For Billy Dobson and Jimmy Devaux, winning races is nothing new. Even considering the high percentage of races that is won by the track’s top two drivers over the past few years, for the two to combine for ten driving wins on the thirteen race card on Monday afternoon at Saratoga Casino Hotel last week was pretty unique. On Monday’s matinee, it wasn’t just about winning for Dobson and Devaux, it was about history. Dobson made a career-high seven trips to the winner’s circle on the afternoon and Devaux, who scored three victories on the card, reached the 6,000 career win milestone. For Dobson, who is well on his way to driving title number nine at the Spa, to break a record for wins on a card really says something. After all, the 36 year old is the winningest driver at Saratoga over the last decade by quite a significant margin so to eclipse his previous number of wins on a program is certainly a remarkable feat.
Dobson kicked off the short racing week on Monday by sitting behind trotter Awol Hanover for trainer Jimmy Nickerson in the afternoon’s first race. Then, after going an entire two races without a victory, Dobson went on to rattle off wins in five out of the next six on the program. And while there were certainly some pretty heavy favorites among his winners, Dobson also sat behind a couple of upsetters on the card. In fact, his victory in the feature while driving high-stepper Gruden in the $8,500 Open Trot came at the odds of 8-1.
Gruden won his first Open at the Spa while still on the comeback trail. The seven year old, who has competed at the Spa from time to time over the years, missed all of the 2019 campaign before moving full-time to Saratoga post-pandemic shutdown in June. Gruden headed to the Monica Krist stable, a barn that Dobson helps run. After all, Krist is Billy’s mother. The Krist stable has finished with an extremely high winning percentage in the last few seasons and 2020 has been no different. Training to an average currently above .460, Krist had a pair of winners on the Monday card. Gruden’s score proved to be a family affair as the talented trotter who is trained by Krist and driven by Dobson, is owned by Billy’s father Rick Dobson, of Hartland, Michigan. In what was the first installment of the Open Trot at Saratoga in close to two months, Gruden got a pocket trip from Dobson just one week after the pair pulled off a mild upset at 8-1 while outclosing their rivals in a conditioned race. His step up was a big one but in a field reduced to just five members following a scratch, Gruden wound up in the pocket spot behind the race’s favorite Waiting On A Woman. That veteran trotter had finished first or second in three straight Opens in July before heading out of town to compete. Gruden wound up closing in the passing lane on Monday before stopping the timer in 1:57.1 to secure his first Open victory. The win wound up not only as one of seven for the track’s leading driver but was one of a pair for the familial connections.
Owner Rick Dobson, trainer Monica Krist and reinsman Billy Dobson also had a win on Monday with a trotter who is in the midst of a breakout campaign at the Spa. War Story came to Saratoga late in 2019 but once the calendar turned to ’20, the five year old became a new horse. Dobson piloted War Story to five wins in seven starts from March 1st to July 27th. At that point, the up-and-coming trotter required some time off and took some “r and r” before qualifying just six days before what would be his return outing on Monday. War Story, of course, won the qualifier and did so decisively. If the horse who has become one of the Krist stable’s stars had any rust to kick off in his first start back, you could have fooled us. War Story faced a formidable group, including a trotter in from Vernon Downs who was named that track’s Horse of the Year last week. It was no problem for War Story who registered a decisive five-length victory to move his record to six for ten in 2020 on what was an historic afternoon for a driver who set a personal record with an incredible seven victories on one card while in the midst of another dominant campaign at the Spa.
While Dobson ruled the day on Monday, another longtime Spa regular made some history of his own. Jimmy Devaux has been a top catch-driver for years at both Monticello and Saratoga. Doing double duty has been the norm for the veteran reinsman who didn’t make an immediate return to the sulky upon the re-opening of the track in June. Do to some personal issues, Devaux didn’t make his first drive back until the final week of July but even after a four-plus month break, the talented catch-driver didn’t miss a beat. Picking up right where he left off, Devaux again thrived upon returning and a milestone that seemed inevitable for him to reach this spring just got delayed a bit due to the shutdown. Devaux came into Monday’s card with 5,997 victories as a driver. Between the seven victories for Dobson on the day, there were a few races left for other drivers to pilot winners and that’s where Devaux stepped in. Jimmy piloted a pair of winners before heading into the afternoon’s finale seeking to make personal history. That’s when the 53 year old sulky standout sat behind the Eric Adsit-trained Full Of Pride. Full Of Pride, who went off at odds of 6-1, got a pocket ride and flew past the race’s front-runner before securing a decisive victory for Devaux. It was win number 6,000 in the illustrious career of a driver who has won multiple driving titles at Monticello Raceway and has been a force locally, finishing in the top three among local reinsmen pretty much every year since become a regular at the Spa. Jimmy’s strongest stretch came when he piloted over 1,000 winners in just a two year span when in 2017-2018 he was one of North America’s winningest drivers. Devaux becomes the second Saratoga regular to reach the 6,000 career win plateau in just the last few weeks as Larry Stalbaum achieved the feat last month. Congratulations to Jimmy Devaux on victory number 6,000 and with Monticello opening back up last week and Devaux already securing some victories there, he has begun his climb to the 7,000 mark in what has been and still is an incredible career in the sulky.
Live racing takes place at Saratoga on Mondays and Tuesdays with first post times set for 12 Noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!