Last week marked the return of two annual series’ for young horses as well as the kickoff of a new one at Saratoga Casino Hotel. There have been seven seasons of the Jim Derue Memorial Trotting Series and six installments of the Gary Kamal Memorial Pace contested in the fall at Saratoga. Those two series’ were put on pause in 2020 due to the pandemic but resumed last week. Normally, the Derue Series for trotters and the Kamal for pacers are the two autumn series’ but this year there has been an addition. A series for the ladies has been added to the menu and named for a superstar who was a legend in harness racing and had her roots right here at the Spa. Bunny Lake was trained by Saratoga Hall of Famer John Stark Jr. and earned over $2.8 million in her illustrious career. At the time of her retirement, the 2001 National Horse of the Year was the second-richest pacing mare in harness racing history. The locally based Bunny Lake was inducted into the National Harness Hall of Fame in 2010 and is now being recognized with a series in her honor. That series for fillies and mares got underway on Tuesday afternoon at Saratoga.
There were three divisions of leg one of the first annual Bunny Lake Pace for fillies and mares on a day that belonged to the front-runner for Horseman of the Year at the Spa Larry Stalbaum. Stalbaum stablemates Gingerbred Girl and Pursuit Of Speed each came into leg one of the series off wins and while their resumes are quite different, they were each favored in their respective divisions on Tuesday afternoon. Gingerbred Girl has been a force since coming to the Spa this spring and came into her $12,500 division off after finishing first or second in seven of her previous eight starts. She was her race’s 3-5 betting favorite on Tuesday and proved up to the task going wire-to-wire in 1:55.1 to stay red hot. Stalbaum made another trip to the winner’s circle a bit later on the card when Pursuit of Speed lived up to her name and made her early speed hold for a leg one best 1:54.3 score. The favorite in the third division of the day was defeated when North Country who with Billy Dobson in the sulky set a new lifetime mark in her debut out of the Monica Krist stable by parlaying her pocket ride to a 1:54 victory. The public’s choice Always Watching settled for third but drew the rail for this Tuesday’s try in leg two as she gets her chance to exact revenge on North Country when those two are joined by leg one winner Gingerbred Girl as those ladies look to punch their ticket to the inaugural Bunny Lake Pace’s $30,000+ Final set to be contested on Tuesday October 26th.
Monday afternoon marked the start of the 8th annual Jim Derue Memorial whose first leg featured four divisions, each of which went for a purse of $12,500. John Stark Jr’s Cindy Michelle came into the day on a three race win streak and with nine wins in twenty starts this season. The three year old filly, who won the $50,000 Excelsior Final contested at Vernon Downs in September, wound up as her race’s 1-5 betting favorite in leg one of the Derue Memorial. One of the series’ favorites on paper heading into leg one, Cindy Michelle continued her winning ways on Monday, stopping the timer in 1:58.3 while wiring the field. There was another filly who was installed as the public’s overwhelming favorite in leg one. Kyle Spagnola’s Ledges came into the series on a three-race local win streak but off of a break she made in her most recent race in the $45,825 Buckette in Ohio. The talented but inconsistent filly again went off stride at the start and opened the door for a longshot in her division.
Uncle Andy came into the try winless in 18 starts this year but had shown flashes of ability. Dismissed at odds of 18-1, Uncle Andy, who was piloted by Billy Dobson, made a powerful move in the race’s middle half en route to springing the upset in 1:58.2. Jody Weidman’s Spotlessreputation also took advantage of a break by his race’s favorite and wound up going coast-to-coast in 1:58.3 with Dan Cappello Jr. in the sulky on Monday. Paying $10.40 to win, Spotlessreputation thrust himself into the conversation among the ones to beat in the Derue Memorial by continuing to exhibit the winning way as Monday’s victory was the eighth of the season for the three year old in just fourteen starts. The fastest winner of the day, though, wasn’t the red-hot Cindy Michelle. It wasn’t winning machine Spotlessreputation or upset victor Uncle Andy. That achievement belonged to Dew Can Dew. The Janice Connor-trained mare came into the race with just two wins over the course of 49 starts in the last two years. On Monday, Dew Can Dew was aggressively piloted by young reinsman Brett Beckwith who moved the five year old to the early lead and didn’t look back. Dew Can Dew scored in a leg one best 1:57.3 and will be one to watch in Monday’s second leg as she is set to square off against fellow winner Cindy Michelle in what could be a preview of the $30,000+ Final which is set to take place on Monday October 25th.
There were two divisions of the second leg of the 7th annual Gary Kamal Memorial Pace contested on Sunday afternoon, the first of which consisted of both leg one winners as well the pair of pacers who were the favorites in their leg one races. It seemed likely that whoever prevailed in that division would emerge as the series’ favorite heading into next week’s Final but instead of clarity all we got was more question marks. Of the two winners and two favorites from leg one that participated in this one, none of those four finished first or even second. Lisa Zabielski’s Disneyman was piloted by leading driver Jimmy Devaux and the leg one runner-up reigned supreme in leg two on Sunday as he put in a career-best performance to prevail in 1:54.1 and punch his ticket to next week’s Final. In the last opportunity for the colts and geldings to qualify for next Sunday’s Final that looks like it will have no clear cut favorite in it, Steel Reefer avenged a leg one break by surging home in the stretch to score in a career-best matching 1:56.1 with Mark Beckwith in the sulky. Of the three autumn series’, the Gary Kamal Memorial may be the most wide open with Sunday’s Final perhaps dictated by the post position draw in a week that features plenty of series action at the Spa.
Live racing takes place every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday afternoon at Saratoga 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!