It’s hard to believe but as we enter this week’s action at Saratoga Casino Hotel, there are only three weeks remaining in the 2019 racing season. Time has certainly flown by and with the campaign entering its home stretch, the award nominees were named this week for the end of the season holiday banquet which will take place on December 21st. The Driver of the Year and Trainer of the Year are all but decided as the leading driver and trainer, respectively, will take home the honors. Billy Dobson is poised to win his seventh driving title at Saratoga this season and will subsequently take home the award for Driver of the Year. The training title will be won for the eighth time by Melissa Beckwith who will be named Trainer of the Year for that achievement.
The awards for Horseman and Horsewoman of the Year are bit more up for grabs as there are several viable candidates this season. Horseman of the Year favorites are Dobson, who helps run the Monica Krist stable as well as being the meet’s leading driver, and Mark Beckwith, who will likely finish fifth in the driver standings on top of running the top stable along with wife Melissa. Joining Dobson and Beckwith as Horseman of the Year nominees are Jimmy Devaux and Jay Randall, who sit second and third in the driver standings and Gary Levine, who is in the midst of his best season as a trainer and will likely finish up as the runner-up for the training title. Joining Melissa Beckwith as Horsewoman of the Year nominees are Jackie Greene, Lisa Zabielski, Monica Krist and Michelle Crawford. There is a clear favorite for the Johnny Page Award for top breakthrough driver as Steeven Genois has put together a career year in ’19 sitting seventh in the standings among local reinsmen. Steve Rybka is the other nominee for the Johnny Page Award as the “rookie” is enjoying a strong freshman season at the Spa. Rybka is also nominated for the Peerless McGrath Award for top breakthrough trainer but runs into a statistical juggernaut as Lisa Zabielski is the clear favorite for the award as she is likely to finish third in the trainer standings in ’19.
The nominees for Two Year old awards are, for pacers, Chuppah On, Herecomesbullville, Notsoplainjane and Repeal Or Replace and for trotters, Bropain, C And T’s Credit and Itsoneofthose. Chuppah On and C And T’s Credit would appear to be favorites to take home the honors which is somewhat noteworthy because the great majority of the races for awards this season have no clear-cut favorite. Three Year Old Pacer of the Year contenders are Chase You, Grey Roots, Lady Elvis and Sweet Deisel while the top sophomore trotters are Certify, Im Tp’s Crazed Bro, It Ain’t The Whisky and Powerscourt. Two year olds are required to have started at least three times at Saratoga to be eligible while three year olds need to have a minimum of ten local races on their card in the ’19 campaign.
With the reduced amount of claiming races contested at the Spa this season, there will be four awards given out to claimers- two for pacing colts and geldings, one for pacing mares and one for trotters. The awards for claiming pacers are divided into $7,500-$12,500 and $15,000 and up levels. The group of nominees for lower level claimers is Cool Jack, Gitn Drunkonaplane, Hi Ho Steverino and Top Of The Mark. The higher level claimers are Allstar Energy, Howmacsblackjack, JK Nowornever and Northern Rebel. Claiming Pacing Mare of the Year will go to Fade To Gold, Pancakes or UF Lana Rae. The Claiming Trotter of the Year nominees are Blitz Victory, I M Fishin, New York Chrome, Pistols Aspiration and Windsun Missile.
The races for Pacer, Trotter and Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year have never been closer than they are this season. Without a horse whose stats just overwhelm, the voting is likely to be close once again this year in the three categories. Pacer of the Year seemed like a shoo-in a couple months ago as the Jackie Greene-trained Hudson Phil won the Open Pace eight times in a span from March through August. Greene has trained the Pacer of the Year in the last three years as her Artful Way has threepeated and this season she has a chance for another award with Hudson Phil. What seemed to be a foregone conclusion this summer has become a battle in recent months as Larry Stalbaum’s Crockets Cullen N has done something that has maybe never been done before at Saratoga. On Saturday night, Crockets Cullen N won his eighth consecutive Open Pace at the Spa though only the first six of those victories will be considered by the voters as the statistics closed a couple weeks back for the awards so that voters have sufficient time to make their selections. Joining those two Open stalwarts for Pacer of the Year consideration are In A Single Bound, who actually has more money earned in his local starts than any of his competitors, and Century Endeavor, who broke out this season and joined the ranks of the elite pacers at the track. The battle for Pacer of the Year will certainly be one to watch.
The Trotter of the Year competition is also fierce as two horses who rose to the Open ranks join a Spa newbie and a classy veteran as nominees for the track’s top award for high-steppers. Mugshots Bro won the Open four times this year and for a time was the one to beat among top-flight trotters. Cartier Volo is a rare trotting mare to be nominated for top honors as though she recorded just two Open wins, the Spa regular did earn the second most money of any trotter at the track this season at the time that the statistics closed for voting. Mister Muscle has become a force out of the Beckwith barn after debuting at Saratoga this summer. He has the third highest earnings of any trotter despite having raced just 16 times at the time nominees were compiled. The favorite for the award is a horse very familiar to local racing fans. Veteran Cash Me Out was the Two and Three Year Old Trotter of the Year at the Spa several years back and now at age eight, with more than $1 million in lifetime earnings, is still racing at a top level. Behind six Open victories in ‘19, Cash Me Out has amassed more earnings than any other trotter this year and thus is the likely favorite for the award. Three lady pacers that will battle for the Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year award are Bontz N, Happy Heart and Spreester. Spreester is looking to go back-to-back among local distaffers and if she were to win would be the first horse to take home an award four different times as she was named Two and Three Year Old Pacer of the Year in 2013 and 2014, respectively, mirroring the accomplishments of Cash Me Out. The races for almost all of these awards will likely be very close and will be announced at the annual holiday banquet which takes place this year on Saturday December 21st at the Embassy Suites in Saratoga Springs.
Live racing takes place on Wednesday and Sunday afternoon this week beginning at 12 Noon and on Saturday evening starting at 6:45pm. There will only be three race cards contested this week as Thursday is a dark day at the track as we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!