In 2018, local superstar Artful Way did a couple of things never done before at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The winningest horse in the local Open Pace three years in a row, Artful Way was named Pacer of the Year for the third consecutive season at the Spa. He also earned a share of the Horse of the Year award in ’18, tying in the voting with pacing mare Spreester as the top stars at Saratoga last season. Artful Way became the first horse in track history to win any of the top awards three straight years as no previous horse has ever been Pacer, Trotter or Filly and Mare Pacer three times in a row.
Repeating among the top categories has proven difficult at Saratoga. In fact, the last time a local mare has earned Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year honors in back to back years was back in 2007-2008 when a distaffer named Dandy’s Jewel achieved the feat. Dandy’s Jewel, herself the sister of 2005 Saratoga Pacer of the Year Alpine Dandy, was simply a phenom in her first few racing seasons. In 2006 as a three year old, Dandy’s Jewel earned more than $155,000 while competing mostly in New York Sire Stakes races. Trained by Mickey McGivern (who was also Alpine Dandy’s trainer), Dandy’s Jewel finished second in the then $150,000 Sire Stakes Final to wrap up a sensational season as a three year old filly. The following year, she became a star of the local Open for Fillies and Mares when she took on the track’s top lady pacers and not only competed with the Spa’s best but thrived. At the end of her ’07 campaign, Dandy’s Jewel had piled up more than $118,000 by way of eleven wins and was subsequently named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. In 2008, she remained tops among local mares and took home the top award for lady pacers once again. Dandy’s Jewel’s career ended just a couple years later but not before she earned over $366,000 in just 102 lifetime starts. Just the second mare in track history to take home Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year then moved on to life as a mom.
When trainer Kyle Spagnola went to the horse sale at the Meadowlands this winter, he had his sights set on a couple of pacing mares. One of his owners, Bill Donovan, was looking for a mare that could be an Open horse at Saratoga. There were two mares in the sale that fit the credentials as Open options. When both Spagnola and Donovan separately picked one out named Jewels Forreal, they went to the sale determined to acquire her. Buy her they did and though the price tag was a hefty $85,000, the mare fit the bill as a distaffer that appeared capable of competing among the top local mares.
Spagnola and Donovan know something about mares that thrive at Saratoga as they teamed up a few years back with a lady pacer who wound up being the 2014 Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. Road Bet made an immediate impact upon coming to the Spa midway through the ’14 campaign and she ended up as a worthy champion among local mares that season. In search of another Road Bet, the hopes were high for the new connections of Jewels Forreal and with good reason. As a two year old filly, Jewels Forreal won three times in just four starts. Last season as a sophomore, she broke out. Competing out of the stable of North America’s winningest trainer Ron Burke, Jewels Surreal had a terrific summer in the New York Sire Stakes, a season that wrapped up with her competing in the $225,000 final on the Night of Champions at Yonkers. When the stakes season ended, she became a fall fixture in the Preferred for fillies and mares at the Meadows in Pennsylvania. All together, in 29 starts as a three year old, Jewels Forreal recorded five wins and hit the board twenty times en route to $167,813 in earnings.
Donovan, who has horses with several different trainers at a few different tracks, has horses with Burke who gave him the thumbs up when it came to Jewels Forreal and he made the purchase. Spagnola gave the now four year old a short break as a refresher before bringing her to the Meadowlands for a race at the beginning at February. That start was highlighted by a final quarter of 26.1 and led her into a couple of starts at Yonkers. After recording a pair of second-place finishes at Yonkers, Jewels Forreal debuted at Saratoga earlier this month. For a horse that has enjoyed plenty of success in her young career, the first local start wasn’t a memorable one. While competing in the $15,000 Fillies and Mares Open, Jewels Forreal encountered traffic trouble, causing interference as her sulky and another rival’s hooked wheels, taking them both out of the race. The incident certainly would not serve as a foreshadow though as in her following start, which took place in the $12,500 Winners Over for distaffers, Jewels Forreal motored home in the final half of 55.3 to pull off the mild upset in a mile clocked in 1:53.2. At that point in time, that final clocking was the fastest for a mare at the Spa this year.
Jewels Forreal lowered her own fastest time last Thursday afternoon when the new Spagnola lady pacing star was the public’s 6-5 betting favorite. The local rising star exhibited versatility on Thursday, displaying early speed to be the front-runner for the first time in her limited amount of local starts. Setting quick fractions throughout, Jewels Forreal added Saratoga Open winner to her list of achievements as she coasted to a decisive win in 1:53 with Frank Coppola Jr in the sulky. In what was just her 40th lifetime start, Jewels Forreal moved over the $200,000 mark in lifetime earnings. The “real deal” according to Coppola, Jewels Forreal may well be here to stay as she has displayed the speed, power and versatility that is needed to be a long-term factor in the Fillies and Mares Open. Though it is obviously extremely premature to discuss end of season awards as we sit here in late March, from what we’ve seen in the early stages of the local career of Jewels Forreal, the Spagnola-Donovan combo may well have a talented enough mare to go on and have an award-winning type campaign. It wouldn’t be the first time her connections would take home a Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year award and it surely wouldn’t be the first time her family has earned that honor as the daughter of two-time top local mare Dandy’s Jewel tries to follow in her mama’s hoofsteps and stamp herself as the standout lady pacer at the Spa.
Live racing takes place on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon starting at 12:00pm and every Saturday night beginning at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!