Favorites Emerge In End of Season Series’ at the Spa

Beginning in 2016, Saratoga Casino Hotel has featured a pair of series in the racing season’s final month to be comprised of horses that haven’t had their best year. One series for pacers and one for trotters each consist of two legs with participants gathering points towards finals that will go for purses of $20,000 to be contested during closing week. The third annual installment of the series’ got underway last week at the Spa. The Holiday Trotting Series is for horses with earnings of $12,500 or less this season that started a minimum of fifteen times in 2018 as of October 28th. Thursday afternoon’s matinee card featured three divisions of the first leg of the Holiday Trot with each division going for a purse of $7,500.

A clear favorite emerged at the conclusion of the three divisions on Thursday afternoon as a trotter that is just two years removed from the Hambletonian was the star of the series’ first leg. The Royal Harry showed a bit of promise in limited tries as a two year old but in 2016, things all came together for him. Named after owner and breeder Mike Pozefsky’s son Harry and trained at that time by Ake Svanstedt, The Royal Harry had a fantastic three year old campaign. In a season that was highlighted by him competing in the Empire Breeders Classic as well as the $1 million Hambletonian, The Royal Harry had a fantastic campaign in the New York Sire Stakes. Harry earned over $200,000 in his fourteen starts in ’16 highlighted by a mark of 1:54.4 set over the 5/8 mile track of Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania. Coming to Saratoga midway through last season, The Royal Harry joined the stable of Andy Sardella and spent much of his time locally in top level condition races in addition to making some starts in Winners Over and Open Trot competition.

The Royal Harry split his ’18 campaign between the stables of Sardella and Vernon-based Chip Zombick. The year had not been very good for the five year old and thus he was eligible for the series that kicked off on Thursday. Back under the guidance of Andy Sardella, who has now recorded more wins in 2018 than in any previous year in his career, The Royal Harry flashed his sensational early speed in leg one of the Holiday Trot before building a big lead in the first lap. The trouble for Harry this year hasn’t been starting, though, it has been finishing. On Thursday, The Royal Harry again faltered a bit late in the mile but had plenty left to prevail in 1:57.2, a time that was by far the fastest among trotters in leg one of the series. The race’s odds-on favorite New York Chrome had to settle for second but will certainly be a factor in the series moving forward.

Another former NY Sire Stakes stalwart scored a victory in leg one of the Holiday Trot. Megan Reynolds’ JS Trotting Bob was a superstar freshman back in 2013 when he won seven times in ten starts en route to over $166,000. A few connection changes later, JS Trotting Bob has become an overnight horse at Saratoga and on Thursday, the seven year old recorded his third win of the season, storming home in the final half to score in 1:58.2. Just as The Royal Harry did in his division, JS Trotting Bob defeated the odds-on favorite in his race as Sweet Royalty came up second-best to JS Trotting Bob in what was his best performance of 2018. Sweet Royalty still looms as one of the top threats in the series and drew the rail for this Thursday’s second leg. The Cuse Is Loose was the lone favorite to make good in the Holiday Trot’s first leg as Brian Cross piloted the Andy Byler trainee to a decisive victory. The Cuse Is Loose has looked like a different horse in recent weeks. After going 0-25 this season, the four year old has recorded two dominant victories in his last three starts propelling him into the role of one of the favorites in the Holiday Trot. Leg two of the series for trotters will take place on Thursday afternoon with the $20,000 Final set for closing week. Though it still appears to be up-for-grabs, The Royal Harry certainly stamped himself as the one to beat after his fast and convincing leg one score with leading driver Billy Dobson in the bike. These trotters will look to add their name to the list of previous champs of the Holiday Trot that is comprised of Under The Stars and Wrightwood.

The Holiday Pacing Series kicked off on Friday night for pacers with the same qualifications for eligibility as their trotting counterparts. There were two divisions of the Holiday Pace on Friday and each went for a purse of $7,500. While there was no decisive winner in either division of leg one like there was in the Trot the day before, Nitro Glistening and Rocknrollroyalty did emerge as the favorites in the series. Brett Crawford trains and drives Nitro Glistening who though he hasn’t had a great year has been battling tougher competition than what he’ll square off against in the final few weeks of the racing season. Crawford put Nitro Glistening in gear in the early going on Friday night and powered the favorite out to the lead despite drawing the outside post in the $7,500 first leg. UF Lana Rae, who was one of only two ladies to participate in leg one, came into Friday’s tilt riding a two-race win streak and wound up riding the pocket. Nitro Glistening proved up to the task and held off UF Lana Rae en route to a victory in 1:56.3, a time that wound up as the faster of the two divisions of leg one.

Rocknrollroyalty may have come into the series as the favorite. After all, the Claude Huckabone Jr. trainee paced 1:54.3 while finishing third in a conditional race versus competition much stronger, at least on paper, than what he would square off against in the series. Rocknrollroyalty wound up in the pocket on Friday night and as the field bunched up around the final turn, the question would be whether or not the race’s 3-5 betting favorite would have enough time to gather momentum in the passing lane. He did, barely, and Rocknrollroyalty hit the wire first in 1:57.1, prevailing in a multi-way photo to record the win in leg one of the series. Though the victory was just his third on the season, Rocknrollroyalty is certainly a big threat to fellow winner Nitro Glistening as the series moves forward. One to watch is Six Before Seven who raced parked the mile for the third consecutive week and only lost by a head on Friday. A second-place finish despite getting another extremely difficult trip puts Six Before Seven on the radar as one to watch in the second leg of the Holiday Pace, whose previous winners are Moveoutofmyway and Three Handbags, leading up to the $20,000 Final which is set to take place during closing week of the ’18 season at the Spa.

Live racing takes place on Thursday and Sunday afternoon this week starting at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evening with first posts of 6:45pm. 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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