Chris Long had already been a champion when he came to Saratoga Casino Hotel back in 2007. The veteran reinsman had been a force in the sulky in his native Maine before becoming Monticello Raceway’s leading driver. Not only had Chris won a driving title before, he was a full-fledged driving star. Long still holds the Monticello record for victories in a year when he drove 243 winners in 1999. In fact, he was pretty much winning 200 races a year (give or take a few of course) for more than a decade before coming to the Spa to drive full-time. Long made a home at Saratoga when he began dating trainer Robyn Mangiardi. The two have run a smaller size stable together ever since. His impact came as a driver though and in ’07, Long earned the Johnny Page Award at Saratoga as the track’s top breakthrough driver. After all, he certainly couldn’t be deemed an “up-and-comer” as he had already had a successful career in the bike but he certainly was a breakout star that year when he surged up near the top portion of the driver standings.
Enjoying solid and consistent success every year upon coming to town, Long wound up in the top five among local drivers on a few occasions. In fact, in 2010, he wound up with a career-high in purses earned as he hit the one million dollar mark for the first and only time. Driving in the days with increased purses as the slot machine impact at the track was in full force, Long drove anywhere between 100-170 winners each year from the start of his Spa career in ’07 up through 2013. At that point, things changed a bit. Saratoga became the home of nearly a dozen guys who had been leading drivers at a track in their career and Long went from a clear-cut top five guy to just another solid option for trainers to use. Chris wound up traveling a bit to other tracks to compete, whether it be at Plainridge or in his home state of Maine as his usage at the Spa went down a bit. That isn’t to say Long wasn’t still enjoying local success though. He was still a factor but with top drivers such as Frank Coppola Jr., Billy Dobson, Jimmy Devaux, Stephane Bouchard and Bruce Aldrich Jr., just to name a few of the past driving champs, still thriving while on top of their game, Long’s opportunities waned and subsequently so did his number of wins. Even so, Long still earned purses of $820,000 and $856,000 in 2016 and 2017, not all of which came at Saratoga.
With many of the aforementioned top reinsmen no longer competing for various reasons, the door has opened for several other drivers at the Spa. The opportunities have been there for Long who has been picking up more and more drives in recent months. Last week, the veteran driver took full advantage. Still traveling out of town to drive from time to time, Long began the week by traveling to Maine to race at Bangor Raceway. On Sunday (October 18), the 52 year old drove a pair of winners and had four second-place finishes. The short Spa week takes place only on Mondays and Tuesdays and Long continued his little hot streak upon returning to the Saratoga.
Long’s first drive on Monday came behind trotter Navarone Hanover who has been a picture of consistency. Long put the Eric Adsit trainee who always hits the board but rarely wins one on the front end and she never looked back. Among his highlights on Monday was a chance Chris had when he piloted Gokudo Hanover in the Open Pace. The co-favorite in the $9,350 feature, Gokudo Hanover set fast fractions on the lead with Long at the helm before coming up a length short of winning, settling instead for a third-place finish. Chris got back to his winning ways in the Monday finale though when he sat behind young trotter Kasha’s Boy who sprung the upset at odds of 20-1.
Tuesday afternoon’s card brought much of the same for Long who picked up right where he left off on Monday. Piloting for Mangiardi, Long sprung a mild upset behind Kick The Dirt Up, a good-looking three year old who recently made his local debut. Chris went on to bookend the card with winners as he once again scored in the matinee’s finale, this time with young filly My Rugala for trainer Margaret Spagnola. Back to back driving doubles in the two-day Spa week and six victories in three days for Long who has been traveling to Maine on Sundays and is starting to make some more regular trips to the winner’s circle.
While he is no longer in the top five at the Spa, with more opportunities and better drives has come more success for Long. And why not? After all, this is a former leading driver who has more than 3,600 career victories in the sulky and is only a couple years removed from a twenty-year span in which he drove between 100 and 200 winners every single year. Billy Dobson, who is putting the finishing touches on his eighth driving title at Saratoga, has been head and shoulders above the rest among drivers once again in 2020. A group comprised of Jimmy Devaux, Jay Randall and Larry Stalbaum is jockeying for position behind Dobson in the standings. After that trio, it is pretty wide open among local reinsmen right now and Long has been taking advantage in recent weeks while still on the comeback trail after suffering an injury this summer. No, he’s probably not going to be a top five guy at the Spa anytime soon but Chris Long is one of a handful of drivers that is currently seizing opportunities at Saratoga. With Shawn Gray driving at Plainridge and local newcomer Mitch Cushing splitting time behind Plainridge and Saratoga, there have been chances for guys like past Johnny Page Award winners Brett Crawford, Alek Chartrand as well as veteran Chris Long who has been adding to his impressive tally of $12.2 million in career purses earned behind a recent mini-surge at the Spa.
Live racing takes place every Monday and Tuesday at Saratoga 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!