It really has been the way throughout much of the last few years at Saratoga Casino Hotel. There is no dominant force within the top levels. In the past decade, there have been a few horses that have been regular winners in the features at the Spa. Trotters Prime Interest and Lorenzo Dream had flashes of brilliance with Saratoga Hall of Famer Prime Interest’s stretch of dominance of the Open Trot spanning several seasons. Hall of Famer Kelly’s Noah was the Prime Interest of pacers at the Spa, the most consistent pacer over the course of a several year span early in the decade. Panocchio has been a steady force throughout the last few years and the well-traveled star was named Pacer of the Year at Saratoga Casino Hotel in back-to-back campaigns in 2014 and 2015. The mares have featured a mixed bag of standouts in the past several years without having one lady really emerge as a long term star. Campanile is probably the closest distaffer we’ve seen to being the force over a several season span but even she never took home an award for being a standout in a particular year.
With Opens of any kind lacking a true force, in the last three or four year span the biggest star of the Spa has been Slugfest. The Maureen Salino trainee was named Trotter of the Year in 2014 and in ’15 added more hardware to his collection. Becoming the first horse since American Kash in ’98-’99 to be named Trotter of the Year in consecutive seasons, Slugfest added Horse of the Year to his resume in ’15. After a slightly down season by his standards last year, Slugfest was back at it again this spring. The old reliable veteran started out his season in style, scoring in the first Open Trot of the season on February 26th with regular reinsman Jay Randall in the sulky. The eight year old followed up that win with a second place finish before securing his second Open victory his next time out. On the final weekend in March, Slugfest registered his third win of the season. Though the veteran has now been off for close to six weeks, he is one of only two trotters to have secured multiple Open wins thus far this season, owning three in 2017’s early going. In eight Open Trots this year, there have been five different winners.
The regular Friday feature is for the ladies and the category of fillies and mares has been the most wide open over the past several years. Very few of the track’s top distaffers from just a few years ago are even competing at the Spa anymore, let alone at a top level. In 2013, the group of ladies was so well-balanced that a different pair of mares took home the track’s top honors. That season, Bell On Wheels was named Aged Pacing Mare of the Year though Let’s Go Higher was declared Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. In 2014, Road Bet dominated the Friday action after coming to town midway through the season before earning top honors among lady pacers. She, much like 2015 winner Super Soph, hasn’t been seen at the Spa in quite some time. Even the most steady force among the track’s top fillies and mares the last few years Campanile doesn’t compete at Saratoga anymore. Last year, So Nice was named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year after a season in which no lady dominated the Open once again. In fact, it was claimer Mademoiselle Paris who almost garnered enough votes to be named the track’s top lady pacer in what would have been an unprecedented achievement.
In the opening months of this year, though a few familiar faces are making impressions in Friday features, competition in the Filly and Mare Open has again been wide open. Friday’s $13,000 Open was the eighth of the year for the distaffers and coming into the night, there had been six different winners in the first seven Opens. Her Own Land was the runner up three consecutive times before breaking through on Friday night to record her first feature score, going last to first with Mark Beckwith in the sulky. While it was the first Open win for Her Own Land, it wasn’t the first for her stable. Beckwith trainee Annabeth scored in the ladies feature back in March and is one of now seven mares to win the Open in eight installments of it this year. The only two-time winner is Little Santamonica. That veteran distaffer has thrived in seasons past at the Spa and returned to town in April. She has logged two Open wins in four tries thus far in ’17 and owns the fastest time for a mare this year with her 1:51.4 victory two weeks back. It is business as usual for the ladies this season in that the best one has yet to emerge in a pool of so many talented mares who make for competitive Opens nearly each and every week.
The Open Pace for the boys has been of the “up for grabs” variety as well. The first Saturday features were won by six different pacers. It wasn’t until defending Pacer of the Year Artful Way recorded the fastest victory of the season (1:51 flat) on April 1st that we would see a two-time winner. In The Huddle, who has competed in large part at Yonkers this year, also has recorded a pair of Open victories and has done so in just three local starts. On Saturday night, a longtime veteran of the Open Pace recorded his first win in it. JK Panache was a nominee for Pacer of the Year last year even though he did just as much damage at Vernon Downs as he did at the Spa. The Dave Dewhurst trainee prevailed in his third seasonal start in the Open on Saturday and did so despite posting first half fractions of 26.3 and 54.0 on the front end. The classy veteran dug in and held on to win in 1:51.4 over a track labeled ‘good.’ The Open Pace has now been contested ten times this year with eight different horses going on to get their picture taken. It is much of the same in the opening months of the racing season at the Spa. There isn’t one dominant horse in any of the “big three” categories which should make for some interesting and competitive Opens as we move towards the summer season at the Spa.
There is afternoon racing every Thursday and Sunday with matinees starting at 12:15pm. Racing takes place every Friday and Saturday night beginning at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU the finish line!