Billy Dobson’s name atop the driver standings at Saratoga Casino Hotel is nothing new. The sulky star made an immediate impact at several tracks in New York State after moving east from Michigan a decade ago (yes, it’s been that long already!). Dobson came to Saratoga to drive on a full-time basis in 2010 and became the track’s leading driver in his first full season at the Spa. Dobson went on to rattle off five consecutive driving titles, winning every year from 2010-2014 and has been the dominant force among local reinsmen throughout the decade.
While Dobson has continued to finish in the top three in the driver standings every season, the now 33 year old has gone three years without winning the driving title at the Spa. Bruce Aldrich Jr. finished atop the list in 2015 before veteran reinsman Frank Coppola Jr. became the top dog once again. Coppola, the winningest driver in track history, reigned supreme in ’16, winning the title for the first time since 2009, before winning his track-record twelfth driving championship last year. If the first month of the ’18 racing season is any indication, Dobson may be on his way to driving title number six as the talented pilot has surged into an already big lead in the standings after getting off to a simply sensational start.
Dobson wasted little time this year piling up the wins and has been the star among local drivers in the first month plus of the ’18 campaign. With hat tricks and grand slams seemingly becoming the norm for him, Dobson has started out his season with an over .400 driving average, a number that surged after his historic Friday night on March 16th.
Billy Dobson has been nothing shy of a sensation since coming to town last decade but he did something on that Friday evening that even he had never done. Dobson piloted seven winners on the twelve race card, the most he’s ever piloted in a night and just one off the all-time track record of eight set by Coppola on a Sunday afternoon in 2008. Dobson finished up that weekend with a pair of victories on Saturday and a four-bagger on Sunday afternoon. Last weekend brought about much of the same for “Billy the Kid.” After piloting just one winner on Thursday’s matinee, Dobson went on a tear, scoring four wins on Friday night and following up that performance with a five-win Saturday evening. It was and is the biggest hot streak of the now veteran reinsman’s career as Dobson has secured at least three victories on over half of the nineteen race cards already contested in 2018.
Friday night is ladies night and Dobson has certainly been a hit with the ladies in the last few weeks. On the Friday night when he piloted his career-high seven winners, he also had a couple of second place finishes, most notably in the Open with Tempus Seelster. It was the second consecutive runner-up try in the $12,000 Open for the Heidi Rohr-trained mare. Last weekend, Dobson sat behind Tempus Seelster and they wouldn’t have to settle for second best. The mare recorded her second Open victory (to go with two second place finishes) of the season, pacing away to prevail in 1:53.3, the fastest clocking of the young campaign for a mare at the Spa as Tempus Seelster and Billy Dobson are proving to be a lethal Friday night combo. Piling up numerous multi-win days already in the first month of the meet, the star reinsman has sped up his pursuit of the 4,000 career win plateau, a milestone that he is less than 100 victories away from reaching. And this for a driver who is just 33 years of age and even with five local driving titles under his belt already, maybe never has been as red hot as he is right now.
While Dobson was, and in some respects still is, the young driving star at Saratoga, there were a couple of “new” twenty-somethings that achieved career highlights in the last couple of weeks. Truman Gale and Steve Rybka both come from harness racing families and have taken on the role of driver in recent years. Gale, who races primarily in central and western New York, competes at Saratoga early in the year before tracks such as Vernon Downs open. Gale has been driving for a decade and owns 760 career victories but very few of those wins have come while racing at the Spa. Two Thursdays back, though, Gale enjoyed the best day of his Saratoga racing career. The 29 year old son of trainer Bob Gale had just two drives on the matinee card but prevailed in both of them. Catch driving for trainer Angus Macdonald, Gale piloted trotter Irish Kate to victory before guiding his own Cuz I’m Happy to a win of his own.
Steve Rybka, who grew up in a harness racing family, made his driving debut late last year. Rybka scored three training wins in ’17 but went winless in his small number of drives. It wouldn’t take the 22 year old long to pilot his first winner though as on January 3rd at Monticello Raceway, Rybka scored the upset with Rockintheniteaway, a mare that he trained. Rybka recalled the day being one that he would never forget and says that though he wants to have a small stable of his own, it’s being a catch driver that really interests him. On Friday night, Rybka piloted his first ever Saratoga winner as his Concert Ticket romped in the evening’s opener. Rybka took over the training duties for Concert Ticket a couple weeks back and sat behind him as they cruised to a nearly four-length victory in 1:55.1 on Friday. As good of a feeling as the young reinsman had in January when he sat behind his first winner, one can only imagine how euphoric he must have been last weekend when he made his first ever trek back to the winner’s circle at the track at which he grew up and hopes to become a catch-driver at moving forward.
Live racing takes place on Thursday and Sunday afternoons beginning at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evenings starting 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!