For the last several years in harness racing, we have seen an influx of horses coming in from New Zealand and Australia. You know which horses are from those countries as they have an ‘N’ or ‘A’ after their name. These horses are usually acquired via private purchase and several trainers seem to have a pipeline with connections from “Down Under.” It is commonplace at tracks such as Yonkers and the Meadowlands to see several of the winners have the N or A at the end on a given evening. The quality of horse coming from Down Under has been very high and it has become a more and more popular way to acquire new stock for U.S. based owners and trainers.
One Saratoga-based trainer who makes a habit of acquiring horses from Down Under is Paul Zabielski. The veteran conditioner was the track’s leading trainer back in 1997 and has been a steady force among locals for decades. Zabielski trains perennial local star Spreester who has won awards in the past for Two Year Old Pacer, Three Year Old Pacer, Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year and earned a share of Horse of the Year in different occasions. In 2018, Spreester returned to the Zabielski stable after being purchased by owner Kevin Quinn of Saratoga Springs and took home the honors as the track’s top filly and mare pacer and was the co-Horse of the Year at the track, splitting honors with Artful Way after the ’18 campaign. In 2019, the hard-hitting mare was once again a nominee for Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. Spreester made her ’20 seasonal debut following the quarantine shutdown and made her presence felt immediately. On June 25th, Spreester came flying home in the stretch to finish second in her first start back. The following week, the classy nine year old faded on the lead after working extremely hard to get to the front-end. We are sure to see more from Spreester as the season progresses.
While Spreester has been a stable star for Zabielski on and off for several years, she is a rare member of her trainer’s stable these days to not have the ‘N’ or ‘A’ at the end of her name. Zabielski is one of the conditioners with that pipeline to New Zealand and Australia and his barn features almost solely horses from overseas at this point. In fact, roughly 80% of his starts last year were made by Down Underers. Many of these horses that he acquires are eligible to some of the younger and lower classifications. Paul does a good job having his horses climb the ranks and sees some of them plateau after they graduate into new company while others become Winners Over and Open caliber pacers. After enjoying success with a group of past New Zealanders such as The Great Buzz N, Vasari N, Kiwi Tintin N, Nerve Of Steel N, and Lifeonthebeach A in 2018 and 2019, Zabielski and Quinn have turned over a majority of those horses and restocked recently with another group.
After selling the aforementioned pacers, Zabielski brought over another cargo load from New Zealand and Australia and has once again started the process of seeing them move up through the ranks. Despite the quarantine shutdown hampering him and all the horsemen and women in the horse racing industry, Zabielski has gotten his overseas invaders back on course in the last couple of weeks. On Thursday afternoon, the veteran trainer and owner Kevin Quinn had a huge day and while they aren’t a new tandem to be reckoned with, they have added a new member to their group in recent weeks who has come onboard and helped the team thrive.
Zabielski has always used the top-flight drivers at Saratoga to pilot for him and has regularly teamed up with Jimmy Devaux over the last couple of seasons. Devaux has thrived in the sulky for Zabielski and Quinn but now with Devaux not driving yet since the return from quarantine shutdown, Zabielski was forced to look elsewhere for a reinsman. The conditioner, who is coming off his winningest season ever in 2019, landed on Phil Fluet. The pairing has worked out extremely well in the first few weeks back from the break and the strong return was never evidenced more than last Thursday afternoon. Zabielski raced seven horses on Thursday and had Fluet piloting in all seven tries. The new crop of Down Under invaders thrived for Quinn, Zabielski and Fluet on the matinee card as Major Crisis A, Hereslooknatyou N and Two Fiftyeight N all scored victories. The power trio also had a second-place finish and two thirds on what was a huge afternoon for them. The win for Major Crisis A was his first since coming to North America in just his third local start. After recording the victory in 1:54.2 this week, Major Crisis A will be back this Wednesday looking to repeat and will likely be as big of a betting favorite as you will see. Hereslooknatyou N lit up the tote board when she won her U.S. debut on July 2nd as Fluet guided her to victory while dismissed at odds of 71-1. On Thursday, albeit with much different odds attached, Hereslooknatyou N went back-to-back as the New Zealand invader moved her record to two-for-two since joining the Zabielski stable. She was the public’s 1-9 betting favorite in the race when she repeated, odds that she is likely to mirror this Wednesday as she drew the rail seeking to complete the hat trick. Two Fiftyeight N’s score completed the triple for her connections when on Thursday she sprung the mild upset at odds of 7-1 as she came from off the pace to round out the big day for Quinn, Zabielski and Fluet. Repeating won’t be easy for her this week though as Two Fiftyeight N drew post eight for the upcoming Wednesday afternoon’s finale. The formula has worked for Zabielski and Quinn as their new crop of Down Under invaders are picking off win after win as they climb the class ranks just as their last group of New Zealanders and Aussies did last season in what was the biggest year yet for the veteran conditioner. And now, with the successful blueprint for success still working like a charm, Zabielski has a new driver at the helm as Phil Fluet has thrived in the sulky while taking on driving duties for a new barn since the return from the break.
Live racing takes place this week only on Wednesday afternoon with a 12 Noon first post. Starting next week, our summer schedule will consist of Monday and Tuesday matinee racing beginning at noon with Wednesday evening cards kicking off at 7:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!