There are so many differences between thoroughbred and standardbred race horses. While the list is way too long to chronicle in a weekly column, there are a couple of differences which were evidenced this weekend at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Thoroughbred horses (generally) reach their prime at age three and, assuming they stay healthy and sound, can oftentimes race for a few years after that. It is pretty rare to see a “runner” compete after the age of six or older. An average thoroughbred may race anywhere from a few times in a year to maybe a bit more than a dozen times. While those approximations are anything but scientific, the fact remains that an average standardbred horse may compete about three times as often in a year as a runner. While those numbers certainly vary, one thing that is fairly simple to document is the difference in longevity of their careers. Though it may be a bit rare for a thoroughbred to race behind the age of, say, six, a healthy standardbred often can compete for a much longer period of time, oftentimes wrapping up their career at age ten or more. The harness racing rule states that no horse can compete in a pari-mutuel race after the age of fourteen and though most horses hang it up much before they reach that point, it isn’t uncommon for a pacer or trotter to still be racing at a double digit age. A harness horse who manages to stay relatively healthy can log a career total of a couple hundred starts.
There were many veteran horses that raced on Saturday night alone at Saratoga Casino Hotel to evidence this longevity. Thirteen different pacers brought a career tally of 200 or more lifetime starts to the track on Saturday night. “Old man” Paradise Willie was the senior-most of those horses. A thirteen year old pacer who has spent almost all of his career at Saratoga, Paradise Willie made his 355th lifetime start on Saturday. An incredible total and while it is not uncommon for a horse to be racing at ten-plus years old, for a thirteen year old to still be competing is a bit of a rarity. Though Paradise Willie, who has earned over $270,000 over the course of his career, is not the horse he once was, he did record a victory earlier this month while competing in a low level condition race. He was no factor on Saturday night but the campaigner who won his race was another old veteran who has become a Saratoga legend.
Kelly’s Noah, a rare horse to be named Pacer of the Year in back to back seasons at the Spa when he accomplished the feat in 2010 and 2011, won for the second consecutive week on Saturday. While he certainly isn’t the same horse who dominated the Open Pace for several years, the James Harvey-trained Kelly’s Noah, who was Inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in 2015, is still getting the job done. Driven by Dan Cappello Jr (another Spa Hall of Famer), Kelly’s Noah scored for the third time in just nine seasonal starts. Lightly raced in a bit in the last few years, Kelly’s Noah still has the winning way. He isn’t one of the baker’s dozen of pacers with 200+ starts to compete on Saturday but the longevity of Kelly’s Noah is still impressive. The ten year old has won 45 times in his 152 lifetime tries, a nearly unheard of winning percentage for a horse with that many career starts. With the win, the local legend has amassed lifetime earnings of over $534,000. There were several horses with more lifetime races that competed on Saturday night and there were even a handful with a bigger career bankroll but the combination of class, ability and durability is still allowing the veteran Kelly’s Noah to be competing at a high level at the age of ten.
Another “old timer” that is still thriving won again on Saturday night. Clooney Drummond is another fan favorite who continues to have a knack for getting his picture taken which he did once again last weekend. A rare horse to be owned by one of our regular drivers, Clooney Drummond toted defending top driver Bruce Aldrich Jr as the claiming pacer registered his 55th lifetime victory. Still thriving at the age of twelve, Clooney Drummond has appeared revitalized this year. A horse gifted with a ton of early speed, Clooney Drummond does most of his damage when on the front end. On Saturday, Aldrich was content to sit the pocket and the classy vet showed that he is no one trick pony as he parlayed the pocket ride to victory in 1:54.1. After racing only eight times in ’15, Clooney Drummond has catapulted through the claiming ranks in recent months. Dominant in the $5,000 claimers both locally and at Monticello Raceway, Clooney Drummond’s most recent win on Saturday came while competing in the $12,500 claimers. In 16 starts in the ’16 campaign, Clooney Drummond has now recorded twelve wins! He is continuing to break track records for his particular age level as the old war horse continues to get it done. Coincidentally, the career earnings for Clooney Drummond are almost exactly the same as fellow veteran Kelly’s Noah who both made trips to the winner’s circle on the same night on an evening that featured a host of “old men” who are still getting it done at ages of ten or more. It is certainly one of the big differences between thoroughbreds and standardbreds and it was on full display on Saturday night when old time, classy pacers thrived on the track. Kelly’s Noah and Clooney Drummond are continuing to prove that in harness racing, sometimes age is just a number.
Live racing takes place every Thursday starting at 4pm and continues on Friday and Saturday nights beginning at 6:45pm. Sunday matinees kick off each week 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!