Luke Hanners met Saratoga trainer Jaymes McAssey late in 2021 when the young reinsman was just looking to get his career in the sulky off the ground. McAssey, a Spa regular, raced a few horses out of town at Freehold Raceway in New Jersey where Hanners was starting to gather some momentum as a catch-driver. After enjoying some success as a tandem, McAssey suggested that Hanners come to Saratoga and see if he could catch on here in a driving colony that had encountered some changes in recent seasons. At the age of 21, Hanners began to dabble at the Spa while still racing at Freehold, making the trek in on Sundays in the fall when he drove for McAssey and quickly started to pick up more and more catch-drives. The up-and-coming pilot enjoyed more than a little success in the sulky in his Spa debut and established himself as a Saratoga regular in the early going of last year’s meet.
Although his 2021 campaign could be considered his breakout season, Hanners really excelled in ’22 while driving at Saratoga Casino Hotel on a full-time basis. Yes, the young reinsman still competed at other tracks throughout the year, namely at Plainridge Park in Massachusetts where he finished among the top ten in the standings despite being a part-time guy at the New England track. In his first full year driving at the Spa, Hanners finished third in the local driver standings and was voted as a runaway winner of the Johnny Page Award, an honor bestowed to the track’s top breakthrough driver for the year. Hanners established himself as one of the top catch-drivers at the track as he was pretty much a specialty guy as “just” a driver. This season, that all has changed.
While Luke Hanners has continued to excel in the sulky this year, he has transformed himself from catch-driver to duel threat. Luke has established a stable at the Spa that he runs and has thrived as a trainer in ’23. Training isn’t exactly new to Hanners who did come into the year with over 300 career starts as a conditioner highlighted by a 2021 season in which he sent out 116 starters and won 16 races before relocating to Saratoga. After just nine starts as a trainer in ’22, Hanners has emerged this season with a medium-sized stable. And it isn’t just a run-of-the-mill barn, it’s one that has enjoyed a massive amount of success.
Hanners’ came into last weekend’s action just outside the top fifteen in the trainer standings despite the fact that he has started significantly less horses than most of the trainers ahead of him. On Monday afternoon (July 10), Hanners’ recent stable star Shecouldbegood N debuted in the matinee’s featured race. The ten year old lady pacer was claimed by owner Michael Milazzo in late May and wasted little time doing damage out of the Hanners stable. Climbing the class ranks from the $10,000 claimers from which she was claimed, Shecouldbegood N set a new lifetime mark at the age of ten when on June 26th, she went coast-to-coast in a dazzling 1:52.1. After stepping up and rolling to yet another victory when competing in the $20,000 claiming level, Shecouldbegood N made her Open debut on Monday and drew post position two for her try in the $17,000 Fillies and Mares Open.
With Luke Hanners still recovering from some injuries suffered in an on-track accident a couple weeks ago, reinsman Shawn Gray got the driving assignment to sit behind Shecouldbegood N. The razor sharp distaffer went wire-to-wire in all four of the victories that comprised her streak heading into her Open debut but on Monday, Gray took Shecouldbegood N back in the early going in a feature that saw a sizzling first quarter put up in 26.4 by the race’s favorite. Although Shecouldbegood N got a cover trip drafting second-over throughout the second half of the mile, her chances appeared bleak when she remained fourth at the head of the stretch having not gained any ground in the previous quarter mile or so. Gray asked the classy mare for her best turning for home and the distaffer who has a nose for the wire kept plugging away until lunging up late to win it by the slimmest of margins. The seven mares competing in the Open on Monday were all separated by just a length and a quarter at the wire in what was a great stretch drive in the track’s biggest race of the week for the ladies.
Shecouldbegood N’s Open score kept the hot streak going for her stable as Hanners continues his breakout season as a trainer at the Spa. At the conclusion of last weekend’s races, Hanners had seventy starts this year as a trainer and has recorded twenty-plus wins as Shecouldbegood N continued her recent surge. With a growing stable, Hanners is not only establishing himself as a formidable trainer but could well be the midseason favorite to become the Peerless McGrath Award winner, an honor that goes to the track’s top up-and-coming/breakthrough trainer for that season. The 22 year old Hanners is looking to become a rare horseman to win the Johnny Page Award followed by the Peerless McGrath. Led by Shecouldbegood N and her sizzling start to the summer, Luke Hanners could well be the next in a pretty short list of horsemen to achieve that feat at the Spa. And he’s doing it while remaining in the top four among local drivers.
Live racing takes place all summer long on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings with first post times set for 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!