hotel. And what a season it was. Frank Coppola Jr. won his record-setting eleventh driving title in a year in which he took the lead midway through the campaign and just took off from there. The ageless Coppola repeated as top driver at the Spa behind a second half of the ’17 season in which he simply dominated. Trainer Melissa Beckwith won her sixth local training title after building an insurmountable lead early in the season and extending it throughout the campaign.
The winners of the 2017 awards will be announced at the mid-January banquet. As is often the case, there are a few “lock” winners and several categories that are wide open. The Pacer of the Year will almost certainly be Artful Way. The Jackie Greene trainee will be the second pacer to go back-to-back in the last four years as the winner of the ’16 top honors among pacers had an even better season in ’17. Artful Way, who won the local Open Pace eight times in 2016, recorded ten victories in the Saturday feature this year. And he did that in just twenty local starts. The five year old pacer spent a chunk of his season competing out of town as stablemate Titus Seelster also made a big impact in the local Open. Greene’s Titus Seelster won the Open twice in ’16 but here in 2017 registered four victories against the Spa’s top flight competition and therefore is one of the two nominees to vie for top pacing honors with Artful Way. Heidi Rohr’s Deetzy rounds out the trio.
Though he is a near cinch to repeat as Pacer of the Year, Artful Way is a big time competitor in the race to be named Horse of the Year as well. Veteran Twisted Pretzel has been a regular at Saratoga throughout his career and though he has previously been a solid force among trotters, he has never been close to achieving what he did in 2017. The Scott Mongeon- trained seven year old competed in each of his 36 starts this season at Saratoga, winning thirteen races and hitting the board 23 times en route to more than $120,000. Twisted Pretzel’s six Open victories were more than any other trotter this season. Up against Cash Me Out and Cincinnati Miss, Twisted Pretzel in a shoo-in for Trotter of the Year at the Spa and may well be the favorite for Horse of the Year honors.
The pacing mares that slugged it out on Friday nights in the Fillies and Mares Open had no clear-cut top dog. The ladies’ Open was wide open for most of the year- that was until downstate invader Truth And Liberty came to town. Monticello-based trainer Bob Lounsbury’s stable star rattled off six wins in just nine local starts this year, including five victories in the Open for distaffers. Truth And Liberty is a bit of an unconventional star for a half mile track, in that the gutsy mare doesn’t have much early speed. She is relegated to closing duties on a near weekly basis but won the Fillies and Mares Open three straight weeks and five times over a seven week span this fall, including several times from post eight. Last year’s Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year So Nice competed a dozen times at the Spa in ’17, winning four of them and hitting the board in nine of those local tries. All four of the veteran mare’s wins came while competing in the Open. Little Santamonica has always been impactful when the invader comes to town and 2017 was no different. In just eight local starts, Little Santamonica recorded four Open wins of her own. Her Own Land rounds out the group of nominees among top flight mares. She is the winningest of the lady pacers who are nominated with seven victories, though just one of those wins came in the Open. Truth And Liberty was the most dominant among the local distaffers and thus may be a slight favorite in a close race to be named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year.
As is the case pretty much every year, the nominees for claimers in ’17 are closely matched. Claiming trotter nominees for the lower level are Father’s Amiga, Need Help Here and Under The Stars. Need Help Here is looking to go back-to-back as claimer of the year for his level. The race among upper level claimers ($12,000 and up) is very tight with several competitive contenders which are Bobs Hope, Golden Tate, Keystone Ace, Long Story Short and Pasadena Star. Claiming pacers at the $6,000-$10,000 level are Clooney Drummond, Dabestleaderever and Hawaii And Sun while the claimers at the $12,000 and up level are Babinga Wood, Cracker Pullet, Macherati and Rockaholic with Babinga Wood emerging as the category’s big favorite. Among fillies and mares, the top claimer nominees are Bye Bye Michelle, First Delight, Happy Heart and Tataria.
Two year old nominees are Hal N Sammy, With Wings and NY Sire Stakes champion Jersey Jim among pacers while the freshman trot list of nominees includes Bonamassa, If Not Why Not, NY Spirit and Troller. Three year old pacers are Beckarama, Gorgeous Libby, Gussy’s Dragon, In A Single Bound and Some Attitude while top three year old trotters are Call My Broker, Cartier Volo, Coastal Region, Golden Kronos and Mind Your Manners. While Frank Coppola Jr. and Melissa Beckwith will be named Driver and Trainer of the Year, respectively, by way of the titles they won this year, some of the personal awards should be interesting to watch. Alek Chartrand will be the Johnny Page Award winner for top breakthrough driver while the nominees for the Peerless McGrath Award are Chartrand, Brett Derue and Jaymes Mcassey with Mcassey emerging as the favorite. The Horseman of the Year race could be a close one with Mark Beckwith, Coppola, Billy Dobson and Jim Devaux nominated while Horsewoman of the Year nominees are Melissa Beckwith, Jackie Greene and Heidi Rohr. What a year it was in 2017 and we congratulate all the nominees for the awards as well as all of the horses and horsepersons involved in making the ’17 campaign one of the best in track history. Live racing will resume on Sunday afternoon February 18th with a matinee beginning at 12:15pm. Until then, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck, the happiest and healthiest of holiday seasons and we’ll see YOU at the finish line in 2018!