It’s hard to believe but it is already that time again. There will be five race cards contested this week in what is the final week of the 2018 racing season at Saratoga Casino Hotel. With the annual awards banquet set for Saturday January 12th, we were able to wait a bit longer this year for horses to accrue their statistics before the ballots were assembled for the voters to consider. As is always the case, there are a handful of categories which will result in runaway winners. Other races, though, will prove to be very tight as the stats are extremely close on several of the competitors in some of the twenty awards that will be voted on. For the last few years, the meet’s leading driver and trainer have been automatic winners of the Driver and Trainer of the Year awards, respectively, so those are two categories formerly voted on that are now assigned to the season’s champs.
There is a good chance that when the award winners are named in January, Artful Way will make history. It is very likely that the Jackie Greene trainee will become the first horse in track history to be named Pacer of the Year in three consecutive seasons going as far back as 1987 when we first have records of the award being given. It stands to reason that any horse would have a hard time winning such an award in three straight years as it is extremely difficult for a horse to race against the track’s top flight competition and do so in such dominant fashion that he emerges as the best among such a group for three consecutive years. Artful Way owns trophies for Pacer of the Year from the ‘16 and ‘17 seasons after enjoying years in which he won the Saratoga Open Pace more than any other horse. 2018 will be another one of those years as Artful Way won his tenth Open Pace of the year on Saturday night, four more than fellow Pacer of the Year nominee Carolina Beach and six more than other competitor JK Panache. That’s ten local Open scores for Artful Way among his incredible seventeen wins in ’18 in what has been another sensational season for the Spa superstar.
If Artful Way is to win the Pacer of The Year award, he will be just the fourth horse to win the award multiple times, a feat done by local pacing star Panocchio in the two seasons before Artful Way began what will likely be his three-peat. Whether or not Artful Way will be the Horse of the Year for the second consecutive season as well remains to be seen but judging by the statistics, he is likely a slight favorite to be recognized with that achievement. If he were to earn the track’s top award once again this season, Artful Way would become the first horse to win back-to-back Horse of the Year trophies since trotter American Kash did it in 1998-1999 and only the second in track history, according to records dating all the way back to 1953.
With Artful Way the favorite for Pacer of the Year, the races for Trotter of the Year and Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year also have pretty clear front-runners. Ulster has emerged as an Open force among trotters this year and though he did much of his damage in the first half of the season is at the head of the class among local highsteppers in ’18. The Amanda Facin trainee recorded ten wins this year with eight of them coming in the Open. Fellow nominees Cash Me Out and Crazycat have combined for seven victories in the regular Sunday feature this year. Cash Me Out is a nominee for Trotter of the Year for the second straight season while Crazycat made the ballot after a breakout campaign in which he won ten local races, albeit just three of which came in the Open. Ulster’s ten victories and over $90,000 in earnings certainly stand out on the ballot among the nominees and will likely result in him being named Trotter of the Year in January.
The battle to be named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year is led by Spreester. The Paul Zabielski-trained mare dominated the action among the track’s top lady pacers for the first half of the season and with just dollars shy of the $100,000 mark in her local starts was the top earner of any horse this year at Saratoga at the times the ballots were released to the voters. Though her most recent Open win came in early August, Spreester is the winningest of the participants in the Fillies and Mares Open, winning it eight times. Happy Heart and Tempus Seelster round out the nominees for Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year.
Two year old pacers nominated are Doodad Hanover, Maximum Ideal and Sophie’s Surreal while two year old trotters are Beautiful Brenda, Glamdring and Lifetime Credit. Three year old nominees on the pace are Century Endeavor, Fade To Gold, I Got The Boy and Jersey Jim and on the trot are Alex The Great, Jeter’s Way, Missus Mia Wallace and Weekend Wit Bigd.
There are five categories for claimers which consist of Allstar Energy, Dinner Guest, Macherati and Yankee Artillery in the $6,000-$12,500 range for pacers and Best Shot N, Black Is Back and Flem N Em N for claimers $15,000 and up. Claiming trotter nominees are Blitz Victory, Jelectric and Sarah Gator for the $6,000-$12.000 level and Leave Your Mark, Run And Tell Pap and Swancredit for trotters $12,500 and up. There is one category for filly and mare claiming pacers which is comprised of Casa Miasa, DM’s Sugarland, Miss Bling and Post Time Terror.
The Driver of the Year and Trainer of the Year are awards that aren’t voted on but rather go to the meet’s leading driver and trainer, respectively. With one week remaining, it certainly appears that Billy Dobson will take home Driver of the Year honors though Jimmy Devaux is still in shouting distance with just five race cards remaining for the season. Melissa Beckwith will be named Trainer of the Year. The remaining personal award nominees are: Melissa Beckwith, Jackie Greene and Monica Krist for Horsewoman of the Year; Mark Beckwith, Frank Coppola Jr, Billy Dobson, Jimmy Devaux, Phil Fluet and Jay Randall for Horseman of the Year. Peerless McGrath nominees for Breakthrough Trainer of the Year are Eve Bergeron, Amanda Facin and Richard Ruffles. Brett Crawford will take home the Johnny Page Award as the track’s top breakthrough driver of 2018. Just less than twenty awards to be voted on and just under twenty voters will cast our ballots in the coming days as the final week of the ’18 racing season at Saratoga is already upon on. Congratulations and good luck to all of the nominees this year!
There are five days of racing during closing week. Matinees are scheduled for both Wednesday and Thursday afternoon while evening racing takes place on Friday and Saturday. Sunday afternoon is closing day for the meet. Matinees begin at 12:15pm while evening cards begin 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!