A pair of lady pacers with certainly different but similar resumes has been a force for longtime standardbred owners Chris and Dale Lawton. The Central New York based horsemen each have records as trainers in their career with Chris also being a driver primarily in the 90’s. With Vernon Downs their home track, the Lawtons have been in the business for decades. Between them they’ve had some good horses but right now, they feature a pair of pacing mares who are nothing short of stars.
Racine Bell is owned by the Lawtons but is trained by veteran conditioner Dave Dewhurst. The three year old filly has been sensational in the New York Sire Stakes over the course of the last two seasons. As a two year old in 2019, Racine Bell debuted in an overnight race at Vernon in which she prevailed with relative ease. From there, the freshman filly was unleashed in the NY Sire Stakes and simply thrived. She recorded two wins and two second-place finishes in stakes competition before being the runner-up in the $225,000 Stakes Final for two year old pacing fillies.
All told, Racine Bell earned over $140,000 in ten starts as a freshman. 2020 has been anything but a normal year for everybody but for Racine Bell, it brought upon a very similar set of results than she had last year. The super sophomore went on a run this summer winning three races in the NY Sire Stakes before heading into the $225,000 Final on a four-race win streak including one victory in a conditioned race contested here at Saratoga. Unfortunately, Racine Bell threw a rare clunker in the Final, fading to a fifth-place finish despite getting a pocket trip behind the race’s winner.
Racine Bell debuted in the Fillies and Mares Open at Saratoga just ten days after her try in the Stakes Final. It was an unsuccessful start which was followed by a scratch. Maybe her season was over. Maybe she had done enough and was just tired from another summer of competing against top-flight competition. Those thoughts quickly disappeared when she showed back up to compete in the Fillies and Mares Open at Saratoga on October 13th. The filly looked like her old self again as she motored home in the stretch before finishing second in the $9,350 feature for distaffers. Jimmy Devaux has been the regular reinsman for Racine Bell in her local starts and on October 20th, the top-shelf driver asked Racine Bell to flash her characteristic early speed.
Despite flying through a first-quarter in 26.2, Racine Bell never had an anxious moment before stopping the timer in 1:53.2 for her first ever win in the Fillies and Mares Open further proving that she certainly wasn’t ready to call it a season in September. The New York Sire Stakes star has now added Open winner to her resume after recording her sixth victory in twelve tries in 2020. Incredibly, Racine Bell now has accrued earnings of almost exactly $140,000 in back-to-back seasons for Chris and Dale Lawton. And she’s not done yet.
While Racine Bell has clearly been the Lawtons’ racing star, she isn’t the only high quality mare owned by them that is still competing at a top level. In fact, the week after Racine Bell won the Open, the Lawtons had another pacing mare come to Saratoga to race in the Fillies and Mares Open. Unlike Racine Bell who competes out of the Dewhurst barn, Surreal Feeling is trained by Dale Lawton. Dewhurst was the trainer of Surreal Feeling when she was a two year old in 2017 but Lawton took over the helm midway through that season, a season that saw her win six consecutive races in NY Sire Stakes Excelsior B competition. At age three, Surreal Feeling moved up into the Excelsior A level and again displayed her winning ways. By the time her sophomore season came to end, Surreal Feeling had won 12 out of her 25 career races en route to almost $65,000 in earnings. Certainly no Racine Bell but a solid stakes filly for the Lawtons nonetheless.
In 2019, Surreal Feeling graduated from stakes competition and became an Open caliber mare. The Dale Lawton trainee won the Open at Saratoga on July 7th while making her first ever start against the track’s top-flight ladies. While she wound up finding more of a home in the Winners Over, the level just below the Open, at age four, Surreal Feeling proved she could compete against the track’s best mares. The 2020 campaign didn’t launch until June for Surreal Feeling who began her season by winning two of her first three races contested at her home track of Vernon Downs. By July 29th, the five year old was back into the Spa Open, trying to repeat her winning effort from the last summer. While Surreal Feeling didn’t win in her first three tries in the local Open for distaffers, she did have a third and two second-place finishes at the Saratoga before prevailing in a $12,500 race at Yonkers.
Last Tuesday afternoon, Surreal Feeling came back to Saratoga just a week after winning a qualifier in decisive fashion. She drew post three in the $9,350 Fillies and Mares Open and had Jimmy Devaux at the controls. Much like Racine Bell did the week before, Surreal Feeling moved right out to the front-end in the feature and never looked back. The five year old recorded her second ever win in the Saratoga Open and accounted for the second half off a Tuesday training double for Dale Lawton. Chris and Dale Lawton’s Lindas In Heaven scored in the afternoon’s opener.
The three year old pacer won for the fourth consecutive start at the Spa with Devaux in the sulky. A dynamic youngster in the first racing season of his career, Lindas In Heaven has accounted for almost all of Lawton’s local training victories in 2020 leading up to what became his first training double after winning the feature with Surreal Feeling. The veteran horsemen have achieved something not often done, particularly from owners who don’t have dozens of horses. Winning back-to-back Opens with two different mares is a feat not often accomplished at Saratoga but one that the Lawtons achieved on the past two Tuesday afternoons. This week, they will send Racine Bell back out as they look for a unique three-race Open win streak.
The super sophomore will have to overcome post position six in the six-horse ladies’ feature and will once again have Devaux guiding the way. It has been a great run for Chris and Dale Lawton with their distaffers as Racine Bell and Surreal Feeling, although technically not stablemates, are thriving after transitioning from New York Sire Stakes stars to Open stalwarts. For Dale Lawton, he already has a career-high win total with 16 training victories in the abbreviated ’20 campaign and though he can’t add one with the Dewhurst-trained Racine Bell on Tuesday, he and Chris could well achieve the extremely rare feat of recording three consecutive Open wins at the Spa when the track’s top ladies slug it out in the $9,350 feature.
Live racing takes place on Monday and Tuesday afternoon with first post times 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!