Winning races is nothing new to Gary Levine. He’s been doing it at Saratoga Casino Hotel for well over a decade now. Despite the fact that he is just 36 years of age, Levine can be considered a veteran trainer at this point as he has been a picture of consistency at the Spa since beginning his training career almost fifteen years ago. The Vermont native’s father Steve trained at Saratoga for a few years and enjoyed a couple of solid seasons from ’02-’04. Gary assumed the family’s training duties at that point, training just a couple of horses. It didn’t take long, though, for him to begin to thrive as Levine saw his career take off in 2007.
Levine started 182 horses in ’07 winning 34 times and training to an impressive average of .326. From there, it got better for Gary when in the following year he recorded 69 victories, a tally that still stands as the most of any year in the career of the now-veteran conditioner. The more than $325,000 in purses his trainees earned that year was the most he’d accrue until 2015, when purses where significantly higher than they were when Levine set his original mark in ’08. That season, it was a claiming pacer named Pacific Northwest who really helped put Levine on the map at the Spa. Pacific Northwest enjoyed a campaign in which he won ten races and finished second another seven times en route to just shy of $60,000 in earnings. Not bad for a low level claim. At the conclusion of the ’08 season, Levine was named the Peerless McGrath Award winner, an award that recognizes the track’s top up-and-coming trainer.
Similar to the Rookie of the Year Award in sports, sometimes the Peerless McGrath Award winners don’t pan out as far as long term top-quality trainers and other times they do. The voters certainly got it right in ‘08 with Gary Levine as he has not only had a strong training career since that point but he has been one of the winningest trainers at the track over the course of that decade. Racing almost exclusively at the Spa, Levine has put together a terrific resume, one that has seen him finish in the top ten on a regular basis. Levine has won 50+ races every year since 2014 but last season was his banner year. Levine trained 68 winners in the ’18 campaign, all of which came at Saratoga. His 471 local starts were second only to Melissa Beckwith and his fourth place finish in the trainer standings and his more than half a million dollars in purses were tops in his career.
With a tough act to follow after enjoying a career year in ’18, Levine has come out gangbusters this season at the Spa and is currently in the midst of his strongest stretch since becoming a trainer. On Sunday afternoon, June 30th, Levine had a career day. Not only did Gary win four races on the matinee card, the most he’s had on any race card to date, but he saw one of his trainees set a track record as well. Trotting mare Victoria Swan was making just her second start out of the Levine stable when she drew the rail in a claiming event for trotters going for a purse of $6,250. With driver Bruce Aldrich Jr. at the controls, Victoria Swan went coast to coast and did so in an eye-popping 1:54.4. The time wasn’t just a new lifetime mark for the youngster and one of the fastest of the year for any trotter at Saratoga but it served as a track record for four year old trotting mares. The victory was one of four on the day for Levine who rode that sizzling stretch into last week’s action.
Of the members of the red-hot Levine stable, the one responsible for the most wins is young pacer Northern Rebel. Acquired by Levine in early April, the four year old Northern Rebel didn’t enjoy immediate success at the Spa but after winning against the bottom level condition pacers on May 18th has gone on an absolute tear. Claimed in the middle of his hot streak for one week, Northern Rebel was re-acquired by Levine via claim and came into Saratoga night’s action on a six-race win streak. With leading driver Billy Dobson at the controls, Northern Rebel recorded his seventh consecutive victory while competing in a $15,000 claiming race. The win was the seventh in the last ten starts for Levine who has been streaking up the standings at the Spa in recent weeks. After Northern Rebel’s most recent victory and a Sunday repeat by Victoria Swan this week, Levine sits second among local trainers, just one win behind defending leading trainer Melissa Beckwith.
Though Levine’s stable doesn’t feature many Open caliber horses (his Justice Jet has occasionally competed in Open company and will race in this Wednesday’s Open Trot), his barn has put together a terrific first half of the season putting him on pace for a career year in 2019. During last Wednesday’s Independence Day card, Levine’s Rose Run Speedster took part in the $20,000 final of the Star Spangled Trot. In the series’ lone leg, the recent Levine acquisition finished second after getting tracked down late while trying to go wire-to-wire. In the Wednesday final, Rose Run Speedster raced on the outside almost every step of the way but still got the best of his competition, winning in 1:57.3 to record the richest win of the year for the Levine barn. At the conclusion of last week’s racing, Levine sat second in the trainer standings, the highest position he’s held this late in a meet in a career that continues on the upswing and one that has already consisted of 600 treks to the winner’s circle. Maybe as impressive as the win tally for Levine is the fact that he has earned close to the same amount of wins, seconds and thirds in his training career evidencing the consistency that has made him among the top handful of local trainers over the last decade and propelled him all the way up into second in the standings in a 2019 campaign in which Gary Levine is on pace to shatter his previous career-best win total.
The live racing schedule is a bit unique this week with Wednesday’s matinee serving as the final one until September. Racing will take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights this week with post time moving to 7:05pm. Moving forward this summer, the schedule will consist of racing every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday starting at 7:05pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!