The 2016 racing season reached its conclusion on Sunday afternoon at Saratoga Casino Hotel on a day in which four longtime Spa participants were officially retired. Prior to the matinee’s thirteen race card, Allamerican Apache, Battleshoe Victor, One Ninteen and Saratoga Hall of Famer Prime Interest all were officially retired as the old timers made their final treks to the winner’s circle. Prime Interest was the star of the show as the 2008 Horse of the Year at Saratoga led the four retirees who between them earned just shy of $2 million. Harness racing rules state that the oldest a horse can be to race is fourteen and though none of the four veterans were still competing at their advanced ages, their retirements became official on Sunday.
With the ’16 campaign wrapping up a bit later this year than in seasons past, the awards banquet will not take place until January. Subsequently, the nominees for the annual awards were just announced last weekend. As is usually the case, there are some categories that will have runaway winners while other categories will likely yield some close races. Stirling Cadet leads the nominees for Trotter of the Year and is likely the favorite for 2016 Horse of the Year after piling up ten wins in 23 starts en route to just shy of $100,000. If Stirling Cadet were to win either or both of those awards, he would join the recently retired Prime Interest as winners in both categories for trainer Jackie Rousse. Stirling Cadet’s competitors for Aged Trotter of the Year are Cash Poor and Just Make Believe.
The Rousse stable also houses the favorite for Aged Pacer of the Year this season as Artful Way was the winningest horse in the Saturday night Open Pace in ’16. Artful Way first came to Saratoga last year but it was as a four year old in 2016 when he really became a star. With earnings of over $115,000, Artful way tallied eight Open wins in a strong, consistent and durable campaign. The big favorite Artful Way is joined by late season bloomer Gibson Blue Chip as well as veteran campaigner JK Panache in the race to be named the track’s top pacer.
While the trotter and pacer groups each have a pretty clear-cut favorite, the race to be Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year is much closer. All four nominees are viable contenders for the award which annually winds up being one of the closer votes. So Nice has been the most consistent and solid threat among local distaffers this year and though she is trained by out-of-town conditioner Amber Buter can certainly be considered a “Saratoga horse.” So Nice won five Opens at the Spa this year and tallied seven wins and seven seconds in total in her local starts in ’16, earning over $83,000. The only mare with more Open victories this season was Velocity Vespa. Trainer Rich Banca claimed the mare out of a start at Saratoga this summer and thrived with the gutsy distaffer who scored six times in the ladies’ feature in just eleven local tries. Joining So Nice and Velocity Vespa on the ballot are Bazooka Terror and Bye Bye Michelle who between them started 62 times at the Spa this year and piled up fifteen wins, seventeen seconds and nine thirds en route to close to $150,000. Rounding out the group of nominees is Campanile who has been a staple in the Fillies and Mares Open for the last several years. The veteran distaffer started out the season red hot but did not compete much at Saratoga in the second half of the year.
There are two “locks” for awards in the claiming ranks. One is Mademoiselle Paris who piled up an eye-popping 17 wins at Saratoga this year. Coming to the Spa in March having never raced even one time on a half mile track in her career, Mademoiselle Paris was simply sensational. Proving to be versatile and durable, Mademoiselle Paris was the winningest horse at the Spa in ’16 and had eight second place finishes to go with her stymieing win total. Her two “rivals’ in the category for fillies and mares claiming allowance $5,000-$10,000 are Mean Pauline and Flying Mocha. Long Story Short had an incredible season and is a near lock to win the award for claiming trotters $15,000 and up. The Monica Krist trainee is a rare horse to enjoy pronounced success at Saratoga despite lacking any significant early speed. Long Story Short, at the age of eleven, had fourteen wins, ten seconds and eight thirds in 40 starts this year, earning well over $90,000 almost exclusively while competing in the claiming ranks. His formidable opponents on the ballot are Morosita Bi and Suegrabbitnrun who both had terrific years but ones that pale in comparison to the amazing ’16 campaign of Long Story Short.
The remaining three claiming categories’ nominees are as follows: claiming pacer $5,000-$10,000- Farmerssixfournine, Cruzing Hill and One Chaser; claiming trotter $6,000-$10,000- Need Help Here, Sing Out and Dony Andreas; claiming pacer $12,500 and up- C’mon Mr Brock, Espen De Vie, Winter Blast and Gibson Blue Chip (who is also a nominee for Aged Pacer of the Year.)
Two year old pacing nominees are In A Single Bound, Percy’s Z Tam and Pirinea’s Princess while the two year old trotting contenders are Amazing Sevens, Osvaldo Blue Chip, Royal Oaks and Teasin N Pleasin. Three year old pacers are Ashlee’s Four Star, Bay Rum, Brigadoon and Well Shaded. Three year old trotter nominees are Dial A Chic, Financial Focus, Neymar and Riverofroyalty. In all of the categories, any horse can be written in. Driver of the Year and Trainer of the Year awards are now given simply to the leader in their category for the year so Frank Coppola Jr. and Melissa Beckwith will take home those honors. Voting remains for Horseman and Horsewoman of the Year. The award winners will be announced at the annual banquet which will take place in mid-January this year. Live racing will resume on Sunday February 19th with matinees set for that afternoon and the following day on President’s Day. Until next year, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU in 2017 at the finish line!