A lot goes into playing the claiming game at a race track. Whether in thoroughbreds or harness, there are a lot of instances in which claimers are raced and many times these horses with “price tags” attached are claimed by new connections. Like anything else in business, sometimes these claims work out and other times they don’t. There have been several cases in the first couple months of the racing season at Saratoga Casino Hotel in which claims have worked out glowingly for a horse’s new owners. There are a handful of trainers at the Spa who play the claim game more than others and many of the conditioners have had a lot of recent success with their new acquisitions. Pacing mare Bye Bye Michelle has been claimed more than any other horse at Saratoga in the last year. Competing at a high level in the Fillies and Mares Open at times in the last year and a half since coming to the Spa, Bye Bye Michelle has been claimed seven times in the last eight months. The talented mare has gone back and forth between the stables of leading trainer Melissa Beckwith and conditioner Andy Sardella. Despite being claimed more than any other local horse, Bye Bye Michelle has enjoyed success while a part of both stables for whom she has competed and was a nominee for Filly and Mare Pacer of the year in 2016.
On Saturday night, there was the “final” of the Perfect 10 Mini Series for colts and geldings who had raced the previous Saturday in a one-week, two division competition. The purses were the standard ones for a low-level $6,000 claimer but the “final” went for $10,000, a big chunk for horses usually competing for a purse of somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000. Two of the Mini Series’ top competitors were horses claimed by trainer Andy Sardella in the past month. Sardella, a long-time local trainer, has built his stable almost exclusively with claimers throughout the years. He has shown a keen eye for horses to claim and, more often than not, has done very well with claimers after acquiring them. Two of the race’s top three favorites in the morning line were horses claimed by Sardella in March. Partner is a horse that has competed off and on at Saratoga over the past few years and Sardella entered a claim on him for $6,000 during the first weekend in March. He had immediate success as Partner scored a wire-to-wire victory in his first start off the claim and followed it up with a second place finish while pacing 1:54.4. Partner was claimed out of that race by trainer Kyle Spagnola, who much like Sardella has been active in the claiming game in the last couple of years. Partner jogged in what would be his lone start out of the Spagnola barn before getting claimed back by Sardella who had an eye on competing in the Perfect 10 Mini-Series.
Partner scored impressively in the lone leg of the series, stopping the timer in 1:54.2 and would likely head into the $10,000 final as the one to beat. That is until he drew post position seven, making his circumstances extremely difficult for the big race. It was another horse claimed by Sardella who would be the race’s favorite after drawing the rail. Palm’s Beach was claimed by Sardella in late March and paid immediate dividends for his new connections by rattling off back to back victories including one while competing in the Mini Series. Dan Cappello Jr. took over the training duties for Palm’s Beach and subsequently piloted the veteran pacer who wound up being the 6-5 favorite in the Saturday final. Along with his former stablemate Partner, Palm’s Beach was also facing stiff competition from another classy veteran as Bruce Aldrich Jr’s Clooney Drummond drew post four. The thirteen year old Clooney Drummond, who has earned just shy of $550,000 in his illustrious career, had finished first or second in four consecutive races heading into Saturday night. His lightning fast early speed is his biggest asset (along with having the heart of a champion) and that speed was on display again on Saturday. While Partner and Clooney Drummond squared off in a sizzling first quarter paced in 26.3, Palm’s Beach and rival Dabestleaderever sat patiently just off the pace. That twosome pulled in tandem and got past a weary Partner turning for home. It was Dabestleaderever and driver Jimmy Devaux who got the job done in a mile paced in 1:54.3 while Palm’s Beach had to settle for second. Still, in five starts since his claim, Partner, who finished fourth on Saturday has earned $7,800 while Palm’s Beach in three starts since the claim has taken home $6,500.
The Mini Series final wasn’t the only display of successful recent claims on Saturday night. Talldarknhandsome may have looked like an unconventional claim on opening weekend in February. After all, trainer Jackie Greene claimed the nine year old pacer for $6,000 despite the fact that he had been competing in the $4,000 claimers for the past month or so at Monticello. Greene’s plan worked to perfection when her new acquisition prevailed in a $10,000 claiming race in his first start for new connections, doing so in upset fashion at odds of 18-1. Fast forward a month and Talldarknhandsome has moved all the way up to the $12,500 level and came into Saturday’s race looking to threepeat. After winning from well off the pace two weeks back, the veteran pacer scored a front-running victory in a career best 1:54.2 the following week evidencing his versatility and showing just why he proved to be a great claim, even if it was a bit of a surprising one at the time of the acquisition. On Saturday, the nine year old recorded his third straight victory as he dominated the $12,500 claimers in what was his 50th lifetime win. Competing in the $4,000 level in February at Monticello, fast forward two months and Talldarknhandsome has now rattled off consecutive wins in the $12,500 claimers and has registered a new career mark set in what was his 185th lifetime start. The claiming game working to perfection for several trainers who have had success playing it this season at the Spa.
There is matinee racing, with a 12:15pm start, only on Thursday this week (no racing on Easter Sunday) and night time programs will take place on Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:45pm both nights. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!