Grays Doubling Down on Open Success at the Spa

Shawn Gray has enjoyed success wherever he’s driven over the course of his thirty year career. The Maine native dominated the competition in his home state before making the move to New York just over a decade ago. Gray has been a regular at Saratoga Casino Hotel since his relocation but has also competed on a fairly regular basis and a handful of tracks over that course of time as well. The 49 year old pilot is quickly approaching the 5,000 win mark for his career, a plateau he will no doubt reach next season. Gray finished fifth in the driver standings at Saratoga in each of the last two years and looks like he will improve upon that finish in ’22 as he sits securely in the fourth spot among local reinsmen this season. Gray would have a big chance to finish even higher if not for the fact that he regularly drives at Plainridge Park in Massachusetts as well.

While Shawn Gray is continuing to thrive in the sulky, he also helps run the stable of wife Alicia Gray. Alicia has never finished among the top twenty trainers in her time at the Spa but has trained to a high percentage in her seasons at the Spa. Running a medium sized stable, the Grays have enjoyed a terrific season both in their local starts and while competing at Plainridge. About two-thirds of Gray’s starts have come at Saratoga with a similar ratio of wins coming locally versus at other tracks in ’22 for Gray who already has more purse money earned than in any other year in her training career. Despite all the accolades and accomplishments of their stable, Alicia and Shawn Gray had never recorded a win in an Open at Saratoga coming into this season. In fact, it wasn’t until summertime when the Grays had a legitimate shot at winning an Open with their La Bella Vita N.

The New Zealand invader La Bella Vita N raced against top-flight competition at the Meadowlands and at Yonkers early in the year but didn’t fare very well. That’s when her owners moved the mare to the Gray stable during the springtime. The seven year old mare finished second in her debut out of her new barn and in her third local start, she recorded a victory. From there, La Bella Vita N went to Plainridge and rattled off a pair of victories to go with a second-place finish in three starts in their $20,000 Fillies and Mares Open. On August 7th, the rising star made her debut in the Open at the Spa and achieved something never done before by a Gray trainee at Saratoga. This is, she won an Open.

Although over their more than a decade since coming to town they have enjoyed plenty of success with their trainees, the Grays never recorded an Open victory before La Bella Vita N, who started from post seven in the day’s seven-horse feature, put the swoop to the group to prevail in 1:53.1. A few weeks later, the mare, who is in the midst of her breakout campaign, again outclosed her rivals to win her second local Open doing so in an eye-popping 1:52.3 as her race’s 1-5 betting favorite. From there, it was back to Plainridge for La Bella Vita N who continued her winning ways and did so in career-best fashion when Shawn Gray flashed early speed with the seven year old before winding up getting a pocket trip. She pounced in the stretch en route to setting a new lifetime mark of 1:51.3. Last Monday, La Bella Vita N was back at the Spa and after a scratch started from post seven in the seven-horse Open. Gray again powered his mare out early and although she worked hard in a 27 second first quarter, La Bella Vita N got a second quarter breather before being confronted by rival Probert. That one pressed the favorite before coming up second-best in what was the third consecutive score for the Gray trainee. The victory was also the third locally for La Bella Vita N, whose name translates in English to “good life”, in her four tries in the Open as she is quickly establishing herself as one of the top lady pacers at the Spa.

La Bella Vita N gave her trainer her first Open win at Saratoga and has gone on to win the feature three times but the distaffer’s successes haven’t been unmatched in her stable. Alluneedisfaith N was a new addition to the Gray stable in early August when owner Doug Overhiser brought the eight year old pacer to them. Coming over from New Zealand in the middle of his 2019 campaign, Alluneedisfaith N has been a star in the U.S. earning six figures in two of his three seasons here heading 2022. The classy New Zealand-bred, who set his lifetime mark early in the year at the Meadowlands when he scored in 1:49.2, drew the rail at Plainridge in his first start out of the Gray barn and immediately made an impact scoring in the $20,000 Open. In mid-August, the veteran made his Spa debut and although he wound up being a beaten favorite in each of his first two starts in the local Open, the pacer displayed massive ability, particularly in his second-place finish which came in a 1:51.3 mile. From there, Alluneedisfaith N returned to Plainridge and returned to the winner’s circle after scoring another front-running victory with Gray at the controls.

Although Alluneedisfaith N proved he could thrive over the 5/8 mile track in Massachusetts, his task was clear upon returning to the Spa on September 17th. He needed to add to the now growing tally of Gray stable Open victories. He did just that when he changed tactics and came from off the pace to swoop the group in the $16,000 Open in a mile highlighted by a 27.1 final quarter. The public certainly had faith in Alluneedisfaith N the following week but despite racing well and finishing in a dead-heat for second, the classy earner of more than a half million dollars in his career was a beaten favorite for the third time in his four local starts.

That all changed when on Saturday October 8th, Alluneedisfaith N went postward as his race’s 4-5 betting favorite and made good. The powerful pacer cruised through a 28.1 first quarter before strolling to the half in a leisurely 59.1. From there, it was over. Behind a 55.3 final lap, Alluneedisfaith N made good on the public’s faith to register his second local Open score and move his record to two wins and two seconds in his five Spa starts. The Saturday win was the fifth of the season in an Open for the Gray stable in what has been by far the best year for Alicia Gray’s barn since she made Saratoga home. Highlighted by a holiday weekend in which she recorded a double feature, with a local training average of close to .400 and with a handful of Open wins now to her credit, Alicia Gray is knocking on the door of the top ten in the trainer standings at the Spa while in the midst of a huge ’22 campaign.

Live racing takes place every Saturday evening starting at 5pm and on Sunday and Monday afternoons with post times of 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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