It’s already been seven years since Phil Fluet came to Saratoga Casino Hotel to compete on a full-time basis. The leading driver at Tioga Downs in 2009 and 2010, Fluet set up shop at Saratoga in ’14 and enjoyed immediate success. That season, the lifelong horseman took home the Johnny Page and Peerless McGrath Awards at the Spa as he was recognized as the top breakthrough driver and trainer, respectively, that season. Ever since, Fluet has climbed higher and higher in the standings as a driver and is coming off back-to-back campaigns in which he ended up sixth among local reinsmen at the Spa.
In 2019, Fluet was the regular driver early in the season for classy trotter Cash Me Out. The Kyle Spagnola trainee finished first or second in six consecutive installments of the Open Trot in the springtime and had Fluet at the controls in each of those starts. The now 43 year old pilot guided Cash Me Out to four Open wins in the ’19 campaign all told before Brett Crawford took over as the regular driver for the Spagnola-trained trotter who wound up being named Trotter and Horse of the Year at the Spa that season. Fluet sat behind Cash Me Out just once in the abbreviated 2020 racing season and in that try guided him to yet another Open score. Now in his ten year old campaign, Cash Me Out is still winning Opens. In fact, he is the winningest horse in the local feature for trotters through the first six months of the season.
In the first installment of the Open Trot in ’21, Cash Me Out was guided to victory by Fluet. Fast forward to the start of the fall, and the millionaire trotter now has 21 local starts to his credit this year and every single one of them has taken place in the Open. In all 21, Fluet has been at the controls. Navigating from an outside post almost every week in the local trotting feature, Cash Me Out has again been piling up the victories this season. After winning his seventh Open of the year in late August, the classy veteran had to overcome post eight in his first post-Labor Day start. Fluet asked the millionaire for early speed and the ten year old making his 250th career start secured yet another victory. Unlike in the majority of his races, Cash Me Out was dismissed by the betting public in that try when he overcame post eight to spring the upset at odds of 9-1. It was victory number ten of the campaign and incredibly the 67th win in the illustrious career of the Mike Traylor-owned highstepper. After making a rare break the following week, Cash Me Out is back in to go this Monday and will be part of a very strong field of trotters in the $15,000 Open.
With his eight Open scores sitting behind Cash Me Out in ’21, Fluet is the leader among drivers as far as Open Trot victories this year. Last Monday, he had a new trotter to drive in the feature and it certainly proved to be a live drive for the now veteran reinsman. Squee Hanover had dabbled in the Open a few times this season but last week, it just felt different. What changed? Well, the young trotter was coming out of the red-hot stable of Andy Gardner who saw his young trotter record his biggest career victory just a week before. Fluet piloted Squee Hanover for the first time in that one when the five year old drew the rail in the $13,000 Winners Over trot. Interestingly, Fluet actually trained Squee Hanover for a very short time in 2019 but never sat behind him in a race before his try from the rail on September 13th. In that start, the speedy trotter went coast-to-coast and did so in a seasonal-best time of 1:55.2. From there, it was up into the Open for the Gardner trainee who made a couple of starts in the Monday feature this summer but didn’t fare very well.
The fate was much different last week though as Fluet piloted Squee Hanover for just the second time ever and was aggressive in the early going with the razor sharp highstepper. A longshot at odds of 10-1 in the morning line, Squee Hanover got a bit of board backing at post time but still offered his supporters decent value at 5-1. As would be expected when squaring off against the top trotters at the track, Squee had to work hard on the engine while carving out fractions of 27.3 and 57.1 in lap one but remained strong throughout before lasting on the lead to prevail in 1:55.2. The final time was the same as in his previous week’s victory but this win was even sweeter for his connections. It marked the ninth Open score this year for Fluet, putting him just one behind leading driver Jimmy Devaux for most in an Open at the Spa in ’21, and was the first feature score in the career of trainer Andy Gardner in his time here at Saratoga. Though Squee Hanover didn’t have Cash Me Out to contend with last week, there was plenty of stiff competition for him when he secured his first ever Open victory. The race’s favorite Dewey Arnold was a NY Sire Stakes superstar this summer earning almost a quarter million dollars on the season and Bridge Works who won the local Open Trot four times over the course of seven weeks this summer.
This Monday, the track’s new Open trotter will face the stiffest challenge of his career as he not only will have to contend with Dewey Arnold and Bridge Works again but that group will be joined by superstar Cash Me Out. Oh, and Squee Hanover drew post position six in the six-horse feature. Fluet, who owns nine Open trot victories this year, will look to add another to his tally but if he does so, it will mean Squee’s modest win streak will come to an end. The reinsman, who once again sits sixth among local drivers this season, will be piloting Cash Me Out with eight-time leading driver Billy Dobson getting the call to guide Squee Hanover in the $15,000 Monday feature. Whether or not Fluet can get Cash Me Out to rally after making a break in his previous start remains to be seen but one thing is for sure- Phil Fluet has been the king of the Open Trot at the Spa this season and has been instrumental in the late summer surge of Squee Hanover who is quickly developing into an Open force to be reckoned with for his trainer and Peerless McGrath Award favorite Andy Gardner.
Live racing takes place every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at Saratoga with first post time set for 12 Noon each day. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!