Buff Struts His Stuff at Saratoga

Trainer Jackie Greene is no stranger to top flight trotters. The two-time leading trainer at Saratoga Casino Hotel, who is in the midst of another terrific season in 2018, has seen three of her past trainees be named Trotter of the Year at the Spa. Greene (Jackie Rousse during the years in which she won her training titles) has had big time local success ever since coming to Saratoga well over a decade ago. Several Greene trainees have been named award winners in the past decade-plus. Her Artful Way was named Pacer of the Year in back to back seasons and is the track’s defending Horse of the Year after his sensational 2017 campaign. Greene has had three of her trainees take home the award for top honors among trotters at Saratoga as Prime Interest, Lorenzo Dream and Stirling Cadet have all been named Trotter of the Year while under her guidance.

Prime Interest was the track’s record holder when he was named Horse of the Year in 2008 and was the first of Greene’s Trotter of the Year award winners. He was the dominant force over the course of several seasons at the Spa and became a rare two-time winner of the Trotter of the Year award when he secured his second trophy in 2010. The superstar high-stepper was eventually inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in ’14. Just after the sensational run by Prime Interest, Greene had another trotter earn top honors as her Lorenzo Dream was named Trotter and Horse of the Year in 2011, the third time in four seasons a Greene trainee was recognized as the track’s top trotter. Fast forward to 2016 and Greene was at it again. Long after the retirement of Prime Interest and Lorenzo Dream, Stirling Cadet was added to the stable of the five-time Horsewoman and three-time Trainer of the Year. Stirling Cadet enjoyed a magical campaign in ’16, a season in which he won the Open nine times and all in the span of June through October. For his efforts, Stirling Cadet was named Trotter and Horse of the Year in ’16 becoming Greene’s third trotter to take home those awards.

While Stirling Cadet has been lightly raced since his award-winning campaign, there has been another trotter trained by Greene that has emerged as a star at the Spa. Buff may  not stand out in a lot of fans’ heads when they think of the track’s top trotters but when you look at the numbers, he not only needs to be in the conversation for Trotter of the Year in 2018, he may be emerging as one of the top contenders. Buff debuted at Saratoga as a two year old after Greene acquired him from Canada via purchase as a freshman. Buff wasted very little time finding his way to the winner’s circle after coming to town as he broke his maiden in 1:58.3 in resounding fashion in his second local try, a start that would serve as a sign of things to come for the talented Buff.

The road would not be smooth for Buff though as in 2016 the sophomore raced just one time. Buff’s lone start in ’16 came in the final days of the year when the three year old prevailed while racing at the Meadowlands. While it looked like 2016 would be a lost year for Buff (and in many ways it was), the victory late in the campaign wound up serving as a springboard for the Greene trainee who really came into his own in his first full season in 2017.

Obviously trying to overcome some issues, the year-long break was just what the doctor ordered for Buff who enjoyed a breakout campaign in ’17. In 38 starts last year, Buff was a ten-time winner and hit the board 22 times en route to seasonal earnings of $84,400. While it was certainly a career year in ’17 for Buff, only four of the trotter’s wins came at Saratoga. Those victories came in the conditional ranks and in some cases, low level conditions. The damage was done out of town for Buff as he thrived at the Meadowlands and at Plainridge Park where he was a solid force in their Open Trot in the summer and fall. It appeared that Buff didn’t negotiate the turns over the half mile track of Saratoga very well and thus he was often a beaten favorite in his local starts. Struggling to stay trotting at times locally throughout the season, Buff thrived over the two and three turn tracks of the Meadowlands and Plainridge, wrapping up his year with two wins, a second and a third in his final four tries in ’17 at the Meadowlands.

Here in 2018, we have seen a new Buff. Credit Greene with whatever adjustments were made as the five year old trotter has displayed none of the issues on the turns at Saratoga that beset him in ’17. Buff has followed up his breakout campaign with a season that has seen him win eight times already as the calendar turns to September. Different than last year though is that five of the eight victories for Buff have come here at Saratoga with three of the wins taking place in the Open Trot. As he is for all of Greene’s horses, Frank Coppola Jr. is the regular driver for Buff in his local starts and has really seemed to figure out the trotter who even in his successful 2017 campaign struggled on many occasions and often made breaks at the Spa.

After finishing second in the Open Trot at both Plainridge and Vernon Downs in June, Buff returned to Saratoga to compete in the $13,000 Winners Over for trotters, a level just a notch below the Open. The five year old displayed his newfound versatility as he flashed some early speed for position and pounced late in the mile to prevail. From there, Buff went streaking through the local Opens at the Spa, parlaying his pocket trip to victory in 1:55.1 to record his first win in the local feature. Next up for the budding star was the $25,000 Open on Gerrity night and Buff was at it once again. With the purse for the Open Trot at its highest of the season, Buff scored his biggest win of the year, upsetting in a field of nine horses, many of which were talented out-of-towners who invaded the Spa on the season’s biggest night. A few weeks ago, on August 21st, Buff really stamped himself as one of the track’s top trotters as he again won the Open and this time in 1:54.3. The clocking matched the fastest time of the year for any trotter at Saratoga, putting him into a tie with three other talented high-steppers. In that victory, Buff cruised out to the early lead before wiring the field for his most recent Open score, early speed that he simply couldn’t display into the first turn while competing locally in seasons past. Buff, who enjoyed that strong overall campaign in ’17, has evolved into a force in the local Open Trot this year as has really put it all together under the guidance of Greene and her crew. As a three-time Open winner already, Buff is almost assured of being a nominee for the Trotter of the Year in 2018 at the Spa, an award that has almost become a fixture on the mantelpiece of Jackie Greene who is again thriving this season and has found herself her newest top-flight trotter.

Live racing is back to its “normal” schedule starting this week. Racing takes place on Thursday and Sunday afternoon beginning at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evening with first post times set for 6:45pm. 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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