For driver Leon Bailey, it has been an impactful couple of seasons in the sulky. The young reinsman, who comes from a long line of harness racing lifers, won his first driving title at Vernon Downs in 2020. While that was an abbreviated season due to the pandemic, the impact of Bailey in the bike was undeniable, an impact that is beginning to translate to Saratoga Casino Hotel. Coming from a family of harness racing horsemen, Bailey lived out his dream winning that first title at Vernon last season. The now 35 year old’s grandfather Jack was a leading driver at Vernon Downs on multiple occasions and his father Bill was a staple in the sulky in central New York before his untimely passing in 2018 at the age of 54. Leon has continued his family legacy of success and this season not only went back-to-back as top driver at Vernon but has also begun to make an impact here at Saratoga.
After his title-winning 2020 campaign, Bailey continued to be a regular at Vernon. In the meantime, though, he has slowly infiltrated the local driving colony and in recent months has been getting more and more work at the Spa. After scoring a pair of victories on Tuesday afternoon’s (Nov 2nd) card, Bailey thrust himself into the top twenty in the local standings despite having driven a decidedly lower number of times than most of his counterparts. The Tuesday driving double served as a mere appetizer for the successful and memorable weekend that Leon would enjoy in both his professional and his personal life.
On Saturday night, Bailey was back on his home turf to pilot on closing night at Vernon Downs. The up-and-coming sulky star drove three winners on closing night and was recognized in the winner’s circle for his second consecutive driving title at the Miracle Mile track. Bailey cemented his second championship at the track where he said it was a dream come true to be the leading driver but earning his second title was not the only thing that made the night special. While being recognized in the winner’s circle for his driving achievement, Leon proposed to girlfriend, and Spa trainer, Amanda Facin. A second straight driving title and a new fiancé for Leon Bailey whose magical night was no doubt one he’ll never forget.
The hot streak continued on Sunday afternoon for the Upstate New York native. Bailey was back to the Spa to pilot on the ten-race matinee card. Vernon’s top driver has become more and more acclimated at Saratoga in recent weeks and is on top of his game right now. On Sunday’s (Nov 7) matinee, Vernon’s top dog had eight drives, the most he’s had on a card at the Spa. Bailey wound up having his biggest day of the meet piloting four winners and coming up just shy of a fifth. Interestingly, of the horses Bailey piloted to scores, none were favored and in fact, none paid less than $8.90 to win.
The afternoon started out well on Sunday for Bailey who guided veteran pacer Santanna One to victory in the opener. He then picked up the catch-drive behind Oregon Trail who followed a similar blueprint to that of Santanna One en route to victory. Both pacers drew post five and came from well off the pace before charging hard late to secure mild upset wins. In the afternoon’s $13,000 feature, Bailey sat behind Warrawee Unique who is trained by Vernon’s ’20 leading conditioner Jeff Sorenson. Bailey is familiar with the talented pacer having driven him in every start since being acquired by Sorenson back in July. A regular in the Vernon Open, Warrawee Unique hasn’t finished worse than fourth in any start for his new connections and had a few solid showings in the local Open before dropping into the Winners Over for pacers on Sunday.
As a regular Open participant competing at the Winners Over level, Warrawee Unique was assigned post seven in the seven-horse featured race for pacers on Sunday. After sitting back early in a first quarter of 26.4, Bailey made his move approaching the half mile pole and Warrawee Unique went from sixth at the quarter to second at the half while closing in on the leader. By the time he reached the three quarter pole, Warrawee Unique had the lead and began to impose his will. The Vernon invader powered away to score in the feature by almost three lengths. Bailey had one more win left in him on Sunday as he guided the Gary Levine-trained Aces Rock to a wire-to-wire romp in yet another mild upset on the day for the driver who is consistently climbing the charts among local reinsmen. The four Sunday wins came at odds of 5-1, 9-2, 3-1 and 6-1. Four winners, none of them favored, to complete the monster afternoon for Bailey.
On last Tuesday’s matinee card, Bailey wrapped up a memorable week with another first. Treasurethosechips was her race’s 2-5 betting favorite off a class drop when Leon put her on the front end. The mare, who just came to Saratoga back in October, went wire-to-wire to secure a decisive victory off the drop. What made this win special? Well, it was the first time Bailey could say that he piloted a winner for his fiancée. Treasurethosechips is trained, and co-owned, by Amanda Facin, Leon’s new fiancée whom he just proposed to a few days before piloting the Tuesday victory. It wasn’t the first time the pair had a winner as a tandem but it was just the second time that they achieved the feat at Saratoga.
Bailey’s hot streak continued on Sunday afternoon (Nov 14) when the breakout reinsman drove a pair of winners including another for Facin. Cache All The Way drew the rail in his $9,000 contest for young pacers and Bailey wound up moving first-over with the race’s favorite before powering away from the competition to prevail in 1:56.4 by a decisive 5+ lengths. Later in the day, Bailey achieved another first as he scored his first ever win in a local Open. Sitting behind longshot Repeal Or Replace, Bailey took a shot first-over in the $15,000 Open Pace and was rewarded when Repeal Or Replace put in a big effort to secure his first Open score since coming to town this summer. Leon Bailey has been on a tear and with Vernon’s season over, we are sure to see him as a daily fixture in the sulky for the remainder of the meet at the Spa.
Live racing takes place every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday afternoon starting at Noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!