It has been the most scorching summer in recent years in Upstate New York and the action this summer at Saratoga Casino Hotel thus far has been equally as hot and heavy. While familiar names Jimmy Devaux and Billy Dobson sit one-two in the driver standings once again this season, there is another Spa regular who has been on a tear in recent weeks. Chris Long took home the Johnny Page Award all the way back in 2007 when he debuted at Saratoga. Long was no rookie at that point in his career. In fact, the native of the State of Maine already owned driving titles when he came to town. The Johnny Page Award recognizes not just potentially the track’s top “up and coming” reinsman but also can be given to a driver who made a local impact for the first time, a breakthrough of sorts. That was the case when Long, already a sulky veteran, took home the honor in ’07.
Fast forward fifteen years and despite the fact that he has traveled to Vernon Downs to compete on occasion, the 54 year old is still a Spa regular. Finishing just inside the top ten among local drivers last year, Long’s 2022 season didn’t start out with a bang. Yes, he won his share of races but with the addition of a few new pilots mixing in with the already established top handful of reinsmen at the Spa, Long was left to try and find his way in the first few months of the campaign. The regular driver for the stable of trainer Robyn Mangiardi, a barn that Chris helps run, Long has gone on a summer tear at the Spa. With the Mangiardi stable in the midst of a solid stretch, Long has also been picking up more work as a catch-driver. The fact that several of the regular Spa drivers spend part of the week competing at Plainridge in Massachusetts has yielded more opportunities for the Maine transplant and Long has taken full advantage in recent weeks.
Chris Long began to sizzle in the sulky on the regular 90 degree days after the calendar turned to August. Since the weekend of August 5-7, the veteran reinsman has enjoyed his biggest stretch of the season. On Friday the 5th, Long piloted young trotter Cooper Ridge to his second consecutive victory. That win just propelled Chris into what would be his strongest four days in the last several seasons at the Spa. On Saturday, Long sat behind the Lisa Zabielski-trained Optical Illusion N. He began driving the U.S. newbie pacer in late June and hit the board in all five starts with him leading up to his debut in the Open Pace last Saturday.
Optical Illusion N rode a modest two-race win streak into his first career start in Open company. Optical Illusion N had the rail in the $16,000 feature and Long took full advantage of that pole control taking no prisoners with the Open first-timer. The six year old pacer cut the mile setting fast fractions throughout as he had to contend with a parked out rival every step of the way. Optical Illusion N not only showed well in his Open debut but he won it, prevailing in 1:52.3 while springing a mild upset at odds of 4-1. The win was the first of the season in an Open for Long and it wouldn’t be long before he would record another.
Following the Optical Illusion N Open score, Long came right back the following race and piloted longshot Talking Tom to an upset score. Talking Tom’s trainer Perry Simser is also the conditioner of Cooper Ridge whom Long has become the regular reinsman for. Talking Tom prevailed in his $12,000 race as a 17-1 longshot. Chris completed a Saturday hat trick when the Robyn Mangiardi-trained youngster Captain T Hanover scored in the evening’s finale on a three-win evening highlighted by an Open score for Long who was just beginning to heat up.
Long picked up right where he left off when on Sunday evening he completed a similar script to the one he followed on Saturday. In addition to sitting behind a trotter named Mass Flow as he sprung a mild upset, Chris guided a Mangiardi trainee named Raise The Rent to her second consecutive score and piloted another Zabielski-trained pacer to the winner’s circle en route to his second consecutive hat trick.
Although Chris was likely sad to see that weekend’s action come to a conclusion, he rolled his successes right over to last weekend at the Spa. In fact, it was much of the same formula for the veteran driver when racing picked back up on Friday evening. Long, who spent the previous weekend guiding longshot winners, Mangiardi trained- winners and even an Open winner, followed along those lines on Friday when he kicked off the evening by piloting a 47-1 shot to victory in the evening’s opener! Long has begun and ended his nights in style over the course of his hot streak, winning the first race in three of four cards and scoring in the nightcap on two occasions.
He did both on Friday and sandwiched in between was another Open score for Long who was winless in featured races this season and now has rattled off a pair of Open victories in as many weeks. Southeaster was making just his second start in the $16,000 Open Trot when Long blasted the veteran trotter out in the early going. Southeaster made the lead and never looked back before stopping the timer in 1:56.1 for his first ever win in a feature and the second Open win in as many weeks for the driver who now has piloted a winner in the Open Pace and Open Trot in the span of six days. The veteran pilot guided another Mangiardi trainee to victory in the nightcap on Friday to complete his third consecutive driving hat trick.
Chris Long was back at it again on Saturday evening and although he didn’t win the evening’s first race for a change, he did make another three trips to the winner’s circle guiding pacers Major Camby, Time For George and Octave to Saturday scores. It was the fourth consecutive race card during which Long scored a hat trick. Led by his midsummer hot streak, Long, who finished in a tie for eighth among local reinsmen in 2021, has made a climb up the driver standings and currently sits in the eighth spot once again about two-thirds the way through the ’22 campaign. And with a few more weekends like the ones he’s had in the recent summer heat, Chris Long may well just find himself advancing even further up the ladder amongst local drivers.
Live racing takes place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening during August with first post time each night 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!