When veteran trainer Kevin McDermott made the decision last year to relocate to Saratoga, he did so with a new owner for the majority of the members of his stable. Longtime owner Randy Zane connected with McDermott and the pair decided to team up starting in the 2022 season. They enjoyed immediate success as a tandem at Saratoga Casino Hotel led by superstar trotter Reign Of Honor. The classy high-stepper won the local Open Trot a couple of times in the ’21 campaign for Zane while under the guidance of his previous trainer.
Reign Of Honor debuted for McDermott in May of last year and readjusted to the Spa just fine. The then six year old rattled off four consecutive victories in his first four starts for his new trainer, winning decisively in a pair of condition races before prevailing in the Winners Over and eventually scoring in his return to the Saratoga Casino Hotel Open Trot. The classy high-stepper won another couple of Opens over the course of last summer and quickly established himself as the top trotter at the track, at least for the span of a few months. By the time fall rolled around though, Reign Of Honor had kind of lost his edge and wasn’t producing the same kind of results that he had in the first few months in which he called Saratoga home. McDermott figured it was time to shut his star trotter down for the year. “He just wasn’t himself,” McDermott told me. “He was okay but he’s so much better than that. No reason to keep racing a great horse when he isn’t right so we just shut him down a couple months early.”
Following a roughly four month layoff, Reign Of Honor began his ’23 campaign on opening weekend of the meet and immediately was a factor in the Open Trot. The seven year old finished third in his return to the track and followed that up with a fourth-place finish the next week. On Sunday (Feb 18), Reign Of Honor found himself in a rarely seen position. That is, he was in a race other than the Open. The earner of close to $600,000 in his career drew post seven in the seven-horse Winners Over for trotters that went for a purse of $14,500. Young pilot Brett Beckwith has become the regular reinsman for the McDermott stable and sat behind Reign Of Honor once again on Sunday. A horse who usually does his damage from off the pace, Reign Of Honor left around a couple of rivals but still wound up fifth at the three-quarter pole. The veteran kicked it into gear late and wound up charging home to secure the victory, his first since last summer. “We made a few changes this week,” McDermott said. “He was much better in this one. That’s not an easy move against good horses.” And while he admits that Reign Of Honor still isn’t back to his peak form and doesn’t totally look like his old self yet, McDermott was pleased with the win. “He’s come back pretty well. He’s not at his Open Trot best but he was much better this week. We’ll see. With a good horse like him, sometimes all it takes is to get a win and it can braven him right up. He’s such a nice horse that you know it’s in there.”
While Reign Of Honor got his stable off to a strong start on Sunday, it was another trotter of McDermott’s who took center stage in that afternoon’s feature. Abruzzo brought high expectations with him when he debuted at the Spa late last year. After all, the young trotter was a $100,000 purchase from the Harrisburg sale last fall. In the midst of what wound up being a six-figure three year old campaign in ’22, Abruzzo brought a strong resume with him when he debuted at Saratoga in November but also a few big question marks. The big, strong high-stepper certainly had the talent but could he get over a half-mile track? Of his first two dozen starts of his career, none were contested on a half-mile track which certainly led to some questions on whether or not he could negotiate the turns well enough to be successful at the Spa especially against top-flight trotters. Zane and McDermott had to be pleased with the start their new acquisition got off to for them in November as although he was a beaten favorite in his first local try, Abruzzo had no trouble getting around the half-mile track and finished a solid third. “Any concern we had with him getting around a half disappeared quickly,” McDermott explained. “He’s a really big horse but he just floats around the turns here. No trouble at all.” Abruzzo rattled off back-to-back jacks late last season scoring from outside posts in consecutive starts leading him into his first start in the local Open. The youngster made a break in his Open debut in December and wrapped up his season following that start.
Abruzzo had a strong qualifier in late January to prep for what would be a pivotal year for him. Although his three year old season was his breakout year in which he earned more than $115,000, Abruzzo now has a full season at the Spa to potentially establish himself as one of the track’s top trotters. His ’23 campaign kicked off the right way on opening weekend when he went coast-to-coast in the Winners Over scoring in 1:56.2 with Beckwith at the controls. The following week he had post eight and made a break before the start taking him right out of contention. “He’s made a couple of breaks seemingly for no reason,” Abruzzo’s trainer explained. “He’s definitely a bit of a high strung horse so he gets in his own head. He’s still learning.” His progression saw him move into the Open on Sunday (Feb 19) for the second time since coming to town and his connections hoped for a much better fate than he encountered in his debut against the top trotters that saw him make a break from the rail. It was smooth sailing early on Sunday for Abruzzo who cruised out to the early lead in the $17,000 feature and never faced an anxious moment en route to a wire-to-wire victory in 1:55.4. For Abruzzo, it was his first Open win and for McDermott it was a sweep of the top two trotting races on the Sunday card. As far as the potential of having to jockey Reign Of Honor and Abruzzo around as both have the look of Open trotters this season, he said he’ll shuffle them in and out the best he can. If he has to, he can bring one to Yonkers to race for a week here and there but as he says, it’s a good problem to have. “We’ll see. Honor is still kind of on the comeback trail and Abruzzo is still learning. He’s not a horse you want on the front-end and go-go-go all the time. He’s still gotta show he can do it from the back of the pack as well,” McDermott said. Last weekend, Abruzzo took a week off while Reign Of Honor drew post eight for his return to the Open.
Live racing takes place every Saturday evening starting at 5pm and on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday afternoons 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!