With less than a month remaining in the 2022 racing season, Melissa Beckwith is all but assured of seeing her name atop the trainer standings at the conclusion of the meet at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The veteran conditioner won an incredible eight training titles at the Spa from 2011-2019 coming up just 2014 shy of what would have been an unheard of nine consecutive championships. Though the Beckwith stable starts more horses every year than almost anyone else, the impressive win total is not a reflection of just quantity, it is most certainly quality as well. Since Mark and Melissa Beckwith came to Saratoga to set up shop almost fifteen years ago, the pair has put forth a nearly dominant stable every year. And while their successes have been glaring in the last few seasons as well, the Beckwith barn has not been the leading one at Saratoga in either of the last two campaigns coming into ’22.
Gary Levine became the first non-Beckwith leading trainer since 2014 when he won his first championship in the somewhat abbreviated ’20 season. Last year, it was veteran Larry Stalbaum who secured his first training title since coming to town just a few years back. Taking zero away from the terrific seasons the stables of Levine and Stalbaum the last two years, one major factor in the Beckwiths taking a rare back seat in the standings is that a portion of their huge stable spends its time competing at Plainridge Park in Massachusetts, so much so that in 2020, Beckwith was the leading trainer at Plainridge.
While several members of the Beckwith barn still spend a good portion of their season in New England, the production at Saratoga has been simply sensational. In fact, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that Beckwith could eclipse the all-time mark for wins in a season for a trainer at the Spa. And though that achievement is a bit unlikely, Beckwith has already set career-highs for wins and purses in a year. Currently third in the Plainridge training standings in addition to being a lock to add another title to her growing pile, Melissa Beckwith hit the 200 win mark in the ’22 season last week. 143 wins with four weeks still remaining in the meet leaves Beckwith just a couple dozen short of the track record for a trainer, a milestone set by Colin Johnson in 2009 when he trained 172 winners in the historic campaign.
The size of the Beckwith stable has grown in the last couple of years but the size of the barn hasn’t been the lone reason for the bulky win total. In fact, with a current training average of .417 locally (and .405 overall including the couple hundred starts out of town), Beckwith is enjoying her best year. With $2 million in purses well within reach, Beckwith has shattered her previous mark for purses earned in a season in a year that will result in her making history as a nine-time training champion at the Spa.
The diversity of the Beckwith barn has been the glaring quality that has allowed the leading stable to accrue its nearly, and still perhaps, record breaking results. Beckwith-trained ladies have been a complete force in the Fillies and Mares Open this season. On Monday afternoon, Probert will likely be the public’s betting favorite as she looks to score her fourth victory in the ladies’ feature this season and add to her trainer’s total that sits at ten heading into Monday’s $16,000 installment of the Open for distaffers. Her stablemate Sea Shadows will no doubt be a nominee for Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year when nominees are released in a couple weeks. Sea Shadows, who finished third in last week’s Open, has recorded seven wins in the regular Monday feature, more than any other mare at the track this year. Beckwith has won a total of sixteen Opens this season at the Spa registering three victories in the both the Open Pace for the boys and in Open Trot to go with the ten for the ladies.
While Open horses normally, and understandably, get a lot of the accolades, putting together a 200 win year certainly doesn’t come solely due to the accomplishments of top-flight horses. One noteworthy Beckwith trainee that started out the year strong and incredibly has held his top-level degree of sharpness throughout ’22 is Drawing Dragons. In 31 local starts, Drawing Dragons has put together a campaign that has seen him win fifteen races and hit the board 23 times en route to over $100,000. A picture of consistency in perhaps the best season for any horse out of the Beckwith barn, Drawing Dragons is the winningest horse at Saratoga in the 2022 season and accounts for more than 10% of his stable’s wins.
The annual awards/holiday banquet will return this year after a two-year hiatus and there’s no question that there will be Beckwith trainees recognized with honors. Melissa Beckwith’s ninth training title will result in her being named Trainer of the Year and more likely than not Horsewoman of the Year as well. Sea Shadows is the clear favorite to give her trainer what would be her second award winner in any of the Pacer, Trotter or Filly and Mare Pacer categories. Beckwith’s Happy Heart was named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year in 2019. Drawing Dragons will be a shoo-in for Claiming Pacer of the Year after recording his aforementioned six-figure campaign by way of fifteen wins. Whether any other Melissa Beckwith trainees garner nominations remains to be seen but a few things we do know about her ’22 campaign.
Her ninth training title will come in resounding fashion despite a big season from conditioner Andy Gardner. Gardner held the lead in the standings early on in the meet following a “rookie” local campaign that saw him take home the Peerless McGrath Award for up-and-coming local trainers. Gardner wound up finishing second in the standings in ’21 edging out Beckwith to be the runner-up behind Larry Stalbaum in that breakout season. Gardner is having a terrific follow-up campaign to his award-winning, first-full year at the Spa but he will have to settle for second-best once again as the lead for Beckwith in the trainer standings is insurmountable in what will be her record-breaking ninth training championship at Saratoga Casino Hotel.
The season has three weeks left in it with live racing taking place on Saturday evenings at 5pm and on Sunday and Monday afternoons beginning at noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!
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