Every year since 1979, with the exception of a couple along the way, Saratoga Casino Hotel has named a top up-and-coming trainer. Oftentimes, the winner of the Peerless McGrath Award for top breakthrough/up-and-coming trainer at the Spa is a youngster- a freshman or sophomore, if you will, of the training game. On occasion, the award goes to a conditioner who has run a successful stable in the past but just not at Saratoga. Over the course of the forty plus years of the award being given out, there have been numerous trainers who could be considered a “hit one wonder,” that is to say the successes of the their award-winning campaign didn’t translate all that much into future seasons. More commonly, though, the winners of the Peerless McGrath Award go on to at least make a significant impact at the Spa if not become flat out stars.
Last season, Andy Gardner burst onto the scene at Saratoga and took home the McGrath Award after not only enjoying a breakout year but finishing second in the local trainer standings. Behind a late season surge, Gardner vaulted into the second spot among local conditioners and the 39 year old is back at it again in the early stages of the 2022 campaign. Behind a well-balanced barn of pacers and trotters, Gardner has horses at several levels, everything from maidens up to the Open. His Squee Hanover was a Trotter of the Year nominee in ’21 after having a monster year in the Open and the rising star is proving that his breakout season was no fluke. Although he has only one win in the trotting feature in the part of the meet, Squee Hanover has hit the board in three of his five starts in the Open in the early stages of ’22 and has been one of several Gardner trainees to get off to a strong start to the season. Gardner certainly isn’t suffering any kind of “sophomore slump” thus far and has opened up the year with a slight lead atop the trainer standings at the Spa after his Itsoneofthose became a four-time winner on the season scoring in Sunday’s finale.
The defending Peerless McGrath Award winner’s was in a first-place tie heading into Monday afternoon’s action with another thirty-something who is pretty fresh off taking home the same honors. Jaymes McAssey was the track’s top up-and-coming trainer in 2017 when he burst onto the scene among local conditioners. McAssey enjoyed the best year of his career in ’20 when he ended up third in the local trainer standings and followed it up with another top ten finish last season. McAssey’s strong start to this meet has been spearheaded by a pair of ladies who scored a double on Monday afternoon. Express Delight N has thrived since being acquired by McAssey last season and on Monday, the New Zealand invader scored her third victory of the young campaign. Allaboutthematerial is a much newer McAssey acquisition but like her stablemate recorded her third win of the season on Monday’s matinee. Those two ladies joined claiming pacer Fireball as three-time winners in ’22 for McAssey who lost Express Delight N to a claim but reacquired Fireball via the same method. The 2017 McGrath Award winner is off to a terrific beginning to his 2022 season and will look to build upon that strong start this week.
It was almost five years ago now when superstar driver Stephane Bouchard suffered an injury in an on-track accident that ended his career in the sulky. The silver lining in the tragic scenario is that the small stable he ran with his wife Eve Bergeron had an opportunity to grow. In 2018, Bergeron took home the Peerless McGrath Award before enjoying a monster campaign in ’19. In that season, the Bergeron barn set career highs in starts, wins, seconds, thirds and purses earned. The successes for Bergeron and Bouchard have continued and this season, their stable has gone on a tear in the first six weeks of the meet at the Spa. A pair of ladies has led the well-balanced stable and that pair of distaffers each have the rail this Monday afternoon as they look to stay hot.
Cinder’s Baby is a new addition to the Bergeron barn this season and heading into Monday’s try, the four year old owns two wins and two seconds in five local starts. Slowed only by a rare break that she made in her second local race, Cinder’s Baby has acclimated herself well to the Spa and will likely be the odds-on favorite on Monday as she looks to complete a hat trick. Most impressive about the mare has been the versatility that she has displayed thus far. A strong finishing closer in her first several local tries, Cinder’s Baby won on the lead last Monday (March 7) and will likely look to do that again as she once again drew the rail for her upcoming tilt. Pacing mare Shallow debuted late last season for Bergeron and picked up right where she left off out of town. In seven starts at Saratoga last fall, Shallow hit the board six times while winning twice. She became a rare horse to win her ’22 debut without having the benefit of so much as a qualifier as a prep for her seasonal debut when she went coast-to-coast to score in February. Her posts have been awful but the results haven’t mirrored her draws as the now four year old owns two wins and a second in four seasonal tries heading into Monday’s tilt in which she’ll start from the pole position. Shallow will look to bolster a resume that already consists of ten wins in 35 lifetime starts and shows her hitting the board in 26 of those career tries. Shallow and Cinder’s Baby could well secure a double on Monday and keep the stable of Eve Bergeron red hot. In 20 starts on the young season heading into Monday’s card, the Bergeron barn owns six wins, five second and a pair of thirds en route to a training average of a bulky .462. And after the matinee concludes, those numbers are likely to be pumped up even higher as the stable’s pair of up-and-coming lady pacers Cinder’s Baby and Shallow are both poised and in position to do good things and continue their stable’s hot start to the ’22 campaign. Gardner, McAssey and Bergeron, proving to be not only worry Peerless McGrath Award winners but trainers with sustainable success at the Spa.
Live racing takes place on Saturday evenings starting at 5pm and continues on Sunday and Monday afternoons 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!