For Alek Chartrand, horseracing is in the blood. A native of Ontario, Canada, Chartrand grew up in a racing family. His father was a horseman and it was a business that Alek and his sister wanted to pursue. At the age of 14, Alek went to Mohawk Raceway where he went to work for several trainers including Dave Tingley. As many horsemen north of the border (and even here in the northeast) do, Chartrand went south to relocate in Florida for the winter. It was there where he met his eventual wife Erica who was working for longtime local trainer Paul Kelley. Alek and Erica wound up setting up shop here in Saratoga as it was home for Erica who grew up in nearby Niskayuna. Recovering from a bout with cancer, Alek was more than happy to have the stability here and settled down in Saratoga with Erica where they started a small stable after her parents bought the Chartrands their first horse, a young pacer named Swifty.
As is the case for many, success wasn’t immediate for Alek who went through the grind as a young horseman in a new environment. With more experience came some more success for him though and in 2017, he took home the Johnny Page Award, an honor bestowed to the track’s top up-and-coming/breakthrough driver for that season. Along the way, he met a veteran trainer named JC Jobidon who he would speak with on the training track from time to time and when Jobidon’s longtime owner Mike Moore asked if there was anyone he’d recommend getting some horses with, Chartrand’s name came up right away. Moore and Chartrand’s first horse together was a veteran trotting mare named True Muscle. She loved to win before they got her and she continued in those winning ways for her new connections. From that point on, the partnership of Chartrand and Moore grew. An active owner as far as seeking out new horses to buy, Moore has made several purchases, often via the popular method of online buying and the Chartrand stable has thus continued to grow.
A pair of Moore-owned, Chartrand-trained and driven horses rattled off their second consecutive wins at the Spa last week. Halliama and Onspeed N were both online purchases by Moore and both have enjoyed plenty of post-quarantine shutdown success. Halliama was a $30,000 acquisition for Moore who has been a solid threat out of the Chartrand barn. As a three year old in 2019, Halliama won seven of his first nine starts at Saratoga for Chartrand and even enjoyed some Sire Stakes success in the Excelsior Division A’s. Competing mostly in the winners of two but not more than five race lifetime condition this year, Halliama has thrived since the return. On Monday afternoon, the four year old went coast-to-coast to record his second consecutive victory at the Spa. Like stablemate Halliama, pacing mare Onspeed N drew post position one while looking to be a repeat winner. Following a wire-to-wire score in her previous start, Onspeed N got away fourth from the rail on Tuesday afternoon but patient Chartrand piloting was rewarded as the New Zealand bred came on to prevail for the third time in her seven local starts. Just as is the case with Halliama, Onspeed N has found a home in the two but not more than five class, one that she will fit for quite some time due to the career earnings allowed to fit the condition. Both Halliama and Onspeed N are back in to go this week with a bit more difficult tasks due to drawing posts six and four, respectively, as they look to extend their win streaks.
While Halliama and Onspeed N have led the charge recently for the Chartrand stable at Saratoga, a different member of the barn is its budding and perhaps current superstar. The three year old pacer was purchased out of the Harrisburg sale for $20,000 by Robert Marzoli’s United Process Control stable last winter. My Pal Joe had nothing but a lackluster qualifier to his credit before the shutdown in March. When he returned in June though, he was like a different horse. After winning his first qualifier back in 1:56.3 by thirteen lengths, the sophomore broke his maiden the following week overcoming post eight with ease to score in a dazzling 1:53.4 in what was just the second start of his career. After a decent fifth in a $38,233 NY Sire Stakes try, Chartrand opted to move My Pal Joe down to the Excelsior A’s of the Sire Stakes. It was a calculated decision Chartrand explained to me. “We knew he was competitive against the big boys in the Sire Stakes but we felt he could be maybe the best one in Excelsior A’s. The rules say horses have to race at least three times in Excelsiors to be eligible for the Final. So we decided that would be our best course of action,” Chartrand told me. On Sunday, My Pal Joe drew the rail for his third start in Excelsiors looking to go three-for-three against that group of three year olds as he has emerged as the one to beat in Exclelsior A’s. “He’s probably the best horse I’ve ever had,” Alek proudly stated. “The shutdown actually helped him a lot. As bad as the timing was for our stable because we were just starting to qualify a bunch of our young horses, it helped Joe out a lot. It gave him a chance to mature and boy did he get better.”
My Pal Joe wrapped up the big week for Chartrand on Sunday and continued to stay red hot while in the midst of his breakout season. As far as his recent hot streak, Chartrand said “hard work. We have a solid routine and everything is coming together right now. We work hard, as everyone does, but it’s just me, my wife and one groom. I’m very hands on. I do all my own shoeing. Plus, inside posts don’t hurt,” Alek admitted. “I didn’t have a horse draw outside the two post for a stretch this week. That helps!” And for Chartrand, not only has his stable gone on a tear of late but he looks much more comfortable in the sulky these days. “More experience breeds confidence, that’s for sure. The other drivers respect me more recently too I think. I don’t like to make a lot of waves out there. Just do a good solid job.” When I asked him about doing more catch-driving this year than in seasons past, Alek told me “I don’t have aspirations to become a big-time catch-driver. I enjoy driving, particularly trotters. I think I get along well with them. And I like helping to educate young horses too so a few guys have been using me to drive their young ones. But I like driving my own the most for sure.” Whatever he’s doing it’s working right now as the 35 year old Chartrand is driving to an average of about .275 with a training percentage almost a hundred points higher than that! While he has already won the track’s award for top breakthrough driver, Alek Chartrand is certainly having a breakout year in 2020 at the Spa.
Live racing takes place on Monday and Tuesday afternoon starting at 12:15pm with Wednesday evening racing beginning at 7:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!