The 2017 racing season moves into full swing this week at Saratoga Casino Hotel. For the first time in several years, there was February racing at the Spa with four matinees carded. Matinees will be a bit more common this year as Thursday racing with take place each week at 12:15pm in addition to the regular Sunday afternoon programs. The added race days in February will essentially take the place of the extra day per week normally added during the month of August which will now feature four race nights per week. When racing takes place this Thursday afternoon, it will be followed by cards on Friday and Saturday evenings with 6:45pm first posts which will remain the schedule for the majority of the year.
The four afternoon cards were dominated by a driver who won five consecutive driving titles from 2010-2014. Billy Dobson made a splash when he moved to New York from his native Michigan back in 2008. Dobson made the move east as a young, up-and-coming reinsman at the age of 24 and had immediate success at Monticello and Yonkers Raceways, earning career high purses of over $2.6 million in ‘08. Dobson debuted at Saratoga in the fall of ’09 before deciding to move to Saratoga to drive full-time the following year. To say “Billy The Kid” made an immediate impact would be an understatement as the Michigan transplant dominated while spending an awful lot of time in the sulky that season. In a career high 2396 drives, Dobson piled up 390 wins and 364 seconds in total and earned his first driving championship at the Spa. It would be a sign of things to come for the sulky star who has been the dominant force among local drivers this decade.
Dobson won his second consecutive driving title at Saratoga in 2011 in a year that would see him pile up a career high 407 wins. While still driving periodically at other tracks, Saratoga was the home for Dobson who was making it look easy. Billy displayed consistency (to say the least) as he went on to win the title in 2012, ’13 and ’14. It wasn’t until one of North America’s winningest drivers, Bruce Aldrich Jr, moved to Saratoga to drive on a full-time basis in 2015 that Dobson was dethroned. Aldrich won his first local title that season. Veteran reinsman Frank Coppola Jr. won his record-setting eleventh title last year, his first since ’09 when Dobson came onto the local scene. Mix in Stephane Bouchard, who has won several titles out of town and held a big lead in the local standings for a large part of last year, and there are several drivers who are very capable of being the top dog in 2017 at the Spa. If the February portion of the racing calendar is any indication, Dobson may be the one to watch as he looks to snatch back his crown as top driver.
There were back to back matinees on President’s Day weekend to kick off the ’17 racing season and Dobson came out guns-a-blazing. Still one of the younger regulars at the Spa, the 32 year old Dobson followed up a four win opening day with a hat trick on the Monday afternoon card. Of all of the trainers that compete regularly at Saratoga in the last few years, none has had Billy Dobson drive more winners for him that Rene Allard. One of North America’s winningest trainers in the last several years, Allard regularly uses Dobson on his horses and that combo has proven to be lethal for their competition. On opening day, Dobson piloted a pair of winners for Allard and the pair teamed up for another victory on Monday. Thursday afternoon saw Dobson make two more trips to the winner’s circle giving him nine victories on the first three race cards.
While many of Dobson’s victories have come with Allard trainees over the course of the last few seasons, Dobson helps run the barn of his mother trainer Monica Krist, a stable that has won at a very high rate in the several years. Their recent stable star has been Long Story Short. The veteran trotter prevailed in his first two starts after joining the Krist barn in 2015 and went on to win five out of his first seven starts in the claiming ranks for those connections. The second half of ’15 was certainly an indicator of things to come for the classy trotter who in 2016 had an award-winning campaign.
Long Story Short began his 11 year old season by setting a lifetime mark at the Meadowlands in January of last year, an extremely rare feat for any horse at an advanced age like eleven. The win would be the first of an incredible fourteen in ‘16 for Long Story Short who also tallied ten seconds and eight thirds en route to earnings of more than $91,000. Almost all of the veteran highstepper’s starts came while competing in claimers which makes the earnings tally all the more impressive. After recording two wins at the Meadowlands in five winter starts this year, Long Story Short is showing that he has no signs of letting up. One of Dobson’s four wins on opening day came with Long Story Short who secured a rare, front-running victory for the trotter who does most of his work as a closer. On Sunday afternoon, the Krist trainee climbed up into the Open Trot to compete against the top best trotters the track has to offer. Bet down to odds of 6-5, the longtime claimer had to settle for fourth in the $12,000 Open as he was never much of a factor in the race. Most likely, Long Story Short will be back in claimers very soon, a level where he’s thrived in the past few seasons at the Spa.
Live racing is in full swing starting this week with matinee cards starting at 12:15pm on Thursday and Sunday. Nighttime racing returns to the Spa on Friday and Saturday beginning both nights 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!