Well though it certainly hasn’t felt like it, spring is upon us and that fact was evidenced last week at Saratoga Casino Hotel when the annual trio of spring series got underway. In addition to the start of the 6thannual John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trotting Series on Thursday afternoon, there was a special event featured at the Spa. The USA/Hungary Friendship Competition race took place on Thursday, a race for amateur drivers from both the USA and Hungary. The competition took place for the first time in 2017 when a handful of American amateur drivers went overseas to compete against the Hungarians at a track in Budapest. The competition was unique, as racing in Hungary is quite different there than it is in the States and in last year’s event, the Hungarians drivers edged the Americans to prevail. This year’s installment of the Friendship Competition started on Monday afternoon at Monticello Raceway consisting of two races in which the Americans and Hungarians each won one. On Tuesday night, the amateur drivers headed to Yonkers and once again, it was one-to-one. With just one race contested on Thursday at the Spa, the trotting event would serve as the rubber match and as was the case in ’17, the Hungarians wound up besting the Americans as local trotter Leave Your Mark was piloted to victory by foreign reinsman Tamas Tanczer. The race was the first of what will likely be many this season for amateur drivers at Saratoga as the annual CKB Billings Amateur Trot will be joined by the newly formed NAADA (North American Amateur Drivers Association) in displaying the top amateur drivers in what serves as harness racing with a little twist.
Thursday also marked the start of the Mongeon Memorial Trot which consisted of three divisions of the first leg of the series for young trotters, each of which was contested for a purse of $10,000. While there were some strong performances in leg one, no clear series favorite emerged. There was a pair of upsets in the first leg as Dave Dewhurst’s Time Is Fleeting pulled off a shocker at odds of 13-1 winning in a career-best 2:00.1 and Spoiler Alert proved true to his name as he trotted past the favorite in his division to score while dismissed at 8-1 odds. Trainer Scott Mongeon, whose father John is the one who the series memorializes, saw his Royal Heiress parlay her pocket ride to victory in the first leg’s final division. It was Spoiler Alert’s victory that seemed to be perhaps the most impressive among the winners and not just because he scored in a time (2:00) that was a tick faster than Time Is Fleeting. The Misty Carey-trained trotter has really displayed his ability this season while competing exclusively at Saratoga. Young reinsman Brett Crawford, who is enjoying his breakout campaign, has done very well with the high-stepper who has had a lot of breaking trouble. The four year old Spoiler Alert’s Thursday score was his third of the season and came in a career-best time but the fact of how he did it made him emerge as perhaps the series’ one to beat. Spoiler Alert made the lead and was quickly met with the challenge of heavily favored Hammer Time who came into the race two-for-two including a dazzling local score in 1:58.3. On Thursday though, the horse who came into the series as the likely favorite had to settle for second-best to Spoiler Alert who not only played spoiler but may have emerged as the one to beat in the Mongeon Memorial Series. Thursday afternoon will feature leg two of the series which is set to conclude with a $32,700 Final on Thursday, May 3rd
Friday night is ladies night at Saratoga and it was the ladies who were featured in the Virginia O’Brien Pacing Series first leg last weekend. Yonkers invader Speedo Miss came to town on a four-race win streak and was the public’s odds-on betting favorite to lengthen that streak on Friday night. Frank Coppola Jr. sat behind Speedy Deo as she toughed out a first-over journey to prevail in 1:56.1 in the evening’s top performance among the lady pacers in the O’Brien Memorial. Brett Crawford’s Awake My Soul took the same path to victory as Speedy Deo did in the series’ other division as she moved first over on the leader after the half before cruising past her rivals to win in a career-best 1:57.2 While Speedy Deo’s victory was much faster, Awake My Soul’s win was just as impressive as she powered away in the stretch to record the biggest victory of her young career, doing so while dismissed at odds of 17-1. The third annual installment of the Virginia O’Brien Memorial Pacing Series will have its second leg be contested this week with the $32,200 Final the following Friday evening. The entire complexion of the series has changed now though as Speedy Deo is not taking part in leg two set for Friday night which means, per series rule, she is not eligible to compete in the Final. The door has opened quite a bit now for the rest of the fillies and mares as the likely series favorite will no longer be a factor.
The two divisions of the JP Morel Memorial Pacing Series contested on Saturday had added import due to the framework of the series. Unlike the other two spring series, the Morel Pace gives its participants just one crack at qualifying for the Final. With just eleven horses taking part in the series, the top point earners from Saturday’s first leg will qualify for the Final. There will be a “prep” for the those top money earners contested on the night when leg two would have taken place leading up to the $31,400 Final which is set for Saturday, May 5th. With those qualifications in mind, the pacers took to the track on Saturday night and it was a local first timer who was the series’ fastest participant. Plus One was making his debut out of the Beckwith stable and powered out to the early lead in a 26.4 first quarter. The three year old was undaunted by the tough start to the race and cruised to victory in 1:55 besting the odds-on favorite Love Yourself who had to settle for second. On Friday night, trainer-driver Brett Crawford recorded a series’ win with his Awake My Soul and on Saturday, the rising star piloted another of his trainees to victory as Justin Credible paced past the race’s favorites to score in 1:55.3 in the second division of JP Morel Memorial Pacing Series. What a season it has been for the 31 year Crawford who scored series wins in back to back nights as his trainees are now pointed toward the Finals to be contested in less than two weeks.
Live racing takes place every Thursday and Sunday afternoon with matinees starting at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evenings beginning at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!