March: The Month of Mangiardi at the Spa

Trainer Robyn Mangiardi has been a mainstay at Saratoga Casino Hotel for decades now. The daughter of former trainer Nick Mangiardi, who spent several years as a local conditioner running a small stable, has had her own barn dating back to the late 90’s. It’s been over twenty years since Robyn won the Peerless McGrath Award at Saratoga, an award that goes to the track’s top up-and-coming trainer. Robyn, as many trainers do, has run the gamut from strong years that resulted in top ten finishes to down seasons in which things just didn’t come together like she would have hoped.

Enjoying incredible success early on in her career, Mangiardi won the Peerless McGrath Award in 1997 in her first season as a trainer. A breakout year it was for the young conditioner who recorded 37 wins in her rookie campaign and saw her horses hit the board at nearly a fifty percent clip. The size of the Mangiardi stable has fluctuated a bit over the years going from very small to medium to large and back again. In 2003, Robyn had a standout season piling up 41 wins and training to a more than solid average of .289 en route to earning Horsewoman of the Year honors at the Spa. In ’07, the barn featured a change and one that certainly didn’t hurt the cause for the longtime Saratoga trainer.

Chris Long came to Saratoga in 2007 and immediately made an impact. In a season in which he would win the track’s Johnny Page Award for top breakthrough driver at the track, Long vaulted right into the top half dozen drivers at the track. Not only had Chris won a driving title before, he had been 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 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. Long is the regular driver for the barn in addition to doing some catch-driving.

While Robyn enjoyed plenty of success in her career before linking up with Long, the Saratoga resident piled up a career-high 43 wins in ’07 in the first year with Chris in town. The stable went on to thrive in the years that followed as Robyn finished with training percentages of an ultra-consistent .302, .299 and .306 in 2008-2010 before having her biggest year ever in 2011. That season, with Long as the regular reinsman, the Mangiardi barn piled up a new career-best 48 wins despite starting a pretty significantly lesser amount of horses than in previous years. Robyn finished with a sensational training average of .356 in ’11, by far the best of her career.

Mangiardi is a true Saratoga trainer. After all, a very low percentage of her over 4,300 career starts have come at tracks outside of the Spa City. One of only a handful to earn a Horsewoman of the Year trophy in the last twenty years, Mangiardi has enjoyed a pretty consistent career so much so that she didn’t finish outside the top twenty-five in the local trainer standings more than once in last couple of decades. That trend ended though two years ago when Robyn’s barn suffered a bit of a dip. 2019 was one to forget the Massachusetts native. It happens and it happens to most trainers at some point in their career. The year 2020 was one that was forgettable for pretty much all of us in the world and it was no different for Mangiardi who finished outside the top 25 in the trainer standings for the second consecutive year. But if the first month of the 2021 campaign is any indication of what the season will bring for Mangiardi, she’ll be right back in the mix to end up back near the middle of the leader board.

Robyn’s stable has often had a pretty good amount of turnover. Many of the horses in her barn at the start of one year may not be the same group that she features at the beginning of the next year. This is the case for several trainers as the buying and selling of horses is part of the business. In her last two down years, Mangiardi just didn’t have the same kind of quality horses as she’s had in years past. Late last year, though, she acquired a young pacer named Kick The Dirt Up who made an immediate impact. Kick The Dirt Up won four times and finished second twice in his eight local starts in the fall and quickly emerged as a budding stable star for Mangiardi. The talented pacer made a break as the favorite in his final start of 2020 when racing at Yonkers and did so once again in his ’21 debut at the Spa when he was the public’s 1-5 betting favorite. He quickly avenged that break when he scored a victory last Tuesday, doing so with relative ease with Long at the controls.

Kick The Dirt Up’s Tuesday win wasn’t the only one for Mangiardi on the afternoon as she and Long teamed up with a victory with claiming pacer Canbec Kingkazimir. That veteran pacer was another newbie to thrive out of the Mangiardi stable as he paid immediate dividends for his new connections to complete a training double for Robyn and provide his new stable with its third win of the week. Veteran trotter Haveitalltogether pulled off a mild upset the day before for Mangiardi who has been on a tear to start the ’21 campaign. Tuesday’s training double wasn’t the only one Mangiardi has scored on the young season either.

During opening week, the veteran campaigner enjoyed a two-win afternoon when another pair of young pacers scored victories. Lady Limelight was acquired by Mangiardi last year and though she got off to a bit of a slow start, the filly heated up in the summertime before going on a tear in September rattling off three straight wins, including two at Yonkers and one locally. Now age four, Lady Limelight got her year off to a slow start at Yonkers but that allowed her to drop to the bottom level condition for her first local start of the season. Long got Lady Limelight a pocket trip in her return to town and she made good, completing what was the first training double of the young meet for Mangiardi. Youngster Mittaroniandcheese also debuted for Robyn late in 2020 and raced well despite going winless at the Spa. That was before her 2021 debut in which she cruised to a wire-to-wire victory for Long at odds of 1-5. What a start it has been for Mangiardi and her relatively new group of trainees which has thrived in March at the Spa. Through three weeks of the season, Robyn has piled up five wins to go with a second and four thirds in just fifteen local starts for a training average well over .400. No, she won’t have a .400 training average at the end of the year. No one does. But if March is any indicator of what’s to come in 2021, you can expect to see Robyn Mangiardi’s name back near the middle of the trainer standings this year, a place where she has spent the majority of the last two decades.

Live racing takes place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons beginning at 12 Noon. The jackpots continue to grow in the Jackpot Pick Six and Jackpot Super High Five pools at Saratoga. Each jackpot is over $4,000 as we head into this week’s racing action. Monday’s Pick Five will also feature a carryover of more than $4,000 for the wager that begins in the afternoon’s first race. 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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