Pat Curtin’s name popped up in the program a couple weeks ago for the first time at Saratoga Casino Hotel. An unknown to those of us at the Spa, Curtin is no rookie and certainly no stranger to harness racing. Born and raised in the Midwest, Curtin is fourth generation harness racing on one side of his family and fifth generation on the other. Curtin’s dad Tim raced at many eastern tracks throughout his career in addition to being a fixture for so many years in the now nearly defunct Chicago harness racing circuit and has piled up more than 3,000 career wins as a driver. Pat Curtin decided to move east recently and set up shop at a farm in Middletown, NY. The 35 year old trainer-driver has competed at several tracks in the Northeast since his arrival but after just a dozen or so starts at Saratoga, it looks like he may have found a new home.
Curtin’s career started in the early part of last decade and the man who grew up around harness racing in the Chicago area began as a driver. Curtin enjoyed some success in the sulky years before launching a career as a trainer. When Curtin logged his first win as a trainer in 2009, he already had roughly 150 victories as a driver. By 2014, Curtin had really come into his own as a driver and had his best years in the bike in ’14 and ’15 when he earned purses of over $1 million combined. Seeing the quantity and quality of his drives increasing in the past few seasons, Curtin had really found his niche. All the while, the born and raised horse lover was in the midst of his best years as a trainer as well, maintaining a solid training average while his driving career was seemingly reaching its peak.
While Illinois was for quite some time a hotbed for harness racing, unfortunately the industry has taken a sharp turn for the worse there recently which has resulted in the closing of previous standardbred strongholds Maywood Park and Balmoral Park. Though Hawthorne Racecourse in Chicago still does offer an abbreviated harness racing season, Curtin found it to be the time to relocate and last month left Illinois to set up shop at Golden Shoe Farms in Middletown as he looked to “get the ball rolling” in the Northeast. Curtin raced at Pocono Downs and at Monticello Raceway for a few weeks before making his debut at Saratoga on October 27th.
Curtin announced his presence with authority on the Thursday afternoon program when he piloted his trainee Daddy Let Me Drive. The two year old pacer still had maiden status as he competed in just his 12th career race and when Curtin asked the freshman to go, he went. Daddy Let Me Drive moved first over for the aggressive Curtin and put away the race’s favorite with relative ease en route to securing his first career victory. It made for quite an impression for Curtin who moved his local record to one-for-one as a driver and a trainer. One win, anyone can do that right? Could the Illinois invader follow the win up with any production with the other four horses he had in the following days? Yes, in fact the next night Curtin also won the opener with a young horse except this time in upset fashion. Weddle By Weddle was dismissed at odds of 30-1 in her local debut and much like her stablemate did the day before, moved first over and powered past the race’s favorite en route to a career best score. In a modest five starts in his opening few days at the Spa, Curtin made his presence felt recording a pair of victories in what would serve as a little foreshadow for what was to come.
Last week, Curtin again shipped up I-87 to Saratoga on Thursday and Friday and brought a total of eight of his trainees to town. On Thursday evening, Curtin raced five horses and registered a win, a second, a third and two fourths. A solid day for the Saratoga newbie but a performance made more impressive by the fact that the horses that hit the board for Pat were installed at morning lines of 12-1, 20-1 and 15-1, respectively. He didn’t just have success, he did it with horses who, at least on paper, didn’t look to figure prominently in their races.
It was on Friday evening when Curtin really showed that he would be a presence at the Spa. Pat had three of his trainees in to go on filly and mare night. It was déjà vu all over again for Weddle By Weddle who again was competing in the Friday opener just a week after springing the upset in her local debut. While she wasn’t anywhere close to the 30-1 odds she was a week before, Weddle By Weddle again wound up first over and coincidentally powered past the same filly she did en route to her score the previous week. Pacing mare Weddle By Weddle moved to two-for-two at the Spa with the victory. Curtin’s Working Her Mojo drew the rail as she looked to break a longstanding maiden and the Spa’s rising star again had the filly in perfect position as she secured her first lifetime win. For all of Curtin’s early Spa success, all of his winning trainees were in lower level non-winners of 1 or 2 race lifetime type classes. That was until pacing filly HSLB Michelle came from well off the pace to complete a Curtin hat trick on Friday. HSLB Michelle’s win came in a $7,450 pace for distaffers to give Curtin his biggest win at Saratoga. In 13 starts as a trainer and driver, Pat Curtin has already recorded six wins, a second and a third. He did have one catch drive for an out-of-town conditioner which is something Curtin hopes to do some more of moving forward. The harness racing lifer was a catch-driver in Illinois and has picked up a few drives here and there since moving east but he’s hoping if he continues to have success, he will get some more opportunities and also hopes to get some more horses sent to him from Chicago-based trainers as he continues to make his mark in New York and Pennsylvania. What does the future hold for Curtin? He says that we can certainly expect to see him at Saratoga for the remainder of the meet and when racing resumes in 2017. And who knows…the 35 year old could even wind up emerging as a late season option to be a nominee for our breakthrough awards for both drivers and trainers that are new to the Spa. While that remains to be seen, one thing we do know is that Pat Curtin has certainly announced his presence with authority.
Live racing takes place every Thursday starting at 4pm and continues on Fridays and Saturdays with first posts of 6:45pm. Sunday matinees begin at 12:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!