Levine Wraps up a September to Remember

Gary Levine has enjoyed some significant hot streaks over the course of his nearly two decades as a trainer at Saratoga Casino Hotel. He’s been the “Rookie of the Year”. He’s been the MVP of trainers. And while he likely won’t earn any official accolades in his 2022 campaign, Levine is again enjoying a terrific year at the Spa led by a September surge. Like any professional athlete in sports, horse trainers get streaky. They go through droughts and slumps. They enjoy hot stretches. And since Levine certainly has gone through the ups and downs over the course of his career, he knows that when things are on an upswing, you need to enjoy it.

Levine was recognized as the track’s top up-and-coming trainer at Saratoga in 2008 when the Vermont native was named the Peerless McGrath Award winner. That year, the young conditioner won 69 races, a personal record for him that would last more than a decade. Levine has called Saratoga home for the duration of his career as a trainer, a career that culminated with a 2020 season that saw him finish atop the trainer standings. Winning the training title led to the Trainer of the Year Award in ’20. Although his ’22 campaign won’t result in any awards, Levine is enjoying another big season at the Spa led by a September surge in which the longtime conditioner has been on as big of a tear as he’s enjoyed at any point since starting his stable close to twenty years ago.

Levine spent much of the summer fourth in the trainer standings well behind leader Melissa Beckwith and the second-place Andy Gardner but knocking on the door of fellow past Peerless McGrath winner Jaymes McAssey for third among local conditioners. Then came the month of September and although McAssey had a terrific month as well, Levine’s late summer surge has resulted in him jumping into the third spot in the trainer standings. Levine started out September pretty strong but just past the midpoint of the month, the veteran conditioner took off. On September 19th, Levine had four mares in on lady pace day and the 40 year old trainer simply had a monster afternoon. Gary’s Monday matinee consisted of a training triple on what was his biggest day of the meet. And he didn’t have to wait long for a sequel to his strong afternoon as his stable sent out three of its members that Saturday night. On Saturday the 24th, Levine had pacers Major Makover, Four Finger Floyd and Hestherightstuff in to go and by the end of the night, his stable added three more winners to his growing tally. Two training hat tricks in one week!

Gary Levine goes about things a bit differently than a lot of trainers as far as his methods for building and maintaining his barn, a strategy I discussed with him. “I get my horses from everywhere really. I have a lot of different people that I text and ask if they have anything to buy or to let them know I’m looking to sell one,” Levine told me. “But I’m open to anything. I buy online, word of mouth or just by reaching out to connections. I’ll claim one occasionally but that doesn’t happen as often. Seems like every I time I put in a claim, I lose the shake,” Gary noted acknowledging his recent propensity for entering a claim on a horse that someone else was claiming and eventually losing the luck of the draw to get that horse. As far as who he keeps and who he moves on from when it comes to members of his stable, Levine explained that really his process is fairly simple. “I like to buy horses that fit our lower classes. Like the non-winners of two race lifetime class, which also has a money earned condition, gives you a chance to race the horse quite a bit at that level and make your money. Then I kind of figure out when they win out of that class which ones I want to keep and which ones I will turn around and sell,” Levine explained. “Also, there are a few friends of mine that swap out horses with me.’ “If one isn’t racing well for Brett Derue, for example, he’ll let me know and if I have one that I can’t get to go, then sometimes we’ll arrange some kind of trade essentially.”

While Levine talks about acquiring horses for some of the lower classes, he certainly has his share of upper level talent in his barn as well. The veteran of the Levine stable is pacing mare Bontz N who has spent three years with him. “She’s not what she used to be,” Levine admitted when discussing the eleven year old distaffer. “But she was awesome for me for a few years and she’s still a nice horse.” In fact, for a couple of seasons, Bontz N was arguably the top mare at the track and had there been awards voted on in 2020, she would have had a big chance to take home the Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year Award. “She was never as fast as the top-caliber mares but she was a solid performer that got her wins in the Open,” Levine pointed out.

Bontz N and super-fast, but somewhat physically fragile, Hestherightstuff have been the longest tenured members of the Levine barn and they are just two of many who helped produce a huge September for the longtime Spa conditioner. To wrap up what was a monster month of September, Levine had three horses in on Friday, the final night of the month. Though one was a trotter who fit the regular Levine blueprint of making money in and winning out of the non-winners of two race condition in Takato, there was a pair of new additions that Gary unleashed who kept the good times rolling for his barn.

Somiki aired in his debut out of the Levine stable on Friday evening. An up-and-coming three year old, Gary told me that Somiki was a horse he bought strictly off word of mouth. “I never even watched him race. One of my connections in Canada told me he’s a really nice horse with big time potential and I trust him so I went with it,” Somiki’s new trainer told me. In his first start for his new connections, the three year old romped by eleven lengths. Later in the evening, Skyline Blue Chip scored as his race’s big favorite to complete a double for Levine and wrap up a month of September for the former top trainer that saw him win fifteen races and add eleven second-place finishes in 51 starts. An incredible end of summer surge for Gary Levine that saw him leap ahead of Jaymes McAssey, who also has been on a tear this summer and won two races on Friday night.

Although the calendar turned to October on Saturday, Levine’s hot streak didn’t magically come to an end. In fact, a trio of Levine trainees drew well on the card and one of the few “longtime” Levine-trained pacers extended his win streak to continue his sizzling stretch. Only Bontz N has been a member of Levine’s stable longer than Hestherightstuff who powered away from his rivals to win for the fourth time in his last five starts. At the end of the first night of the new month, Gary Levine logged a win, a second and a third with his three trainees as October has gotten off to a solid start for the track’s former leading trainer who enjoyed his late summer surge at the Spa. What does Levine attribute his hot streak to? “They’ve been in good classes, have been drawing really good posts and have been getting good drives,” Levine acknowledged. “They’ve been healthy and getting a lot of race luck. That’s a good formula for success at this track.” And he should know. Gary Levine is among the top ten winningest trainers at Saratoga over the course of the last decade.

Live racing takes place on Friday and Saturday evening this week starting at 5pm while Sunday and Monday matinees continue with afternoon first posts 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!

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