On Tuesday night, trainer Dave Spagnola was enshrined into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame. The veteran conditioner has spent his entire career at Saratoga and has consistently been near the top of the local standings at the Spa. In fact, Spagnola has finished atop the list of local trainers eight times. His eight training titles are the most for any conditioner in track history and though his last title came back in 2001, “Spag” continues to finish among the top trainers almost every year at Saratoga.
Dave Spagnola grew up on his family farm in Ft. Johnson, NY where they had both riding and harness horses. Dave developed his passion for racing at an early age and wound up working for a few veteran conditioners as a groom and assistant trainer before going out on his own in 1986. Spagnola claimed a horse for himself and scored eight wins and eight seconds in twenty starts with that pacer. It didn’t take Spag long to make a bigger impact at the track and he had a breakout season in 1987 as the size of his stable grew. Dave won the Peerless McGrath Award for up-and-coming trainers in ’87 and it wasn’t long after that he was on top of the standings at the Spa.
Spagnola won his first training title in ’89 and continued his red hot stretch right through the start of the following decade. Spag rattled off five consecutive training championships as he tallied the most wins of any local trainer each year from 1989-1993. While he went a few years afterwards without winning another title, Spagnola vaulted back to the top in ’99. Spag piled up three more training championships from ’99-’01 to move his track-best mark to eight.
Official USTA statistics only go back to 1991 but since that time, the winningest trainer at Saratoga Raceway is Dave Spagnola. The 59 year old conditioner has been ultra consistent and has won more than 1,000 races at the Spa since ’91 (and obviously plenty more before that seeing as he was the leading trainer two times previous to that year.) 2002 marked the 14th consecutive season that Spagnola trained to a .299 or better average. In more than 7,400 starts (since ’91), Spagnola has piled up well over 1,200 wins and more than $5.1 million in purses in what has been a sensational career for the affable trainer.
It was only fitting that Frank Coppola Jr. was the one to introduce Spagnola at Tuesday night’s Hall of Fame inductions. One of the winningest drivers in track history (he and Dan Cappello Jr are very close for first all-time at the Spa), Coppola was roommates with Spagnola early on in their careers. Coppola has been tied-in with Spagnola ever since as their careers have had several parallels. A Saratoga Hall of Famer himself, Coppola piloted the majority of Spagnola’s horses throughout the years and continues to drive a good number of them these days. Both share a similar mindset about a horse’s longterm well-being being paramount and have focused on keeping their horses well enough to race throughout the lengthy meet. Many of Spagnola’s owners over the years have loved the fact that they had Coppola piloting for them. His steadying presence and ability to give information about the horses after the race is always a big help.
On Thursday’s twilight race card, just two days removed from his induction into the Hall, Spagnola had his best day of the season. Three of the veteran conditioners’ trainees scored victories on the twelve race card. Spag’s Reasinforpleasin won the evening’s feature while No Tears Blue Chip and Broad Beach broke their maidens. It was fitting that the Spagnola hat trick came with Coppola piloting all three winners for owner Mike Polansky. Polansky has been Spagnola’s primary owner for well over a decade now. The Spa’s all-time winningest trainer, Spagnola currently has a stable of roughly thirty horses along with several broodmares owned by Polansky who has bred several of his current horses. Spagnola, whose son Kyle is currently in the top five in the trainer standings at the Spa, has been a stronghold at Saratoga for decades and continues to rank among the top conditioners at the track. Congratulations to Dave Spagnola on his much deserved and long overdue enshrinement into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame.
The horse inducted into the Hall of Fame last week was Ackbro Ms Perfect. Trained and driven throughout her career by longtime local regular Scott Mongeon, Ackbro Ms Perfect broke out as a two year old as she won three New York Sire Stakes races as a freshman. In her three year old campaign, the Mongeon trainee scored five wins in the Sire Stakes and wrapped up her campaign with a third place finish in the $150,000 Final on the Night of Champions. She piled up over $137,000 as a sophomore filly. In 2007, Ackbro Ms Perfect competed almost exclusively in Open company at the Spa and accrued another $86,000+ for her owners Dan and Steve Ackerknecht despite the fact that she faced primarily colts and geldings throughout the year. For her efforts, Ackbro Ms Perfect became a rare mare to be named Trotter of the Year at the Spa in ’07. When her career wrapped up in 2012, Ackbro Ms Perfect had earned just shy of $390,000 in 157 lifetime starts by way of 38 wins. Congratulations to the connections of Ackbro Ms Perfect on her induction into the Hall of Fame. Theresa Cannone was named the Virginia O’Brien Memorial 110% Award winner during Tuesday’s festivities.
Live racing takes place every Thursday starting at 4pm and continues on Fridays and Saturdays with first post times of 6:45pm. Sunday matinees begin at 12:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!