As summer has turns to fall, the end of the meet at Vernon Downs in central New York becomes imminent. With just ten racing dates remaining on the racing calendar at Vernon, several of their trainers will soon converge on Saratoga Casino Hotel to race throughout the final couple of months of the year. For two of the top conditioners at Vernon, success has come not only at their home track but also while traveling east to Saratoga to compete. Veteran trainer Dave Dewhurst has done double duty for the last couple of decades. Dewhurst stables at Vernon and races there throughout the course of their meet that spans roughly six months. Dewhurst remains among the top conditioners every year at Vernon and does plenty of winning there despite the fact that he ships to the Spa to compete with some regularity. The 51 year old has the majority of his horses begin their seasons at Saratoga and when Vernon opens still has several of them race locally. Despite only bringing a few horses to town during the Vernon meet, Dewhurst is still a presence in the local trainer standings, lingering just outside the top ten among Spa conditioners in 2018. In the midst of a bit of a down season at his home track, Dewhurst is roughly in the same position in their trainer standings as he is at the Spa.
Dave Dewhurst raced two horses on Thursday afternoon at Saratoga. The veteran brought a pair of trotters to town, each of whom enjoyed a strong summer while competing in New York Sire Stakes action. Neither of these invaders competed this year against the top-flight trotters in stakes races but both found their niche and thrived. Time Is Fleeting raced in the John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trotting Series at Saratoga in April and earned the winner’s share of the $10,000 per division purse in leg one before finishing fourth in the Final. From that point on, Time Is Fleeting raced almost exclusively in the Excelsior B level of the NY Sire Stakes. Excelsior competition was split into A and B a few years ago in order to separate the young horses according to ability level. The Excelsior B’s are the lower level but are still contested for purses big enough for its participants to build a bankroll. Time Is Fleeting one was of those horses- one that prevailed a few times in Excelsiors. On Thursday, the Dewhurst trainee drew the rail in a co-featured event for New York sired trotters and parlayed a pocket trip to victory in the $10,000 race. Dismissed at odds of 7-1, Time Is Fleeting set a new lifetime mark of 1:58.1 as the sophomore boosted his seasonal earnings to over the $40,000 mark.
The other Dewhurst trainee that came to town on Thursday was a filly named Good Luck Ginny. This three year old’s niche was found in the Fair Circuit as part of the NY Sire Stakes as the filly toured the Fair tracks throughout the state and made almost all of her travels fruitful by recording wins. Good Luck Ginny won the Fair Final for three year old filly trotters at Monticello a few weeks ago, a fitting culmination to a season in which she prevailed eight times. While the win total was impressive, the competition at the Fairs simply isn’t what it is even in Excelsiors let alone “regular” races, say at Saratoga. On Thursday, the filly put in a seasonal-best performance as she went wire-to-wire en route to victory in 1:59.3. Driver Jimmy Devaux piloted both Dewhurst trainees to their Thursday scores. The most recent training double for Dewhurst came just two days before his longtime stable star JK Panache followed up a dazzling effort in which he won in 1:51.2 the previous week with another impressive victory, scoring first over in 1:52.2 in the $14,000 Winners Over for pacers. While Dewhurst may be having a bit of a down meet at Vernon, he continues to thrive at Saratoga where we will see more and more of him during the fall, just as we did in springtime. The veteran conditioner, who has scored victories in seven out of his last thirteen local starts, is now just three wins shy of reaching the 2,000 career win milestone.
After Dewhurst was the training champion at Vernon Downs in 2014 and 2015, John MacDonald took that title away the following season. The native of Canada, who now calls Florida home as he competes at Pompano Park throughout their meet, has been a force since becoming a Vernon regular a few years back. The 36 year old MacDonald finished in a tie for the training title at Pompano during their spring meet and ended up fourth in the driver standings. Considered a terrific all-around horseman, MacDonald heads north to Vernon for the spring and summer where in ‘16 and ‘17, he won both the training and driving titles. Here in ’18, MacDonald looks like he will likely finish second among drivers at Vernon while securing his third consecutive training championship. MacDonald has already piled up over 3,800 wins in his career as a driver and is on pace for 2018 to be the third consecutive year in which he has owned a training average of over .400, a number rarely reached by trainers with large stables. Despite splitting his year up mainly between Pompano and Vernon, Macdonald does send some of his trainees to the Spa to compete from time to time and occasionally even comes to town to drive.
On Friday September 22nd, MacDonald sent a trio of pacers to town led by Open Mare All Charged Up. Though that mare wasn’t a factor in the $15,000 feature, MacDonald’s other ladies thrived. Both Tatiana Seelster and Stonebridge Frosty prevailed in their local debut for MacDonald who used Jay Randall and Wally Hennessey to drive the winners. Last weekend, Tatiana Seelster returned to the Spa and made her way back to the winner’s circle. The sophomore filly moved her record to three-for-three since joining MacDonald’s stable last month as she cruised to a wire-to-wire score with Randall guiding the way. Another pair of MacDonald trainees headed east to Saratoga on Sunday afternoon but this time, the standout horseman came to town to do the driving. John MacDonald and Dave Dewhurst, who combined have won five consecutive training titles at Vernon Downs, are just two of the outstanding Central New York-based trainers to come to the Spa and thrive this year with an influx of invaders likely to converge on Saratoga in the coming weeks after Vernon wraps up its 2018 racing season.
Live racing takes place on Thursday and Sunday afternoons this week with first post times of 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evenings with action starting 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!