The 77th racing season in the history of Saratoga Casino Hotel kicked off on a spring-like Sunday afternoon in the Spa City. Along with a t-shirt giveaway in conjunction with the purchase of a live racing program, there were 77 cent hot dog and beer specials and the opening race-card was highlighted by a $7,777 guarantee in the pick five pool. The matinee program presented co-features with a $12,000 Open Trot and a $12,000 Open Pace to kick off the ’18 campaign. Ulster wrapped up his ’17 campaign on a three race win streak and on Sunday kicked off his 2018 season in style as he prevailed in the season’s first feature. The Amanda Facin-trained trotter overcame his outside post to record the victory in 1:57.1, doing so at odds of 7-2. Do Over Hanover prevailed in the season’s first Open Pace, scoring in 1:54 with Billy Dobson in the sulky.
The racing calendar for the month of February consists of five matinee cards, opening weekend’s Sunday and Monday programs joined by afternoon cards this Thursday and Sunday as well as one on the following Thursday afternoon. The ’18 season goes into its regular schedule starting in March when Friday and Saturday night action joins the matinees. The 2017 racing season, which concluded in mid-December, officially wrapped up in January with the annual awards banquet. It was there when Artful Way was recognized as Saratoga’s 2017 Horse of the Year.
The Jackie Greene trainee was the Pacer of the Year in ’16, an honor that he repeated in ’17 in addition to adding the hardware for Horse of the Year. Artful Way won the Open Pace ten times last season serving as the star for Greene and the Kellogg Racing Stables. The Kellogg Stables won the Open Pace an unheard of sixteen times in ’17 behind the efforts of four different standouts. The Kellogg Stables and Greene had the Horse of the Year for the second straight season as their Stirling Cadet earned top honors in 2016. Owner Wayne Kellogg was recognized at the banquet with the first ever Dedication Award as well as the longtime standardbred owner enjoyed an historic 2017 campaign and did so while dealing with several health issues.
A Saratoga veteran took home the award for Trotter of the Year at the January banquet as the Scott Mongeon-trained Twisted Pretzel earned top honors among highsteppers. Behind fourteen wins (six coming in the Open), Twisted Pretzel had his career year, earning more than $120,000, significantly more than any other local trotter. The race for Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year was quite a bit tighter. With no one standout lady pacer competing in ’17, out of town distaffer Truth And Liberty took home the award after prevailing six times in just nine local starts with five of those victories coming in the Open.
Frank Coppola Jr. won his record-breaking twelfth driving title last season and subsequently was named both Driver of the Year and Horseman of the Year. The winningest driver in Saratoga history, Coppola, who is the regular chauffeur for Greene and the Kellogg Stables, won his second straight championship. The veteran reinsman hasn’t lost a step and was the dominant force among drivers in the Opens in 2017 led by the outstanding season of Artful Way. Though Melissa Beckwith was the Trainer of the Year in ’17, it was Greene who took home the award for Horsewoman of the Year. Driver Alek Chartrand earned the Johnny Page Award for top breakthrough driver while Jaymes Mccassey took home the Peerless McGrath Award for breakthrough trainer.
Need Help Here became a rare claimer to go back to back as claiming Trotter of the Year. The Kyle Spagnola trainee was top among trotters at the $6,000-$10,000 level. Brett Derue’s Golden Tate won a close race among top level claiming trotters. Pacing Claimers of the Year were George Merton’s Hawaii And Sun ($6,000-$10,000) and Babinga Wood ($12,000 and up), who was trained by Bob Uhl. Filly and Mare Claimer of the Year in 2017 was the Beckwith stable’s Tataria. Top two year olds were New York Sire Stakes champion Jersey Jim (trained by Perry Simser) and Maureen Salino’s Bonamassa. Three year old awards went to Beckarama on the pace and Coastal Region for trotters.
While it is far too soon to even give a thought to the 2018 awards, who knows…perhaps opening day gave a glimpse of one or several horses who could be up for top honors when this season wraps up a long ten months from now. The racing calendar for the year will consist (almost every week) of Thursday and Sunday afternoon cards with action under the lights on Friday and Saturday evenings beginning at 6:45pm. In these final couple weeks of February though, it will be exclusively matinees with afternoon racing kicking off at 12:15pm on President’s Day then on Thursdays and Sundays. We’re back! Season number 77 is underway. Come out and join us for live harness racing action this spring at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!