Most years, the fall series’ named in the memory of past Saratoga Casino Hotel horsemen Jimmy Derue and Gary Kamal have been wide open. The Derue Series started in 2013 and the Kamal Series in ’14 and since they began, the series’ have very rarely seen a dominant force. The Jim Derue Memorial is for young trotters and within that group, it is fairly difficult to totally dominate. Just two times in its eight installments has any horse swept the Derue coming into this year’s annual series. In 2019, Certify was fresh off a terrific New York Sire Stakes season that saw him win the $55,000 Excelsior Final contested at Saratoga just a week before the Derue kicked off. The sophomore high-stepper then scored in both of the legs of the series before becoming a decisive winner in its $38,000 Final. John Stark Jr’s Showmeyourguns pulled off the feat a few years before when he prevailed in both legs before winning the $28,200 Final in 2015. Similarly, the Kamal Memorial has seen a sweep just one time in the series’ seven installments. In 2017, the Beckwith stable’s Carolina Beach dominated the series from start to finish as the young pacer launched a local career that would see him become one of the top Open pacers at the track the following year.
While the Derue and Kamal Series’ have been autumn staples at the Spa for close to a decade, the Bunny Lake Pace is a new addition to the docket. A series for fillies and mares that honors the sensational career of one of the top distaffers to ever call Saratoga home, the Bunny Lake Pace began in the ’21 season. In the lone installment of the series that consisted of two legs and a Final, a young filly named North Country pulled off a sweep. North Country wasn’t the betting favorite in either of her two legs of the series but after prevailing in both, the Monica Krist trainee did assume favored status in the $35,200 Final of the first annual series that honors a mare who was named National Horse of the Year in 2001 and went down in history as one of the top pacing mares in harness racing history. The locally-based mare competed for Saratoga Hall of Famer John Stark Jr in what was an illustrious career. And while the Bunny Lake Pace was dominated in its initial installment, its winner North Country didn’t project to be a “special” or elite caliber mare. The 2022 Bunny Lake Pace, though, does feature an impressive force who is poised for a series sweep and could certainly be viewed as special not only in the present but in the near future as well.
To call Racey Rach N dominant may not do justice to the historic roll she is currently on at Saratoga. Trainer Lisa Zabielski co-owns the New Zealand invader with Kim Zabielski and ever since the five year old stepped hoof on the Spa oval, with the exception of a qualifier, she’s never lost. Racey Rach N made her U.S. debut in early August and went coast-to-coast in that try making good as the 6-5 betting favorite. From that point on, odds of 6-5 have been nothing but a memory as Racey Rach N scored victories in each of her first nine Spa starts and went off higher than 1-5 in just one of those races. When the second annual Bunny Lake Pace kicked off on October 17 and Racey Rach N popped up as one of its participants, there was little doubt that she would be the one to beat. The first two legs of the series played out accordingly as the Zabielski trainee extended her win streak to an unheard of eleven when she cruised to back-to-back jacks in her $12,500 divisions of the Bunny Lake Pace. Chris Long has been the driver for each of the Racey Rach N victories as the mare eyes her twelfth consecutive score in Monday afternoon’s third leg. Although she drew post five in the five-horse race, Racey Rach N will no doubt be a 1-9 favorite for the seventh consecutive week as she’ll look to head into the Series Final on what would be her twelfth consecutive win, a longer streak than any horse has had at Saratoga in decades, with an eye on a Bunny Lake Pace sweep.
The Gary Kamal Pace honors the memory of a longtime Saratoga horseman who passed away in 2007. This year’s version of the series had three legs, the third of which was contested on Saturday night. With pacers having their final chance to gain points towards next weekend’s Final, which is set to go for a purse of $35,000, there were two divisions on Saturday. Pickup Man Hanover came into the evening as the series’ one to beat following impressive victories in each of the first two legs. A New York Sire Stakes star as a two year old last year, Pickup Man Hanover raced just once in his ’22 campaign before encountering some issues and being shut down for more than five months. Though the sophomore only recorded one start back heading into the Kamal Memorial in early October, one would never know that Pickup Man Hanover was still on the comeback trail as the Simone Noud trainee rattled off three straight wins in the series. On Saturday night, Pickup Man Hanover and driver Luke Hanners went coast-to-coast for the third consecutive week to cement their standing as the ones to beat in the Gary Kamal Pacing Series. After all, no other pacer scored victories in more than one of the legs heading into next weekend’s Final.
The Jim Derue Memorial’s ninth version has been a bit more balanced than the other two autumn series’. No horse will have a chance at the series’ sweep heading into next Sunday’s Final after the Paul Kelley-trained trotter Admire was defeated in Sunday’s third leg after rattling off consecutive wire-to-wire scores with Hall of Famer Wally Hennessey at the controls. While Admire may well have been considered the series’ one to beat heading into Sunday, Perfect Titan has been the fastest among the young trotters in the Derue this month. Perfect Titan was defeated as the odds-on favorite in leg one but bounced back in a big way. The Amanda Kelley trainee cruised to a decisive leg-two score in a mile trotted in 1:57 and followed it up with a leg-three romp that saw him post a 1:56.3 clocking, the fastest of any division of the series heading into the Final. Leading driver Jimmy Devaux has piloted Perfect Titan throughout his short time at the Spa who, depending on the post position draw, could well wind up as the favorite to win the ninth annual series named in honor of Jim Derue, a longtime farrier at the track and father of longtime Spa trainers Brett and Jordan Derue.
Live racing takes place every Saturday evening starting at 5pm and continues on Sunday and Monday afternoons with matinees beginning at noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!
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