The accolades of driver Billy Dobson have been well-chronicled in this column over the course of the years. Dating all the way back to 2009 when the young reinsman was just in his early twenties, Dobson has been a complete and utter force among drivers at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Upon moving east from Michigan in 2008, Dobson made the rounds throughout New York State often piloting at Monticello and Yonkers as well as a bit here at the Spa. By 2010, at the age of 25, Dobson set up shop here at Saratoga to become a regular. To say that he made an immediate splash would be an understatement as the then-up-and-coming pilot was the leading driver in 2010 in his first full season at the Spa. Though the talent and all-around ability were obvious from the get-go, no one could have really predicted the sensational run that the sulky star would go on in the decade that followed.
A driver who quickly became known for always getting the most out of the horses that he drove, Dobson proved to be a dominant force among reinsmen despite competing in a very solid driving colony. At one point last decade, we featured nine different guys who had been leading drivers previously, whether here at Saratoga or at other tracks. Even surrounded by stars, Dobson shone brightest of all. The youngster won the local title every year from 2010 to 2014, an incredible five consecutive championships. Though he remained near the top each and every year, Billy did go through a “drought”, at least one by his standards. Dobson went three straight years without finishing atop the standings at the Spa when Bruce Aldrich Jr. won his first local title in 2015 and veteran Frank Coppola Jr. rattled off his incredible eleventh and twelfth driving championships in ’16 and ’17. After that, Dobson grabbed the baton again in 2018 and has yet to relinquish his crown.
Dobson won his seventh and eighth driving titles in ’18 and ’19 and did so with authority. Despite stalwarts like Coppola, Aldrich and Jimmy Devaux taking runs at him from time-to-time, Dobson has remained on top. Here in 2020, it has been much of the same for the Saratoga superstar who is all but assured a ninth championship. In fact, it is safe to say that now at the ripe old age of 36 (sarcasm of course), Dobson has never been better. His driving style, as is the case for so many greats, has matured and developed more and more seemingly every year. And that is quite an accomplishment for someone who started out on top a decade ago. A driver who seemed often to seek the early lead in races, Dobson has almost done a 180 and has become one of the track’s most patient drivers, while still maintaining his aggressiveness. Enjoying a big lead in the standings once again this year, a lead that grew even more after his monster performance in the short week last week, Dobson has an uncanny knack for having his horses in position to win while very rarely having them on the front end. Obviously, on a half mile track having early speed for positioning is so important for horses and when drivers can be forwardly placed early, particularly on the engine, it so often turns out with a great result. Dobson has displayed a perfect blend of patience and aggression and, without knowing the exact percentage, has noticeably seen a big increase in wins coming from positions other than on the engine.
Last week, with only two race cards being contested at the Spa, the meet’s leading driver piled up eight wins. Securing grand slams on both Monday and Tuesday afternoon, Dobson had a total of 21 drives. On Monday, the meet’s leading reinsman sat behind nine horses and cut the mile (was on the front end) a grand total of once. In that race, he piloted the Robyn Mangiardi-trained Storming Mist to victory in the trotter’s local debut. On Tuesday’s card, Dobson had twelve drives and how many times was he carving out the fractions on the engine? Once! In Tuesday’s finale, Billy guided Energyzone Hanover to a wire-to-wire victory in just the second time on the front end in the short week at the Spa for the track’s dominant pilot. Who says you need to be on the front to win on a half-mile track?? While the two race days certainly serve as a small sample size, the trend of Dobson succeeding without leading has been the way for quite some time in what seems like a new philosophy for the sulky standout. And one that is a drastic change from the tactics young Billy Dobson used a decade ago when he started out his career at the Spa. Though both methods have proven to be successful for the driver who incredibly piloted his 4,500th career winner already last week, Dobson has seemingly reinvented himself while continuing to thrive. Also, for the betting folk out there, among the eight winners Billy had this week, there were win prices of $9.00, $12.80, $15.20 and $18.80. Pretty good return on investment for a driver who enjoys a big lead in the standings once again in what will be an abbreviated racing season at the Spa. You want consistency? In the last three years leading into the ’20 campaign, Dobson drove 281, 287 and 287 winners and while that number will obviously be much smaller this season with all of the months lost on the racing calendar, Dobson is once again the cream of the crop among local drivers and is well on his way to title number nine at the Spa while still pivoting and adjusting his already successful style.
Live racing will take place this week on Monday and Tuesday afternoon starting at 12 Noon and on Wednesday evening with first post time set for 7:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!