Their career paths are much different but their results are very similar. They are both harness racing lifers who have enjoyed a ton of success over the years, or should I say decades. One has spent almost his entire career racing at Saratoga while the other has earned plenty of travel points over the years. One made his biggest impact in the sport as a catch-driver (though in the past he has had an abundance of success as a trainer) and the other has trained some of the harness racing’s top horses including a National Horse of the Year and while neither may be at the peak of his career, both are showing they still have plenty of wins left in them.
Dan Cappello Jr. and Ray Schnittker have certainly had differing career paths but both have enjoyed incredible amounts of success in harness racing. Cappello is the second winningest driver in the history of Saratoga Harness and has piled up more than 5,300 victories in his career as a driver. Second only to Frank Coppola Jr. in local wins, Cappello is an eight-time driving champ at the Spa. Named the Johnny Page Award winner in his first year of driving on a full-time basis in 1983, Cappello has been a fixture ever since, scoring almost all of his career wins at Saratoga. He and Coppola were the dominant forces in the sulky at the Spa for two decades and their names are synonymous with harness racing in Saratoga. Cappello earned over $1 million in purses every year from 2004-2012. In ’13, Danny was close to the million mark again but after that, his number of drives took a significant downturn. The veteran could still get the job done but with the influx of top drivers to the track such as Bruce Aldrich Jr, Jimmy Devaux and Stephane Bouchard, the drives just weren’t coming nearly as often for Cappello and frankly when they did, they weren’t the top flight caliber drives the veteran had been used to getting.
Accustomed to making 200+ trips to the winner’s circle almost every year for more than two decades, Cappello only piloted 115 winners in the last three years combined. This season, the 57 year old veteran has been getting a few more drives and when he’s gotten them, he has started to make them count. On Thursday afternoon, Cappello wound up with ten driving assignments on the eleven race card. Cappello, who was elected to the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in 2014, had his best day in the last couple of seasons as the Spa veteran piled up four wins and two second place finishes. Picking up a couple of late catch drives for trainer Pat Curtin, Cappello book-ended the matinee program with victories, sandwiching another pair of scores in between. He has also become the regular driver for pacing mare Bye Bye Michelle who two weeks ago prevailed in the feature for distaffers and on Thursday finished fourth despite drawing the outside post in the $12,000 Fillies and Mares Open. Despite having just five drives on the other three cards this week, Cappello showed us some signs of his old self when he got the opportunities on Thursday, a day that saw his win total for the year triple.
While Cappello is a Saratoga guy through and through, Ray Schnittker is a bit more of a nomad. His home base is down south in Goshen, NY and that is where the veteran conditioner has had his stable for a long time. A native of western NY, Schnittker competes at numerous tracks and is known for his development of young horses. Schnittker breaks dozens of babies every year and while of course not all of them are stars and many don’t even make it to the races, the 59 year old has been a star in the business for decades. Schnittker has had some superstars. In fact, he was the trainer and driver of Deweycheatumnhowe, a 2015 inductee into the National Hall of Fame after retiring as the first North American trotter to earn more than $3 million. A winner of an incredible 22 of 25 career races, Deweycheatumnhowe scored seventeen consecutive victories at one point in his brief career and was named National Horse of the Year in 2008, a year in which he won the Hambletonian.
Saratoga is one of several tracks at which Schnittker competes. Sometimes he will send his trainees to town and use a catch driver while on other occasions, Ray will ship in and drive himself. Schnittker has over 2,700 wins as a driver despite the fact that he never really pursued much catch-driving and has focused on his own stable, a stable that has piled up more than 1,100 career victories. Two Fridays ago, Schnittker brought three of his young horses to town and promptly went two-for-three including a sweep of the early double. Young trotter Front Street rounded out that early double after prevailing to break his maiden despite being parked out from post position eight. He returned to the Spa last Friday looking to repeat. Schnittker put the four year old on the engine and gave him very comfortable fractions on the lead before sprinting off to an open length victory. Veteran pacer One More Laugh brought his nearly $2.7 million in career earnings to town as well on Friday. Having become a Saratoga regular over the last few years, One More Laugh certainly isn’t the same horse he was when he won the Meadowlands Pace for Schnittker in 2010 but the classmaster is still at it at the age of ten after posting a mark of 1:53.1 at Saratoga last year as a nine year old. It was a hot stretch at the Spa for some of the most grizzled veterans as Dan Cappello Jr. and Ray Schnittker continue to display that they have what it takes to make frequent trips to the winner’s circle.
Live racing takes place on Thursdays starting at 12:15 and continues on Friday and Saturday nights beginning at 6:45pm. Sunday matinees are carded each week with first post time set for 12:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!