A heat wave crashed down upon the northeast last weekend with Saturday temperatures approaching 100 degrees. The Saratoga Race Course canceled their race card for the first time since 2006 when the heat index was close to 110. With temperatures and the heat index becoming manageable, the show went on as planned on Saturday night at Saratoga Casino Hotel though post time was pushed back an hour from its regular 7:05 to 8:05pm. The evening was billed as the richest race card of the year at the Spa and was highlighted by the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace. The 11th annual installment of the Gerrity Invitational Pace featured perhaps the most star-studded slate of participants in its rich history. The track record was set in the Gerrity in 2013 when Bolt The Duer scored in 1:49 to the awe and delight of the roaring crowd. Incredibly, that mark was lowered the following summer when Dancin Yankee stopped the timer in 1:48.4 to set a track and world record in the Gerrity. The 1:48.4 clocking still stands as the fastest in track history. In the ’16 installment of the summer’s biggest race, defending National Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit came to town and made good as the race’s big favorite.
For the second time in the last four years, the defending National Horse of the Year was in town to take part in the Gerrity as superstar pacer Mcwicked made his Spa debut. Mcwicked became the oldest pacer in history to be named Horse of the Year after the Casie Coleman trainee led the sport with over $1.57 million in earnings in 2018. A winner in 12 of his 19 starts in his seven year old season, Mcwicked became the oldest horse in 43 years to be the biggest money earner in harness racing. Mcwicked came into the Gerrity maybe not his sharpest but still as an earner of $182,000 in just five starts in his ’19 campaign. Hall of Fame driver Brian Sears was in town to pilot Mcwicked who drew post three in what was the third consecutive start in which he would compete for over a quarter million dollars.
The race’s morning line favorite was Western Fame, a six year old with an incredible resume. The Rene Allard-trained standout piled up over a half million dollars in ten seasonal tries heading into Saturday night. The dominant force in the Levy Series at Yonkers this spring, Western Fame cruised to victory in the $664,000 Levy Final and won six of his ten starts in ’19 heading into the Gerrity. If there was a question mark attached to Western Fame, it was due to the fact that he was a beaten favorite in his last start and took three weeks off following that race. The two rivals, Mcwicked and This Is The Plan, that beat him in the $500,000 Franklin at Pocono in his last start were again his competitors on Saturday.
This Is The Plan, who comes out of the barn of North America’s top trainer Ron Burke, earned just shy of a half million dollars in his breakout 2018 campaign. The four year old has proven that last season was no fluke as he has really gotten sharp of late and had finished first or second in five consecutive races heading into Saturday’s try. This Is The Plan earned more than $428,000 in those five starts including one in which he bested Mcwicked and Western Fame to secure a victory in the half million dollar Franklin. Yannick Gingras was in town to pilot the Burke stable’s pacing star who drew post four for the Gerrity.
Of all the top-flight pacers who swarmed the Spa on Saturday night, the sharpest of the group may have been Australian invader None Bettor A. Trained by Jenn Bongiorno, None Bettor A came in on a nine race win streak. Regardless of what size track he races on, the six year old rising star paces 1:49 every week. A win at Northfield Park, a half mile track, came in 1:49 flat for None Bettor A which indicated that he was not only fast enough to beat his top-flight rivals on Saturday but may even be able to put the track record in jeopardy. Jenn Bongiorno and her brother, driver Joe Bongiorno, were seeking to go back-to-back in the Gerrity after winning last summer’s biggest race with Evenin Of Pleasure.
With the aforementioned group serving as only half of the Gerrity participants on Saturday, the overall field was as strong as it’s been in series’ history. As expected This Is The Plan and None Bettor A flashed early speed, powering off the gate together. Gingras and This Is The Plan set-up shop on the front end and after cruising through a first quarter in 26.3 got a bit of a breather heading to the half. The Ron Burke trainee completed his first lap in 55.4 with None Bettor A breathing down his neck while Western Fame got a bit shuffled. All the while, defending National Horse of the Year Mcwicked and Brian Sears got a cover trip before tipping three-wide approaching three quarters. This Is The Plan dug in before getting a two-pronged challenge and while None Bettor A couldn’t get there up the passing lane, the veteran Mcwicked did have enough to outkick them home. The eight year old stopped the timer in 1:50.4 to record his second win of the year and his 36th in 99 lifetime starts. This Is The Plan continued his streak of finishing first or second as he did that for the sixth consecutive start as the runner-up in the Gerrity while None Bettor A had to settle for third. Paying $9.80 to win in the mild upset, Mcwicked made Sears a winner in his only drive of the night. Incredibly, Sears became the eleventh different driver to win the Gerrity in its eleven installments while Casie Coleman became the eleventh different trainer to win the season’s biggest race at the Spa. Previous winning drivers are Ray Schnittker, Brett Miller, Dan Cappello Jr, Dan Noble, Mark Macdonald, Tyler Buter, Jason Bartlett, Montrell Teague, Jordan Stratton and Joe Bongiorno. Sears adds his name to that list. Winning trainers in Gerrity history are Schnittker, Lou Pena, Josh Green, Tony O’Sullivan, Peter Foley, Amber Buter, Jeff Bamond Jr, Clyde Francis, Peter Tritton, Jenn Bongiorno and now Casie Coleman. Mcwicked became the second defending National Horse of the Year to take the Gerrity crown joining Wiggle It Jiggleit who did it in 2016. What a night it was as the horses and horsemen and women overcame the heat to put on a terrific fourteen race program, one that included the fastest trotting time of the year and second fastest in Saratoga history as the Allard-trained Im The Muscle scored in the $25,000 Open Trot in 1:53.2. Also on Saturday, Allard’s Eclipse Me N paced to a 1:51.4 victory in the Fillies and Mares Open, a time that is the fastest in ‘19 for a lady pacer at the Spa.
Live racing takes place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening at Saratoga with first post times set for 7:05pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!