Gardner Planting His Roots at Saratoga

For Andy Gardner, staying at one place hasn’t been his M.O. over the course of his career. Andy grew up in horse racing as his uncle and grandfather were always a part of the sport. He went to college and played hockey and upon completion of that took a job in construction while always having a couple of horses to train. The 38 year old began his career as a trainer back in 2006 but only recorded a few dozen starts in his first few seasons In those days, Gardner lived in northern New York and thus raced a lot in Canada as well as occasionally coming down to Vernon Downs and here to Saratoga to compete. Everything changed in 2013 when the size of Gardner’s stable increased dramatically and he moved to Vernon Downs to give racing a go on a full-time basis. His stable enjoyed big time success and Andy even dabbled in driving a bit. While he never became much of a catch-driver, Gardner did do very well in the sulky. In fact, Gardner drove to an average close to .400 over the course of close to a decade from ’07-’16 and actually drove a career-high 175 times in 2015 and still finished the season with a strong .337 average.

Andy always knew his future wasn’t going to be in driving. He was sufficient and more than capable but as a bigger guy and one that seemed to do well as a trainer, he knew his place in the business would be as a trainer. That decision proved to be a smart one as the New York native not only saw the size of his stable expand in ’13 but the success as well. Racing between Canada, a bit at Saratoga and traveling the state in the County Fair circuit, Gardner began to pile up some impressive stats. He’s been ultra consistent over the course of the last several years so much so in fact that he ended up with exactly 65 or 66 wins four times over a six-year stretch while starting almost the exact same amount of horses in several of the seasons last decade.

After Gardner stabled at Vernon Downs for a few years, he then raced off a farm in Central New York while still competing primarily at Vernon and here at Saratoga Casino Hotel. While he says he loved being at Vernon, the money simply wasn’t good enough there to stay full time. At that point, he moved to Ohio to race for part of 2018 and into ’19 but was apart from his two young kids too much and decided to come back to NY. A couple of special horses emerged from Gardner’s stable and helped to put him on the map. While he tells me that Modern Gesture, a pacer who scored in 1:49 at Vernon, was probably his best horse, The Filly Princess is really the one that helped put the trainer on the map. She showed racing in thousand dollar claimers at Maine when Gardner acquired her and not too long after, The Filly Princess found herself competing in the Fillies and Mares Open.

After traveling around throughout his career, Gardner decided he had had enough of shipping and moved to Saratoga a few weeks ago to stable here. The young trainer has gone on a tear of late and has made a run up the trainer standings at the Spa in recent weeks. The hot streak has been led by a young horse who Gardner, frankly, didn’t think was going to be very much when he acquired him in back in April. “When we bought Winning Major, I honestly didn’t have really high hopes. He was a hard-headed horse who had some ability but we didn’t think too much of,” Gardner told me. After a lackluster qualifier here at the Spa, Winning Major finished second at odds of 28-1 in his first local start, which was just the second race of his career. And from there, the three year old took off. Leading driver Billy Dobson has sat behind Winning Major in each of his Spa starts and on Tuesday afternoon, the up-and-coming pacer won for the fourth time in his six local tries. Tuesday’s score came in a 1:55.1, a career-best for Winning Major whose trainer spoke highly of. “He’s really been a pleasant surprise,” Gardner admitted. “He keeps getting better and better and he’s learning an awful lot each week.” As far as what comes next for Winning Major who has graduated out of the non-winners of one race of $12,500 lifetime class, Gardner said we may see him in some Excelsior races this summer. “I think he’s earned that chance,” Winning Major’s trainer gleamed. “We aren’t sure what his ceiling is at this point but are pleasantly surprised at what he’s become in such a short time.”

Winning Major isn’t the only Gardner trainee to be in the midst of a hot streak at the Spa either. Trotter Squee Hanover sprung an upset on Monday afternoon when he got up in the final stride to prevail at odds of 14-1. The five year old trotter, who has thrived mostly when showing speed over the course of the last few years, won back-to-back races on the engine at the end of May. On Monday, Squee Hanover drew the outside post in an $11,000 race for trotters and Hall of Famer Wally Hennessey sat behind him. The veteran reinsman gave the Gardner stable’s trotting star a perfect trip and Squee Hanover secured his third win in the last four starts. The recent surges of Winning Major and Squee Hanover have resulted in Gardner doubling his win total for the year over the course of the last few weeks.

Both Winning Major and Squee Hanover are owned by the Exceed Stables of Lamar, PA, who is the primary owner for Gardner. The stable belongs to Louis Peachy who first gave a horse to Gardner to train about four years ago and immediately enjoyed some success. The Exceed Stables continued to buy more and more horses to give to Andy over the course of the last few years and the two now have six horses together. As far as the move to Saratoga for Gardner, he says “I really like it here. The money is good and it’s a great place to race. Plus, it was awfully tough to ship in all the time with daytime racing!” Gardner admitted. “I’ll probably be looking to buy a house here in the fall. I hope to be here for a long time.” And why not? After all, the young conditioner has been on a roll of late and will look to keep it going as we head into the summer months as Gardner plants his roots at Saratoga on a full-time basis.

Live racing takes place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon this week with first post time for each matinee set for 12 Noon. 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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