The name Crawford has been found near the top of the standings at Saratoga Casino Hotel dating back decades. Kim Crawford, a winner of more than 4,600 races as a driver in his career, was inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in 2009. Kim still drives from time to time while maintaining a small stable as a trainer. The Crawford name remains prominent at the Spa though these days as a different pair of Crawfords is enjoying success.
Brett Crawford began driving over a decade ago but it wasn’t until 2011 when the young horseman started to make an impact. In that year, he started 129 horses as a trainer and drove 243 times. At the conclusion of that season, Brett was named the Peerless McGrath Award winner, an award that recognizes the track’s top up-and-coming or breakthrough trainer. After successful campaigns in 2011 and 2012, Crawford scaled his driving back a bit focusing more on the running of his stable. In the two seasons that followed, he had his best years as a trainer winning more than 70 races in close to 500 combined starts. It wasn’t until last year though when Brett really started to focus on driving and in the ’18 campaign, Crawford really caught on as a catch-driver. Becoming a regular in the sulky at the Spa, Crawford took home the Johnny Page Award for the track’s top breakthrough driver as he piled up 861 drives almost tripling his previous career-high and scored 78 wins, a number also almost three times as big as his previous best. Crawford went from driving primarily his own horses to catching on as a catch-driver, piloting for several of the track’s top trainers.
After Crawford’s career year in the sulky in ’18, he handed the primary duties of his stable over to his wife Michelle at the start of this season. Michelle, a native of Sweden, came to Florida to work with horses in the winter of 2008. While working with trainer Annette Lorentzon, Michelle met Brett who was at the Spring Garden Ranch training facility that winter as an assistant to conditioner Paul Kelley. When Brett returned north at the conclusion of the winter, Michelle went to New Jersey with Lorentzon to continue working for her stable. That summer, she came to New York and set up shop at Saratoga, for a time working for Kelley alongside Brett. Michelle and Brett married in November of 2010.
Michelle has a long history with horses and horse racing. Though her parents both had jobs outside of the industry, they always had horses on the side. Michelle started driving ponies at the age of eight and by the time she turned eighteen was driving standardbreds, competing in harness races in Sweden. Here in the U.S., Michelle took part in RUS competition for several years. Racing Under Saddle is a popular form of racing internationally and started to catch on here in the USA earlier this decade. Horses competing in RUS are standardbreds that trot but whose riders are not sitting behind in a sulky but rather sitting on their backs, pretty much like jockeys in thoroughbred racing. RUS was just catching on in Sweden when she left a decade ago and Michelle competed briefly in it in her native country. Seemingly a natural with horses, she began to thrive in that form of racing here in the States. On Hambletonian Day in the summer of 2014, Crawford went to the Meadowlands to race in the biggest RUS competition this country has seen. She piloted trotter A Penny Earned to victory in a RUS race that went for a purse of $27,500 before a packed house in New Jersey. Michelle went on to guide Kyle Spagnola-trained trotter The Franchise to a RUS win on her “home field” here at Saratoga in October of ’16.
While her RUS days are behind her, Crawford has become more and more involved with the horses in the stable that she runs with her husband. In fact, Brett will tell you that she does most of the barn’s heavy lifting. Michelle performs most of the day-to-day duties in the barn, setting up equipment, jogging and even shoeing the horses herself. With Brett focusing more on driving and because when members of their stable would travel out of town to race she would do the shipping, Michelle became the stable’s official trainer this season. She and Brett continue to run the barn together but Michelle is now the trainer of the stable with the second highest winning percentage of any barn at Saratoga thus far in ’19.
Though it don’t necessarily feature one star that stands out more than others, the Crawford stable has found success with a host of different horses this season. They span the class ranks from bottom to top. They’ll have a maiden like Franky Two Times, who is owned by Brett and Michelle, prevail one day, and win a New York Sire Stake Excelsior race with three year old filly Chase You the next. Chase You went coast-to-coast on Tuesday evening at Yonkers, cruising to a decisive score in her $15,000 division of the Excelsior A’s. While they don’t have a win in an Open this year, they have had a pacer, Nitro Glistening, and a trotter, Windsun Missile, propel into Open company for the first time and enjoy some success. A longshot in their tries, Nitro Glistening owns a second-place finish in the Saturday feature this season while Windsun Missile was the runner-up in back-to-back installments of the Sunday afternoon Open Trot. When I asked Michelle Crawford what her favorite part of being a trainer is, her answer was immediate. “The horses,” she told me. “They are our pets and I just love them to death. I spend as much time as I can in the barn with them, sometimes until the early hours of the morning. I just love them.” And that love, combined with ability and all-around horseperson-ship has led Michelle Crawford to an over-.400 training average in this her “freshman” season as a trainer. She’s the official leader of the barn now but make no mistake, Michelle Crawford has been an integral member of the Brett Crawford stable dating back close to ten years now. While Brett currently sits in the top ten in the driver standings, Michelle Crawford’s name sits in the top ten among local trainers, the first time she has seen her name there in what has already been a long-term love affair with horses and horse racing, one that has spanned the continents.
Live racing takes place every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon starting at 12:00 Noon and on Saturday evening beginning 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!