Always Watching has been a force since joining the stable of Jordan Derue last season. Derue acquired the mare midway through her four year old campaign in 2022 and enjoyed immediate success. Always Watching had made the first twenty starts of her career north of the border in Canada before coming to town late in 2021 to participate in the Bunny Lake Pacing Series, a series for fillies and mares contested at Saratoga Casino Hotel in October each year. While under the guidance of trainer Amanda Kelly, the filly enjoyed success early on in her four year old season and was subsequently claimed by local conditioner Chris Dubois. Dubois, the track’s Johnny Page Award winner in ’22 for up-and-trainers, did well with Always Watching who climbed the class ranks all the way up to the Fillies and Mares Opens at the Spa where she finished second in her debut against the track’s top ladies in August of last year. Derue was the regular pilot for Always Watching while competing out of the Dubois stable and sat behind her when she won the Open for the first time in September of ‘22. Just a few weeks after her first feature score at the Spa, Always Watching was purchased by her regular reinsman Jordan Derue.
While seemingly just coming into her own as a top-flight mare, Always Watching wrapped up her year with two wins and two seconds in her final six starts in the local Open while competing out of the Derue stable. All together, behind ten wins and eight second-place finishes, Always Watching earned over $100,000 in her breakout four year old season. For her efforts, the rising star earned a nomination for Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year at the Spa, an award that wound up going to Sea Shadows who also took home Horse of the Year honors in ’22.
The 2023 campaign began in February for Always Watching and after two ho-hum starts in the Open, Derue gave his stable’s top lady pacer a month off. Upon returning, the five year old had a fourth, a third and a second place finish before dropping down in company to record her first victory of the season. That win in the April 18th race would be the last one in which Always Watching didn’t compete against Open mares at the Spa. After dropping and popping, it was back to the ladies’ feature where she wouldn’t waste any more time in registering an Open victory. After recording three wins in the Open in ’22, Always Watching got back into the win column on April 25th against the top mares with whom she would spend the next five months competing against.
The summer was kind to Always Watching who hit the road for a short time but kept her home track of Saratoga as her main stop. Derue’s top distaffer hit the board in the three starts that followed her first ’23 Open score before recording another feature win in late May. In her June 19th start, Always Watching finished sixth in a seven-horse Open. Why is this noteworthy? Well, because it was the only time in the last sixteen starts that the five year old did not finish in the top three in one of her races. The picture of consistency hit the board in both of her starts at Plainridge Park in August before heading into last Monday afternoon’s feature off a third place finish in her most recent start in the local Fillies and Mares Open. On Monday, Always Watching drew post position four, her best starting spot in months. Derue cut loose his barn’s leading lady at the start of the $15,000 Open and sat behind as she cruised through first half fractions of 27 and 56 seconds. A versatile mare who does most of her best work from off the pace, Always Watching flashes early speed from time to time and on Monday made that speed hold up. The Open stalwart’s victory was her fifth of the season and fourth in the local Open. The four wins move Always Watching into a tie with La Bella Vita N for most of all pacing ladies at the Spa this season. Lengthening her incredible stretch of hitting the board with Monday’s victory, Always Watching has now finished in the top three in sixteen of her twenty starts in ’23 en route just shy of $80,000 in earnings.
Always Watching has been a force in the Fillies and Mares Open this year and has quietly put together a terrific resume for the end of the season Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year Award. She was a nominee last year but didn’t have close to a strong enough case that could be made for her as some of her rivals, primarily Horse of the Year Sea Shadows. This year, though, is quite a different story. As mentioned, her number of feature scores is matched by only one other distaffer and her local earnings exceed any of her main competitors for top honors among the ladies. While clearly there is a lot of time remaining in the ’23 campaign (about two and a half months), Always Watching has forged to the front among fillies and mares for top honors in what could be a very close race to be the track’s top distaffer. As for Jordan Derue, the 33 year old whose career in harness racing started back in his teens, he is looking for his first ever award among the “big three” for any of his trainees. That is to say the young veteran has yet to have one of the members of his stable be named Pacer, Trotter or Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. Derue did, though, take home the Johnny Page Award in 2009 when recognized as the track’s top up-and-coming driver and then in ’14 earned the prestigious Horseman of the Year Award. Always Watching will be looking to add another trophy to the mantle of Derue as she continues to display a perfect blend of versatility and consistency in her second straight standout season at the Spa.
Live racing takes place every Saturday evening at Saratoga beginning at 5pm and continues on Sundays and Mondays with matinees that begin at 12pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!