For the last several years, there has been a trio of series’ contested in the early springtime at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The series honor the memory of people who were integral parts of the harness racing community at the Spa for decades. The John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trot and the JP Morel Memorial Pace began back in 2013 in memoriam of two long-time horsemen at Saratoga. John Mongeon Sr. could be spotted in the backstretch for most of his life and passed away several years ago. John’s sons Scott and John Jr. are longtime fixtures at the track and continue to run successful stables today. The series in his honor is comprised of young trotters, many of which have limited experience on the track.
Heading into this year’s seventh annual John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trot, the one to beat appeared to be John Stark Jr’s Xcuseme. A participant in the New York Sire Stakes last year as a freshman, Xcuseme enjoyed some success battling the state’s top two year olds. His ’19 campaign kicked off with a winning qualifier during the final week of March before recording back-to-back victories in the weeks leading up to the start of the Mongeon Memorial Trot. His race’s 1-5 betting favorite in leg one, Xcuseme cruised to another win, scoring in a career-best 1:57.1 to stamp himself as the clear series favorite. In Wednesday’s second leg, Xcuseme again made the lead while under the guidance of his trainer-driver John Stark Jr and never faced an anxious moment en route to another open-length win.
Xcuseme wasn’t the only repeat winner in the series’ legs as Living Proof I Am recorded the two biggest victories of his young career in the Mongeon Trot. Phil Fluet pilots the Andy Byler trainee who scored in 1:58.3 on each of the past two Wednesday matinee cards. Tasked with drawing post seven for the upcoming final, Living Proof I Am will have an uphill climb ahead of him if he is to threepeat. The runner-up to Living Proof I Am from leg one, Pumping Irony, didn’t settle for second in the second leg of the series as she cruised to a wire-to-wire win with Steve Genois in the sulky. Pumping Irony is one of just two mares who will compete in the final of the Mongeon Memorial and drew the rail as she’ll seek to pull off what would be a mild upset. Starting from post three in this Wednesday’s $33,400 Final, Xcuseme is the clear one to beat as he looks for the series sweep and to add his name to the list of previous winners of the John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trot which consists of Pop I, Order By Don, Quick Feet, Palmers Pride, Reigning Autumn and Spoiler Alert. The final will be followed by a $15,000 consolation for other competing members of the series.
Saturday night will be a big night of racing at Saratoga. Just hours after the conclusion of the Kentucky Derby, there will be two series finals contested as well as a memorial race for George Karam, the racing judge who passed away suddenly a couple of weeks ago. The JP Morel Memorial Pacing Series will conclude with a $32,000 final for the young colt and gelding pacers who competed for two weeks leading up to its culmination this Saturday. The Monica Krist-Billy Dobson stabled shined in the two legs of the $10,000 per division series which honors the memory of longtime top driver at Saratoga JP Morel. In Saturday’s second leg, Dobson and Krist swept the two divisions. Mantario became the only two-leg winner while Energyzone Hanover avenged a rare defeat with a convincing romp in career-best fashion. Mantario cruised to victory in leg one, prevailing in 1:54.2 and followed it up with just as decisive of a win in the second leg as he paced away from his competition before stopping the timer in 1:55.1. Energyzone Hanover came into the series as a winner of his last four races dating back to last season. Overpowered in leg one by rival Super Roll, Energyzone Hanover had to settle for second. On Saturday, the sophomore pacer would not be denied and drew away to score a decisive victory for Dobson in a lifetime best 1:55. Super Roll, who upset Energyzone Hanover in leg one, was the runner-up to him on Saturday night to punch his ticket to next Saturday’s $32,000 final. Dobson will have to choose which of the two Krist trainees that he will sit behind in the series final.
While the two series’ have had clear favorites emerge, the one for the ladies has been completely wide open. The Virginia O’Brien Memorial Pacing Series honors the memory of a woman who was an incredible ambassador for harness racing at Saratoga. Virginia O’Brien was a longtime employee in the press box at the raceway before launching and running the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame. The fifth installment of the series in her memory has seen a host of different winners leading up to next weekend’s final. In fact, no favorites prevailed among the three divisions of leg two. In Wednesday’s second leg, Andy Sardella’s Mississippi Charm avenged a leg one break as an odds-on favorite by scoring in career-best fashion. Jay Randall piloted Mississippi Charm and moved her first-over on the race’s favorite in the $10,000 leg two of the O’Brien before powering away to win by two and a half lengths. The four year old mare set a lifetime mark of 1:56 in what was the biggest win of her young career. Reflexionofroyalty registered the biggest upset on Wednesday as she came from well off the pace to score in 1:56.2 while dismissed at odds of 7-1. The favored Chase You, who was the only leg one winner to even hit the board in the second leg, finished third to Reflexionofroyalty on Wednesday. The other leg one winners Delightful Trysta and Qing Qong Bluechip squared off against one another but both finished out of the money while rival Unusual Clarity pulled off the mild upset at odds of 9-2. The fifth annual Virginia O’Brien Memorial Pacing Series will conclude on Saturday night with a $32,000+ final. In addition to the series’ finals on Saturday, there will be a memorial race for George Karam, the judge and longtime groom and assistant trainer at Saratoga that passed away a couple weeks ago. The $25,000 memorial race is an Invitational for Open caliber pacers.
Live racing takes place every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon starting at 12:00 Noon and on Saturday evening kicking off at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!