Trainer Melissa Beckwith took home top honors in 2022 at Saratoga Casino Hotel when she won the training title for the ninth time since coming to the Spa in around 2010. The Beckwith barn has been the staple among local stables finishing atop the trainer’s list each year from 2011-2013 before coming up just short of another championship in ’14. Beckwith then rattled off five consecutive leading trainer campaigns from ’15-19. Gary Levine and Larry Stalbaum earned their first local training titles in ’20 and ’21, respectively, before Beckwith again topped the charts last year. Now, at approximately the midpoint of the 2023 season at the Spa, Beckwith continues to be in a tug-of-war near the top as she and Brett Derue have been locked up in a near dead-heat in the race to be top trainer.
In order to take down a training championship, let alone nine in twelve seasons, a trainer needs to have a large and well-balanced stable. Melissa Beckwith’s barn certainly fits those credentials having quality horses spanning the classes at the Spa. Her large stable currently has members thriving at Plainridge Park in Massachusetts where she has also won the training title. Beckwith came into last week with a narrow one-win lead in the Plainridge standings in the early stages of the ’23 season in New England. Locally, the veteran conditioner’s stable has been led by a top caliber trotter who has been thriving since coming to the Spa last season.
The Beckwith stable featured Saratoga’s 2022 Horse of the Year as Sea Shadows took home top honors last season. It was the second time in three award seasons that a Beckwith trainee was named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. This year, the Beckwith barn features a trotter who has been dominant. Angel Nation was a three-time Open Trot winner last season at the Spa where he has returned in full-force in ’23. The six year old, who is owned by William Hartt of Carmel, ME, has proven to be a superstar. After joining the Beckwith barn in May of last year, Angel Nation enjoyed immediate local success when he finished second in the Open in his Spa debut. From there, the talented trotter recorded three Open victories including a win in the season’s final trotting feature in December. At the conclusion of the Saratoga meet, Angel Nation headed west, Midwest specifically. Relocated to the stable of trainer Mike Hitchcock, Angel Nation competed at the highest level at Dayton Raceway and Miami Valley in Ohio. There, he rattled off several Open wins before returning to Saratoga and the Beckwith barn in April of this year.
Angel Nation wasted little time returning to the winner’s circle at the Spa when he went coast-to-coast in his return to town on April 2nd. The standout trotter displayed his versatility the following week when he again recorded an Open victory, this time coming from well off the pace to register the win. The six year old came up a nose shy of threepeating when he was the runner-up while looking to complete the hat trick The odds-on betting favorite in almost every one of his nine local starts this season, Angel Nation won for the fifth time in the $17,000 Open Trot in ’23 when he powered up to the lead in the early going in the June 18th installment of the Open before securing what was his seventh victory of the season overall. The winningest horse in the Open this year, Angel Nation has already posted his second consecutive six-figure campaign and is well on his way to eclipsing his career-best mark of $133,570 from 2022 while becoming by far the season’s strongest force in the Open at the Spa.
With no Open Trot on the docket on Sunday (June 25), the afternoon’s feature was the $15,525 Winners Over for trotters. As Angel Nation took the week off, a different Beckwith trainee came into the trotting feature as the one to beat. Chapheart joined the Beckwith barn in early May and got off to an inauspicious start. The four year old, who earned close to $175,000 as a New York Sire Stakes star in ’22, made a break as the 1-2 betting favorite in his debut out of his new stable. Even in that disappointing start, Chapheart rallied to finish third. The gelding then proceeded to go on a tear. With the addition of trotting hopples, Chapheart rattled off three consecutive victories, all of which while the public’s odds-on choice in the wagering.
Climbing the class ranks every week, Chapheart wound up in the Winners Over for the first time on June 11th where he closed sharply before ultimately coming up second-best. Last Sunday, the talented trotter went off at even money, incredibly the “biggest” odds that he’d been in any of his local tries, when Brett Beckwith, the talented twenty year old who sits second in the local driver standings in ’23, made his move approaching the half-mile pole. Chapheart isn’t a horse with early speed, at least none that he’s displayed in his half dozen local starts, but closing is certainly his forte. And close he did on Sunday when he put away the race’s leader in mid-stretch en route to a 1:56 score in the Winners Over to register his fourth win in six starts since joining the Beckwith barn. Chapheart certainly has the look of an Open trotter, a level where he could well find himself in the coming weeks at the Spa.
Angel Nation, who has spent a bit of time at Plainridge in recent months, returned to the Open on Sunday when he drew post eight for his try in the $17,000 feature on a rainy day in the Spa City. Although, the standout high-stepper didn’t add one to his bulky win total for the season, the Beckwith’s stable star remains the trotter at the Spa this season and is well set up to be a potential candidate, if not favorite, to win another award for a top horse at Saratoga for the Beckwith barn who has featured so maybe standouts over the course of its sensational nearly decade and a run half at the Spa.
Live racing takes place on Saturday evening at 5pm and continues with matinees on Sunday and Monday with afternoon action starting at noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!