Three claiming series’ got underway at Saratoga Casino Hotel in recent weeks. One series is for colt and gelding pacers, one is for trotters and one is for pacing ladies, with the latter getting off to a later start the previous two. A cancellation due to snow wiped out what was slated to be leg one for fillies mares so that series got just pushed back one week compared to the other two which got underway on March 11th and March 13th. With three legs planned for each series featuring big purses and increasing claiming tag prices every week, there was sure to be a lot of activity in the claiming box in the trio of series’. As opposed to several past series in which horses would earn points according to their finishes, the top eight money earners from the series’ three legs will be eligible for the Series Finals weighting the last couple of legs even more than the first due to the increasing purses in each leg. Also, in order to qualify for the Final, a horse must race in all three legs of the series.
The Step Up To The Plate Claiming Series for colt and gelding pacers got underway on March 11 and featured four divisions which each went for purse a $12,500 and, predictably, saw an incredible amount of claims entered. The series looked to be “wide open” on paper and thus some owners and trainers saw opportunities to acquire a new member to their stables to compete for big purses and opportunities to acquire earnings towards the Series Final. Indicative of just how well-balanced the pacing series is, none of the divisions in leg one of the pace saw the favorite prevail. All four of the leg one winners came from off the pace to secure their victories and scored at odds of 9-1, 5-1, 5-1 and 12-1. Southern Flight, Mount Royal, Love Yourself and Octave were the leg one winners and two of which were claimed out of their race. Leg two took place on Saturday night March 18 and incredibly a completely different foursome secured victories.
Leg two featured $15,000 purses per division with the claiming tag elevated from $10,000 to $12,500. That didn’t prevent several claims out of leg two. Four brand new winners hit the wire first in their divisions as Control Tower, Gokudo Hanover, Big Idea and Sportslover all scored leg two victories making things wide open heading into the third and final leg leading up to the Final which will go for a purse of more than $30,000. Similar to the start of the series, the favorites didn’t thrive in leg two although one winner was the public’s top choice. Control Tower became the first and only favorite to prevail among the eight divisions of the series contested in the first two weeks. Gokudo Hanover was 4-1, Big Idea 9-1 while Sportslover went off at odds of 8-1 when they scored in a second leg that followed suit from the first leg with the, at least mild, upsets.
The picture of the Final still seemed cloudy when action kicked off last Saturday. The third leg finally resulted in a repeat winner as Control Tower went coast to coast with leading driver Jimmy Devaux at the controls to punch his ticket to next week’s Final. The upsets kept coming when Its Just Too Much emerged from out of a crowd in the stretch in Saturday’s second division to score at odds of 6-1. A pair of favorites actually make good to wrap up leg three when Rogue Cheddar and Nerve Of Steel N became the incredible tenth and eleventh different horses to win in the twelve divisions of the Step Up To The Plate Claiming Series for pacers heading into the Final as owners look to get a piece of a purse much bigger than those that these claimers usually compete for.
Trotters took center stage last Monday afternoon for leg two of their Step Up To The Plate Claiming Series. The first leg was contested the previous week which saw Esa try to put his stamp on the series in its early stages. Jordan Derue trained and drove Esa who scored a wire-to-wire leg one victory holding off JNR Express to secure the win. The other $20,000 division of leg one saw The Royal Poze set a new lifetime mark going coast-to-coast in 1:56.2. Esa was back at it in Tuesday’s second leg and starting for the first time out of a new stable following a leg one claim, the seven year old became the series’ first repeat winner as he toughed out a first-over victory. JNR Express came up second-best once again while The Royal Poze earned the show spot. The top three finishers in this division were all claimed out of leg two and will start for new connections in the third leg leading up to the Final. Monday’s second leg featured the debut for Life Well Lived out of the stable of trainer Kevin McDermott. The nine year old was claimed following a third place finish in leg one. Drawing the rail for his try in the $22,500 leg two, Live Well Lived cruised to a decisive victory with Shawn Gray in the sulky and likely secured his spot in the Final set to be contested during the first week of April. Leg three is set for Monday (March 27).
The Step Up To The Plate Series for fillies and mares kicked off on Tuesday after its first leg was delayed a week due to a winter storm cancellation on March 14th. There were three divisions of leg one that each went for a purse of $12,500 and the ladies’ series started just as the others did with longshots thriving. The favorites were 0-3 in leg one of the series for distaffers and all three “upset” winners came from well off the pace to secure their Tuesday scores. Although she wasn’t the favorite in her race, Cenalta Call Girl was the 2-1 second choice in the wagering when she put the swoop to the group to prevail in the fastest division stopping the timer in 1:56. Ol Little Shift continued a tear for her trainer as conditioner Jesse McAssey has gotten his season off to a great start. Ol Little Shift came into the series off a win and much like most of the other winners of the three series came from the back of the pack to register her victory. Leon Bailey sat behind the four year old mare who will be one of the favorites in her leg two try on Tuesday. The upsets kept coming when Broadway Role took center stage late in the mile in her $12,500 division of leg one to prevail in 1:56.4 while dismissed at odds of 9-1 with Chris Long driving for trainer Bob Leslie. The Final for the lady claimers is still a few weeks away since it was pushed back but much like the other series’ that are reaching their conclusions this week looks to be wide open with any number of mares owning a big possibility to be crowned series’ champ in a few weeks. The big purses and numerous claims have made for great racing in the “spring” series’ for claimers.
Live racing takes place every Saturday evening starting at 5pm and continues with Sunday, Monday and Tuesday matinees 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!