In the last decade, we have had an influx of “out of towners” come to Saratoga Casino Hotel and wind up making it home. Drivers like Billy Dobson, Bruce Aldrich Jr and Jimmy Devaux all had success in the sulky in their careers long before they came to Saratoga on a full-time basis. Though all of their situations are different (Aldrich and Devaux do double duty while competing at Monticello Raceway), those three drivers assimilated into the group of Spa regulars to put together a very strong driving colony. With Devaux thriving, Aldrich already owning a local driving title and Dobson well on his way to being the leading driver at Saratoga for the sixth time in his career, several guys that used to be in pretty much every race have seen some of their mounts dwindle a bit in recent years. Many of these local drivers have enjoyed a ton of success in their careers and are still out their competing at a high level, just maybe not in the quantity that they were accustomed to, say, a decade ago.
Last week in this column, we chronicled the achievements of driver Jay Randall, a longtime Spa regular who has driven the majority of the races in his career right here at Saratoga. He finished up last week on the cusp of history, just one victory away from the 4,000 win plateau. On Wednesday night, Randall wasted very little time reaching the 4,000 win milestone as he piloted young trotter Brookroadgeorge to victory in his first drive of the night. Soon after, the 57 year old reinsman steered another winner as pacer So So Incredible, who Randall trains, went wire to wire.
Randall wasn’t the only Spa veteran to pilot multiple winners on the Wednesday card. Frank Coppola Jr, the two-time defending driving champion at the track and the winningest driver in Saratoga Harness history, is still thriving in the sulky. Coppola has an amazing eleven driver titles to his credit, a number made all the more impressive by the fact that he took several years off from driving last decade. Like Randall, Coppola piloted a pair of winners on the Wednesday card which had the look of an old-time evening at the raceway.
While Randall and Coppola each made a pair of trips to the winner’s circle on the night, the star of the Wednesday night card was Brian Cross. Cross was among the top handful of drivers year in and year out for decades at Saratoga. A strong all-around horseman, Cross has been a consistent force in the sulky since the early 90’s. While competing primarily at Saratoga in his career, Cross has piled up close to 3,700 career victories as a driver with his best years coming from 2003-2006 but with really two full decades of strong campaigns. The Vermont native piloted at least 100 winners in every full season at Saratoga from 1992 to 2011- twenty consecutive seasons of triple digit victories for Brian Cross who drove 200 or more winners each year from ’03-’06. With the influx of top catch-drivers coming to Saratoga over the course of the last decade, Cross has slid down the standings a bit but remains a reliable option for local trainers to use. On Wednesday night, the Spa veteran had his best night of the season when he secured a hat trick. Among Cross’ three victories, two came while piloting for a trainer that fits into a similar category as he, Randall and even Coppola as veteran horsemen who have spent their career calling Saratoga home.
Cross’ first win on Wednesday came in the evening’s opener when he guided young trotter Weekend Wit Chucky to a victory that broke her longstanding maiden. The 51 year old Cross then took the lines to pilot a pair of trotters for Spa veteran Scott Mongeon. Mongeon was one of those “regular reinsmen” that consistently drove back in the late 90’s and into the 2000’s before the invasion of top talent at the Spa. Mongeon, while he occasionally still dons his colors to drive, has focused his attention on being a trainer. His Twisted Pretzel won the Open Trot six times in 2017 among his thirteen victories on the campaign en route to being named the track’s Trotter of the Year. While he doesn’t drive Twisted Pretzel for Mongeon, Cross does sit behind most of the Mongeon-trained horses that have competed this season. That includes pacer Michaels Boy, who scored the biggest win of the season for the Mongeon barn on July 3rdwhen the four year old went wire-to-wire in the final of the Stars and Stripes Pacing Series. On Wednesday, the veteran Spa tandem teamed up for a pair of scores. While the combo has enjoyed success with pacer Michaels Boy, it has been the trotters with whom Mongeon and Cross have thrived of late.
Longtime owner Chuck Harrison has had horses with Mongeon for decades and together they took home hardware in 2006 when their Future Falcon N was named Pacer of the Year at Saratoga. Harrison, who co-owns Michaels Boy, recently purchased a young trotter named Too Much Man. The recent Mongeon stable acquisition prevailed in his first start for his new connections two weeks ago after shaking loose late to win in 1:57.4 with Cross in the bike. On Wednesday, Too Much Man went back-to-back, giving Cross his second winner on the card and Mongeon the first half of what would be a training double. Too Much Man’s score came in the $9,000 co-feature on Wednesday for New York sired trotters. The Saratoga veteran tandem of Mongeon and Cross wasted little time following up the Too Much Man victory with another win as young trotter Royal Heiress pulled off the mild upset while setting a new lifetime mark. The four year old high-stepper, who has been under the guidance of Mongeon for most of her career, benefited from a late break by the race’s favorite before coming on to secure her career-best score. While Mongeon doesn’t have anyone having a “Twisted Pretzel of ‘17” season going, the veteran trainer and part-time driver is enjoying another solid campaign at the Spa. As for Cross, he came up just short of a driving grand slam as his Robert H wound up second-best in the evening’s finale on Wednesday, a race that would’ve given the consistent Saratoga veteran a four-bagger on a night that was his finest of the ’18 campaign.
Live racing takes place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday for the next couple of weeks at Saratoga. First post time each night is set for 7:05pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!