Brian Cross is one of the winningest drivers of the last twenty years at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The lifelong horseman has been a consistent force in the sulky since the early 1980’s. Recognized with the track’s Johnny Page Award for up-and-coming drivers back in ’89, Cross made an immediate impact in the bike. The Vermont native began his career as a trainer not long after and thrived in the early 90’s. After the turn of the century, Cross really made his move up the standings and while a solid force as a driver, Brian began to really make his mark as a trainer.
Just prior to the “harness track” becoming the “racino,” Cross had his best years as a trainer. In ’01 and ’02 Brian’s stable was as big as it ever was and also as successful. Training a career-high sixty winners in each of those years, Cross was among the top conditioners at the Spa in both wins and training percentage. The Spa regular was named Horseman of the Year in 2003 after having his third consecutive season in which his training average finished between .347-.351. While his stable thrived, Cross was finishing consistently in the top five in the driver standings as well, wrapping up in ’03 campaign with a super-impressive driving average of .334. Once purses increased significantly and competition became even more fierce, Brian still rattled off big year after big year. Cross finished over $1 million in purses every year from ’04 until the turn of the decade and did that while running one of the track’s top, most consistent stables.
In recent seasons, with competition stiff among drivers and trainers at Saratoga, Cross’s spot in the standings has dropped a bit. This is not to say he isn’t still a factor among horsemen and women because he most certainly is. In fact, 2018 and 2019 were the best years for Cross as a driver since back in ’12. Also, he trained more winners last year than he has in any season since the ’13 campaign finishing with a higher training average than he had in a decade.
The abbreviated 2020 season has been forgettable for most of the world’s population let alone the horse racing community and while Cross, like everyone else in the sport, will see his number of wins and purses earned for the year reduced, he is enjoying a strong campaign with his barn. Heading into the final two weeks of the racing season, Cross carries a training average of .261, which if it holds would be his best percentage in any year since 2011. Leading the charge for his solid stable is a trotting mare who is taking on the best of the best and thriving.
Stone In Love was a sale purchase in 2019 for Pat Cannon and a group that he is the managing partner for. Cannon had a taste of thoroughbred owning dating back to the late 90’s but also had some history as a harness racing fan. When he decided to put together a group of friends to buy horses, harness racing was the path as the prospect of getting to race almost weekly was extremely attractive. Not comfortable being a managing partner and spending other people’s money without sufficient knowledge of the sport, Cannon went to the USTA Harness Racing Driving School in Ohio before buying a cheap horse for himself. When that pacer named Ideal Jolt won his first race for Cannon, the new owner was hooked. After putting together the conglomerate of owners, Cannon had to decide what trainer to go with. He wanted someone who was stabled at the track, was honest and a good all-around horseman. He started asking around a bit and heard nothing but good things about Brian Cross. Cannon landed in the Cross stable a decade ago and has been there ever since.
Cannon and his group initially decided to purchase horses that were in the $10-$15,000 range. Last year, Pat suggested to his owners that they climb the ladder a bit and sent Cross to the Ohio sale in the fall with a budget of $30,000 for a new acquisition. Brian, who has always seemed to have a good eye for horses at sales, brought back Stone In Love, a bit of an undersized trotting mare but one that appeared talented. Fast forward a year now and the price tag of $27,000 has proven to be quite a steal. “She’s a little bit undersized,” Cannon told me. “We liked the promise she showed but we never imagined she would step in and compete against older, more experienced Open caliber colts but she takes on the boys and doesn’t back down.”
After joining the Cross barn late last year, Stone In Love made two starts at the Spa to wrap up her season. The filly went two-for-two and displayed terrific versatility in those victories. To conclude her three year old campaign, Stone In Love came from well of the pace to score in her local debut by almost six lengths before going wire-to-wire from post eight in her second Spa start. The Cross stable star secured a pair of victories previous to the March shutdown this season and upon returning to the track in June, the now four year old mare rattled off back-to-back jacks. From there, it was up into the Open for Stone In Love, a tall order for any lady to race against the track’s top level boys but for such a young mare to do it seemed like an incredibly daunting task. Following a fifth and a third place finish in her two Open starts, Stone In Love took off for a stint at Yonkers. “When the Open Trot was being carded on just a few occasions this summer at Saratoga, we decided to bring her to Yonkers and try her down there. The purses are great there and we felt she could be competitive,” Cannon explained. They were right. Stone In Love was not only competitive downstate but won a race from post eight going last to first to upset at odds of 10-1. All together, in five starts at Yonkers, Stone In Love recorded a win, two seconds and a fourth.
The last couple of weeks saw a return to Saratoga for Stone In Love who finished third and second in her two most recent starts in the Open Trot. The unassuming trotting mare is showing that she can race with the top boys the track has to offer. This Monday, the rising trotting star will drop in company and is sure to be the big favorite in the betting as she drew the rail seeking her seventh win of the season. Heading into Monday’s race, Stone In Love has hit the board in 17 of 22 starts on the season and will likely add to that impressive total when she becomes the most recent Cross trainee to take to track for the lifelong Saratoga horseman who wrapped up last week’s action at the Spa with a win with another lady out of his barn. Xenia Onatopp got up to prevail in last Tuesday’s finale to add another to the growing total of training victories for Cross in 2020. As far as Stone In Love, Cannon credits Cross and groom Kathleen Allen for doing amazing work with the mare. “Brian Cross is about the most honest man I’ve ever met and is great horseman. My partners and I love being part of his stable and hope to be for a long, long time.” And if they can find another horse as good as Stone In Love someday, you might start seeing more and more horses owned by the Cannon Strike Stables in years to come.
Live racing has just four days remaining for the 2020 campaign with racing taking place on Monday and Tuesday for the next two weeks. First post time each day is set for 12 Noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!