Panocchio accomplished a feat only that a handful has in the history of Saratoga Casino Hotel in 2014 and 2015. The veteran standout was named Pacer of the Year at Saratoga in those seasons becoming one of only four horses to go back-to-back to earn that honor in the last forty years at the Spa. Panocchio was and still is trained by Saratoga Hall of Fame conditioner Jimmy Mattison who has had Panocchio ever since purchasing him from Canadian connections following his two year old campaign. After enjoying an eight-win season in 2013 as a three year old, Panocchio proved to be an Open force beginning in ’14. That year, Panocchio won an incredible sixteen times. Mattison splits his year between Saratoga and Pompano Park in Florida, a blueprint he has followed for decades. Panocchio won his first two tries in the Pompano Open in ’14 and from there, a star was born. Fast forward a few years and Panocchio piled up an incredible fifty wins in a four-year span from 2014-2017 and asserted himself, at the time, as the top Open Pacer at both tracks at which he raced.
Beginning last season, we started to see a few signs of decline in Panocchio.. Yes, he was and is still a solid threat among upper level pacers but he isn’t that Open force anymore. Though the now nine year old was winless in the Open this summer, Panocchio once again competed at a high level against the Spa’s top pacers hitting the board in four of six starts in the $15,000 regular Saturday night feature. Panocchio has taken some time off to refresh and hasn’t raced since August 17th. That is about to change though as the classy veteran is set to qualify next weekend in hopes of recording a race locally before Mattison brings his stable south for the winter in a couple weeks. It is hard enough for any horse to maintain Open status for several years but to do it for the amount of time that Panocchio has is just astonishing. Panocchio has career earnings of more than $600,000, almost all of which coming after the acquisition for Mattison who co-owns Panocchio with Emile Johnson Jr. of Massachusetts. The career win percentage is simply staggering for Panocchio as he owns 66 victories in his 193 lifetime starts. And hopefully, the short rest over the last couple of months will serve him well moving forward into the final months of his ’19 campaign.
Jimmy Mattison’s stable didn’t wind up having much of a gap between Open Pace participants as a new star is rising for the trainer who was inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in 2017. Century Endeavor has followed an incredibly similar path to the one blazed by his stablemate Panocchio over the years. Acquired by Mattison out of Canada at the conclusion of his two year old season, Century Endeavor won his first two starts out of his new stable while competing in Florida. Debuting at Saratoga as a three year old in April of last season, Century Endeavor was extremely impressive. The sophomore won four times to go with a pair of second-place finishes in his first seven starts at the Spa. All told, Century Endeavor won nine races a three year old and hit the board in 19 of 26 starts last season highlighted by a mark of 1:53.3 set here at the Spa. If last year was an impressive coming-out party for Century Endeavor, 2019 would have to be considered his breakout campaign.
After dabbling in the Open at Pompano in the early portion of ’19, Century Endeavor returned to Saratoga this spring and again didn’t waste any time in making trips to the winner’s circle. The now four year old rattled off back-to-back jacks upon his return north and while Panocchio was competing in Opens, his younger stablemate was climbing the class ranks at the Spa. Century Endeavor took the baton from the former award winner and landed in the $15,000 Open Pace for the first time in August. Century Endeavor didn’t waste any time showing that he belonged as he paced 1:51.3 to finish second in his debut against the track’s top pacers. Following another second-place finish, Century Endeavor won his first career Open on August 17th when he came from well off the pace before stopping the timer in 1:52.4 over a track labeled ‘good’. The remainder of the summer went very well for Mattison’s new stable star as he has become a fixture in the Saturday feature. On Saturday night, Century Endeavor drew the rail and despite getting shuffled a bit stormed home to be the runner-up for the third consecutive week and has now hit the board in seven of his nine tries in the local Open. All told, the versatile pacer owns nine wins and eight seconds in 28 starts in 2019 to continue his phenomenal rate of hitting the board in his young career.
Gerry Mattison is the regular driver for his brother Jimmy’s stable and has sat behind Panocchio in almost all of his local starts over the course of his time at Saratoga. When I asked Gerry about the natural comparisons forming between Panocchio and Century Endeavor, he had some hesitation though acknowledged several similarities. “Panocchio has always taken great care of himself,” Gerry told me. “Century Endeavor was a much more anxious horse when he got here. He climbed the class ladder last year but was really hard on himself and wore himself out a bit.” “This year, he has matured quite a bit. Jimmy put earplugs in him and it really helped to calm him,” Gerry continued. “He is really talented and likes to win just like Panocchio. Both of them have some similarities on the track as well. When they get to the front, they don’t like to let anyone pass them. They are tough on the lead…love to win.” Both horses have great win percentages on the engine but often wind up being grinders. In Opens, it is too tough on a horse to leave every week for it takes its toll over the course of a season. Century Endeavor has been strictly a closer since entering Open company, an approach that is tactical according to his regular driver. “They go so fast up front all the time in the Open. It’s difficult to just go, go, go every week so we usually take him back early and race him from behind,” Gerry explained. “He’s got plenty of early speed but he’s a good grinder. Honestly, he can handle any kind of trip.” To forecast a career for Century Endeavor to be even close to that of stablemate Panocchio, and his $600,000+ in earnings, would be quite ambitious but the similarities between the two are apparent. In regards to method of acquisition, racing style and increasing success levels, Century Endeavor is starting to follow a similar path to the one laid by Panocchio and maybe, just maybe the Mattisons could have themselves a solid sequel to their longtime stable star.
Live racing takes place every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon starting at Noon and every Saturday evening with first post time set for 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!