For Brett Derue, winning isn’t really anything new. After all, the 36 year old native Canadian has thrived in his time as a trainer at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Coming south to New York fifteen years ago, Derue comes from a family that has had involvement in harness racing for quite some time. His father Jimmy was a longtime farrier at Saratoga before his unfortunate passing in 2012. Brett’s brother Jordan took home the Johnny Page Award for the track’s top up-and-coming driver at Saratoga Casino Hotel in 2009 and was named Horseman of the Year in ’14. For Brett, his training career began in ’07 but it was in the following year in which he broke out training thirty winners, most of which came right here at the Spa.
Derue’s career really took off in 2017 when the size of his stable increased as did his successes. After a strong couple of seasons, Derue had his best year in ’19 when he piled up 58 wins and trained to an average of .354 while finishing in the top ten in the local trainer standings. While 2019 was memorable for Derue, this year has a good chance to be even better. Not only are his statistics right on par with his ’19 campaign but Brett has already accomplished things in ’21 that he’s never achieved before led by a pair of newly acquired horses who have quickly become stars.
Derue has always enjoyed success but rarely has he been swimming in the deep end of the pool as far as quality of horses. Yes, he’s had plenty of his trainees compete at high levels over the years but it wasn’t until this season when his primary ownership team of Steve Picarazzi, Scott Petillo and Donny Bullard decided to up the ante a bit and purchase a couple of top-flight horses. In conjunction with Derue, who owns a piece of almost every horse that he trains, the ownership group acquired a high quality pacer and trotter over the course of the last two months.
Brett had heard about a horse racing in Pennsylvania named Simple Kinda Man. His friend told him that from what he knew, the horse was on the smaller side but was sound and would likely be just as fast on a half-mile track as he was on the 5/8 track on which he had been racing. Derue looked into the horse’s history and found that as a three year old he had won the Battle of Waterloo in Canada beating Hudson Phil who has been a stalwart in the local Open Pace for the past few seasons. That showed Brett the kind of potential that Simple Kinda Man had and his owners wound up acquiring the six year old pacer in June. Simple Kinda Man won his local debut in 1:53.4 for Derue who had leading driver Jimmy Devaux doing the piloting. Devaux got off the bike and told Brett “we’re going to have a lot of fun with this horse.” Well, he was right and the positive feelings that the new acquisition’s connections had after his first Spa start only intensified in the weeks that followed.
Simple Kinda Man was the runner-up in his second local try but the second-place finish yielded even more positivity as it came despite the new Derue acquisition having to come from well off the pace in a mile clocked in 1:52. That defeat would be the final one that the rising pacing star would suffer at the Spa as he just took off from that point on. Simple Kinda Man drew the rail in his first start in the $12,850 Winners Over and not only did he go wire-to-wire but did so in 1:50.4 which at that point was the fastest time of the season for any horse at the Spa. Though that time was lowered just three races later that same day by Open Pace superstar Crockets Cullen N, it wouldn’t be the last special thing Simple Kinda Man did for Derue. The speedy pacer won the Open in his first ever start in it going last to first and climbing out of a hole of nearly a dozen lengths to spring the upset at odds of 8-1. Following a second-place finish in a $36,000 race at Yonkers, it was back to Saratoga for Simple Kinda Man who scored another Open victory with Devaux at the controls. The track’s leading driver told Derue that the new Open star is one of the best horses that he’s ever driven. Big words from a veteran reinsman who has done a LOT of winning in his illustrious career. After a third-place finish in the Yonkers Open, Simple Kinda Man won last Monday (Aug 9th) in a $38,000 race downstate as he continues to thrive for his new connections. Derue says that though his stable’s top pacer is set to compete in the Open at Yonkers again on Monday that we will likely see him back in the Open at the Spa in the very near future. Brett points to the pacer’s versatility as a reason why he’s thrived so much this summer. “He’s awesome. The drivers that race him love him and he’s been a total star for us so far,” Derue explained. Simple Kinda Man is making it look easy and has thrived with whatever trip he’s gotten at either track that he’s raced at, already earning more than $60,000 since moving to the Derue barn just two months ago.
While Simple Kinda Man has emerged as the Derue stable’s star, there is a trotter that he recently acquired who is looking to challenge that one’s role as the top dog. Bridge Works came to Saratoga this spring while under the guidance of trainer Gary Levine. Levine enjoyed a fair amount of success with the five year old but after much negotiation sold the young trotter to Derue and company. The path from the Levine stable to that of Derue is a familiar one for horses at the Spa as Brett has purchased dozens of horses over the years from his good friend and track’s defending leading trainer. “My owners always liked the horse and we thought we had him bought like three different times,” Derue said of Bridge Works. Levine liked the horse a lot but when another trotter from his barn was competing in similar classes decided to sell to his buddy Derue. “Gary has never steered me wrong,” Brett explained. “Plus, he figured the horse would be perfect to be out at the farm where I train. And he was right. He loves being out in the field and just running around.” And he’s also loved getting his picture taken as Bridge Works has gone back-to-back in the Open Trot since his move to the Derue stable. His first victory in the local Open came after he made a big brush first-over to cruise past his rivals before prevailing with Wally Hennessey in the sulky. Bridge Works proved the win was no fluke when he came back last Monday to put in a career-best performance, not only securing his second consecutive Open victory but doing it in a career-best 1:55.1. The new trotting star of the Derue stable will have a big chance to three-peat when he may well be the favorite in this Monday’s installment of the $14,000 Open Trot despite drawing post eight for the tilt. For Derue, his new featured duo has provided something for him that the winner of now 263 lifetime races had never achieved previously- winning Opens. Yes, when Simple Kinda Man prevailed in the local feature last month, it was the first ever Open victory for a Derue trainee. And safe to say that the victory kind of broke the seal as the top-flight conditioner now has rattled off four Open wins over the course of the last six weeks and will have a big shot of adding one to the growing tally in Monday afternoon’s top race for trotters as the dominant duo has continued to thrive since their acquisition for Derue.
Live racing takes place on Monday and Tuesday afternoons starting at Noon and on Saturday evenings during the month of August with live action 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!