For driver Joe Bongiorno, what a thrill it must have been. The young reinsman returned to Saratoga Casino Hotel on Saturday night to compete in the track’s biggest race of the year. Bongiorno, who was named the National Amateur Driver of the Year Award back in 2010 while at the age of just 17, set up shop at Saratoga for a time a few years back and enjoyed plenty of success here. In fact, in 2012, Bongiorno was the named the Johnny Page Award Winner at the Spa, an award that recognizes the track’s top up-and-coming or breakthrough driver. Bongiorno has made a name for himself as a driver and in recent years has headed back to his native New Jersey to compete. Racing primarily at Jersey tracks the Meadowlands and Freehold, Bongiorno also drives at Yonkers Raceway with some regularity.
Bongiorno has been helping run the stable of his sister Jenn Bongiorno and as a team, they have enjoyed a lot of success while competing mostly at Yonkers but in New Jersey as well. Their stable star this season is Evenin Of Pleasure. A stalwart in the Yonkers Open Pace in ’18, Evenin Of Pleasure finished first or second in nine of his twelve starts this year while competing against top-flight competition. On Saturday night, the eight year old came to Saratoga for the first time to take part in the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace. Evenin Of Pleasure was fresh off a win in which he faced the daunting task of starting from post eight in the $44,000 Yonkers Open. Joe Bongiorno found some early speed from the versatile pacer in that start and got him away mid-pack before a strong closing second half yielded an impressive victory.
On Saturday night, Evenin Of Pleasure drew post position four in the Gerrity and wound up sitting back and watching early on as the pace was grueling. The race’s favorite Rockin Ron powered out to the early lead with sulky star Yannick Gingras sitting behind. With a parked-out rival to contend with throughout the first lap, Rockin Ron set fractions of 26.2 to the quarter and an eye-popping 53.4 in the first half. All the while, Bongiorno was smelling blood and slid Evenin Of Pleasure to the outside approaching the half with a three-wide move in the offing. The parked longshot soon faded and Evenin Of Pleasure was asked to go three-wide. He wouldn’t stay in that path for long as the eight year old pacer blitzed past the leader and took off. Evenin Of Pleasure was a 2-1 co-favorite in the betting but he looked more like a 1-9 shot as he paced away from a formidable group of rivals around the final turn.
Evenin Of Pleasure drew away in the stretch to win the Gerrity by five and a half lengths while stopping the timer in 1:49.2. Last year’s Gerrity winner Bit Of A Legend N, who finished second in the ‘17 installment of the Spa’s biggest race, was bottled up throughout most of the mile while boxed in with a tiring, but gutsy, favorite Rockin Ron on the engine. Bit Of A Legend N, the co-second choice with Evenin Of Pleasure at odds of 2-1, shook loose late but had to settle for a second place finish. Despite being pressed from the word ‘go’ in the Gerrity, Rockin Ron still held on to finish third.
Evenin Of Pleasure, whose five and a half length win margin was the largest in the ten year history of the Gerrity Pace, stopped the timer in 1:49.2 in his dynamic victory. With his earnings from the win, the eight year old pacer became racing’s newest millionaire as his career earnings moved to over $1.1 million. As far as historical perspective, the mile was the third fastest in the 77 year history of Saratoga Harness racing. The two fastest miles ever paced at the Spa each came in past Gerritys. In 2013, Bolt The Duer wowed the crowd when he prevailed in 1:49 to shatter the previous track record. Mark Macdonald drove the pacer to the record-setting win that night in a mile that would be so impressive, it would wind up earning the superstar Horse of the Year honors that season at Saratoga. The 1:49 mark wouldn’t last very long however as just a year later, in the following installment of the Gerrity, veteran Dancin Yankee lowered the track record by just a fraction as he stopped the clock in 1:48.4 with reinsman Tyler Buter sitting behind. Dancin Yankee’s dazzling Gerrity romp came just two years after the veteran pacer finished second in the race that honors the memory of the former Chairman of the Board of Saratoga Harness Inc Joe Gerrity Jr, who was instrumental in overseeing the transformation of the harness track into the premier VLT location in New York State. Gerrity, whose son Dan is still the President of Saratoga Casino Hotel, passed away in 2005.
Bit Of A Legend N joins Dancin Yankee as pacers to have recorded a win and a pair of second-place finishes in the Gerrity as he has now finished first or second in three consecutive installments of the Gerrity Pace. One year before scoring an upset win in the ’17 Gerrity, Bit Of A Legend N finished as the runner-up to defending National Horse of the Year Wiggle It JiggleIt. The fan favorite had the crowd swarming the fence to watch as he overcame being parked to the half to register the victory in 2016 as the heaviest of favorites. While maybe not a Horse of the Year type performer, Evenin Of Pleasure certainly did his part to make some jaws drop on Saturday night as he swooped the group in resounding fashion to prevail in his Saratoga debut. His win cemented his place in Spa history as the horse to win the Gerrity by the biggest ever margin. And for Joe Bongiorno, what a return it was as the 24 year old driver who has been enjoying success in the sulky at the biggest tracks in North America came back to the Spa where he made a splash early in the decade and won the track’s biggest race of the year. Bongiorno had a driving double on the race card which was the richest of the season at Saratoga, a program that featured total purses of almost $600,000. The richest horse in the history of harness racing, Foiled Again, came to town to compete on Saturday and though he came up second-best to the track’s defending Horse of the Year Artful Way, was honored in the winner’s circle with a blanket presentation recognizing the best career for any horse in harness racing history. The 14 year old Foiled Again, who has over $7.5 million in lifetime earnings, won for the 100thtime in his career two weeks ago while racing in Pennsylvania. What a night, what racing action, and what an Evenin Of Pleasure it was for young driver Joe Bongiorno who could hear nothing but the roar of the crowd in the stretch while his star pacer dominated the 10thannual Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace.
Live racing takes place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night this summer at Saratoga Casino Hotel with a first post time each night set for 7:05pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!