In the last five years, we have seen five different men be awarded the Horseman of the Year award at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Many years, the voters reward that season’s leading driver with the top horseman honor. Other times, it seems those casting their ballots look to highlight someone who has enjoyed a big year as a combination in both the driving and training departments. We have seen a wide variety of winners over the course of the last several years. In three of the last five years, the meet’s leading driver took home top horseman honors. In 2015, the winner was Bruce Aldrich Jr, in ’17 Frank Coppola Jr. and last season Billy Dobson. In 2014, Jordan Derue won Horseman of the Year despite not finishing among the top handful in either the driver or trainer standings because of his all-around strong campaign that season. Derue had a terrific year as a driver and a trainer and the voters rewarded him for the balanced, top-flight all-around horseman performance. In ’16, Mark Beckwith took home the award for the first time after finishing in the top five in the driver standings and assisting in the stable with his wife Melissa who ended up the year atop the trainer standings.
The trend with the voters dating back really a couple of decades is that they look for someone who has had a big year as both a driver and a trainer. If no one stands out that season in both departments, they usually default to the meet’s leading driver and give the Horseman of the Year to whoever that is. Well, so far here in 2019 reinsman Billy Dobson has dominated the driving colony after opening up what appeared to be an insurmountable lead early on in the meet. With close to 200 wins on the season already, Dobson is about sixty victories in front of Jimmy Devaux who currently sits in a distant second among local pilots. Dobson also is instrumental in running the Monica Krist stable which is in the midst of a remarkable campaign. Krist sits fifth in the trainer standings while holding an average of around a pretty much unheard of .450. While Dobson may lead the way in the race for Horseman of the Year honors, a sleeper is emerging as one that I feel could make a “dark horse” run for it.
Phil Fluet had raced at Saratoga from time to time, oftentimes spending some of the fall/winter months competing locally. The veteran horseman spent summers at Tioga Downs for several years before, in 2015, deciding to cut down on all the traveling and setting up shop full time at the Spa. That season, Fluet enjoyed immediate success locally and at year’s end took home the Johnny Page and Peerless McGrath Awards that recognize the track’s top breakthrough driver and trainer, respectively. Success is nothing new to Fluet who has gone on to enjoy solid seasons each and every year since coming to town. Phil was Tioga’s leading trainer on two different occasions in ’09 and ’10 and currently manages a medium size stable as he continues to make an impact here at the Spa. Fluet has caught on quite a bit as a catch-driver in recent years as well and after a seventh place finish in ’18 among local drivers is poised for at least that good of a finish this season, if not better.
Fluet has managed a barn that offers a mixed bag. This year, seemingly more than ever before, the 40 year old has featured a group of youngsters and has thus wound up on the road a bit more often in 2019. Fluet has several New York Sire Stakes participants and though his stable hasn’t featured any one standout, Phil has had a strong summer in stakes competition. Back at home, Fluet is enjoying his best season as a trainer since coming to town. In fact, 2019 could well end up being Phil’s best year overall including the ones in which he won training titles. While he features largely a group of trotters competing in classes spanning all the way from maidens up to the Winners Over level, again not one member of Fluet’s barn stands out as a stable star. Last week, he did win the $12,500 Winners Over with his Notmeitsyou, albeit in a dead heat with another rival. Currently, Phil is training to an average of over .300 overall and better than .325 at Saratoga this season. Those numbers, if they hold, would each serve as new career highs.
Training isn’t the only capacity in which Fluet is enjoying a strong campaign either. Phil currently sits seventh among drivers at the Spa in wins which is true to last year’s form. In fact, in the ’18 campaign, Fluet drove a career-high 109 winners with almost all of them coming here at Saratoga. That career high came one season after making 103 trips to the winner’s circle which at the time also served as a lifetime best for the now veteran reinsman. Phil has picked up more and more catch-drives over the past few seasons and why not? With the success that he has had, he has certainly made himself a formidable option for local trainers to use. In fact, Fluet has piloted local trotting star Cash Me Out to four wins in the Open Trot already this season. The pace Phil is on in both the win and purses earned departments are currently right on par with his production from his last two career years. Also, if history is any indication, the fall usually brings a big run of success for Fluet who has thrived in autumn series’ contested at the Spa. He won the final of the Jim Derue Memorial Trotting Series in 2016, the Gary Kamal Memorial Pace in ’15 and ’16 and the Holiday Trotting Series in ’16 and ’17. He’s simply had a knack for the big spot. Phil Fluet could well be on his way to a career year for the third consecutive season at the Spa and in the process could be putting together a resume worthy of being at least a nominee for Horseman of the Year if not a serious contender.
Live racing takes place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening at Saratoga in the month of August. First post time each night is set for 7:05pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!