The end of the season awards returned to Saratoga Casino Hotel this year. Although there is no holiday banquet for the second consecutive year, voting for the awards was done and the winners were announced on Sunday afternoon. In a ceremony taking place in the winner’s circle prior to Sunday afternoon’s race card, there were ten awards that were voted on with another two being presented to the leading driver and trainer, respectively, for the 2021 season. Jimmy Devaux will earn his first driving title at Saratoga this season. It’s been a career year at the Spa for a reinsman who has done and continues to do double duty competing full-time locally as well as racing at Monticello a few days a week. Devaux took over the lead early in the season from Billy Dobson and never looked back. Dobson, who has eight local driving championships to his credit, will finish second in the standings this year.
Larry Stalbaum may well have taken home Horseman of the Year honors had there been awards given out last season and here in ’21, the veteran trainer/driver was named Horseman of the Year as well as Trainer of the Year. In what has been a monster campaign for the 58 year old, Stalbaum owns a strong lead in the trainer standings with a little over a week remaining in the season and will finish the year third among drivers as well. In a year that started off great and just got better from there, Stalbaum surged into a big lead in the race to be leading trainer and although his current lead isn’t insurmountable, it certainly appears that Stalbaum will earn his first training championship at the Spa this season. The voting for Horseman of the Year, as it often is, was very close but Stalbaum emerged with that award becoming the seventh different person to be Horseman of the Year over the course of the last decade. Assuming he holds on to win the training title, he would be the third different trainer to achieve the feat in the last three seasons after Gary Levine and Melissa Beckwith finished atop the standings the last two years. Beckwith was presented with the award for Horsewoman of the Year, earning that honor for the sixth time at the Spa.
The fact that the battle to be named Horse of the Year was extremely close is nothing new. Who emerged as the winner is quite notable though as the Horse of the Year is a pacing mare for the first time in twenty years. Back in 2001, Hickory Rockette earned the honors as she was not only the track’s standout lady pacer but also enjoyed a lot of success while taking on the boys. In the ’18 season, longtime Spa regular Spreester earned a share of the award as she finished in a tie with Artful Way for Horse of the Year and thus was a co-winner of the track’s top honor. This season though, a regular in the Fillies and Mares Open emerged victorious for the first time in two decades. Surreal Feeling has been the dominant force among distaffers at the Spa in ’21 and was recognized as Horse of the Year on Sunday, as well as Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year, for her efforts. The Dale Lawton-trained mare was not only a picture of consistency this season but was utterly dominant. In fifteen starts in the Fillies and Mares Open, Surreal Feeling recorded nine wins and four seconds. Including a victory in the Winners Over for the ladies in her first local start of the season, the superstar mare piled up earnings of more than $86,000. Alek Chartrand piloted Surreal Feeling to victory in all but one of her Opens in what wound up being a Horse of the Year campaign.
What could keep Surreal Feeling, who had an historic year for a lady pacer at the Spa, from being a runaway winner for Horse of the Year honors this year? A millionaire Saratoga regular who has won more awards in his time than any other in track history, that’s who. Cash Me Out has earned the majority of his more than $1.3 million racing at the Spa. The ten year old has been nothing shy of incredible in his nine years competing on the track and his ’21 campaign brought much of the same success that made him a millionaire. Cash Me Out matched Surreal Feeling with nine Open wins, by far the most of any other horse at the Spa this year. The Kyle Spagnola trainee earned just shy of $100,000 in his local starts and was once again named Trotter of the Year for his efforts. While he came up a few votes shy of repeating as Horse of the Year, the accolades of the local stalwart continue to be unmatched over the course of his close to a decade of dominance. Phil Fluet was the regular driver this season for Cash Me Out who is owned by Mike Traylor of Ballston Spa, NY.
Larry Stalbaum’s trophies didn’t end with his personal achievements. His Crockets Cullen N was named Pacer of the Year for the second consecutive time. While not the Open force that he had been in the previous two seasons, Crockets Cullen N ran away with Pacer of the Year honors after enjoying another strong campaign led by a stretch this summer in which he won the pacing feature three times over the course of four weeks. Real Kid split his season between the stable of Amanda Kelley and of his current owner and trainer Darren Rybka Jr. The veteran won Claiming Pacer of the Year honors for his efforts while Sea Change N took home the award for Filly and Mare Claiming Pacer of the Year. One of the winningest horses at the Spa this season, the Brett Derue-trained Sea Change N won the award in a landslide.
The Johnny Page Award for top up-and-coming driver at the track went to Brett Beckwith. The 18 year old had a terrific rookie year and was a near unanimous choice for the Johnny Page Award. Beckwith recorded his 100th driving victory of the year last week and although not all of those wins came locally, Beckwith has become a formidable catch-driver at the Spa not even a full year removed from driving for the first time. Andy Gardner sits third in the trainer standings with less than two weeks to go in the ’21 campaign and was a landslide winner of the Peerless McGrath Award for top up-and-coming trainer. Gardner powered onto the local scene this season and if the recent hot streak that he has been on continues, he quite possibly could end up second among local conditioners. The 38 year old Gardner will finish up his 2021 with the most starts, wins and purses earned of his career which has spanned over fifteen years. There is just over one week remaining in the 2021 season at Saratoga with action taking place on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday afternoons and wrapping up on December 21st until the beginning of February of next year. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!