Trainer Gary Levine has made his living turning over talent in his close to two decades as a trainer at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The 41 year old won the training title at Saratoga in 2020 and has been a force among local conditioners in the seasons leading up to and following his championship campaign. Levine has a large pipeline from which he does a lot of buying and selling of horses. Currently sitting third in the trainer standings in ’23, Levine has been led by a host of newcomers to his stable as he continues to move horses through his barn often every few months and in some cases even over the course of just a few weeks.
Levine’s connections in the business are vast and the Ballston Spa resident does everything from buying and selling with a group of local trainers to bringing horses in from anywhere from Yonkers to Canada. In recent months, Levine has utilized some relationships with trainers at Buffalo to bring new members into his stable. Yucatan Party Man was a private purchase by Levine back in June after the five year old trotter spent much of his year racing in Maryland. After being purchased and relocating to Buffalo for trainer Dave Russo, Levine bought the young up-and-comer in late spring eyeing the optional $25,000 claiming class at the Spa.
“I thought he would get good checks in that class and be able to pay his way,” Levine told me. “I honestly didn’t know much about the horse when I bought him but had looked at his lines and he showed a history of good miles at Chester (in Pennsylvania). He always stayed trotting, got checks and appeared to be good gaited.” Levine bought the trotter for $22,000 and upon getting him, immediately saw some things he liked. “Right when I got him, I loved him. He was good jogging and trained awesome,” Levine said.
The majority of horses that come out of the Gary Levine stable are driven by Billy Dobson. Dobson, an eight-time driving champ at Saratoga, sits fifth among local reinsmen in 2023 and is the go-to guy for Levine. When Gary discussed his new trotter with his driver, he told Billy that he liked him a lot. “I didn’t think he’d lose in his first start, honestly. I told Billy if he’s on the front, they won’t beat him,” Levine asserted. Yucatan Party Man made his Spa debut on June 11th and while he didn’t wind up on the front-end in his first Saratoga start, he did in fact prevail while competing in an $11,700 race for trotters. The youngster wasted little time in repeating the following week as this time, Yucatan Party Man did cut the mile and wound up going coast-to-coast as his race’s 1-5 betting favorite with Dobson in the sulky.
Although Yucatan Party Man still fit the claiming condition for one more win, Levine opted to move his newly acquired trotter up into the Winners Over where he finished fifth in his first try. “He got away towards the back but when Billy tipped him off the helmet, he came flying home in the stretch,” Levine noted. Trotting the fastest final quarter of any horse in the race, Yucatan Party Man’s first start against upper-caliber trotters was certainly not a bad showing. In fact, it led his trainer to believe he could belong against Winners Over/Open competition.
“When I got him, it looked like he did most of his winning on the lead,” Levine told me. “In our first few starts with him though, he showed us he was good no matter what his trip was. When he tips off a helmet, he flies.” And roar off the helmet he did on July 2nd when Yucatan Party Man sprung an upset at odds of 10-1 winning the $15,525 Winners Over when he powered out of the pocket and blew by the competition en route to a three-plus length victory.
After scoring in the Winners Over, the only place that was left for Yucatan Party Man to go was up once again. It was into the Open Trot for the razor sharp five year old who drew the rail for his debut in Open company. The recent addition to the Levine stable made history for the veteran trainer who won his first ever Open Trot when his new trotter went wire-to-wire on July 14th. Levine had recorded wins in other Opens in his career but never the trot. The five year old high-stepper proved that his victory was no fluke when he finished third and second in the starts that followed heading into last Friday night’s try in the $18,200 Open at the Spa.
In that start, Yucatan Party Man was pointed out to the early lead. As Levine told me regarding his barn’s top trotter, “he loves being on the engine. He’s a monster on the lead.” And a monster he was on Friday as Yucatan Party Man registered his second Open Trot score since coming to town in late spring and moved his record to five for eight in the win column with the score by prevailing in 1:56.
When I asked Gary about what Dobson thinks of Yucatan Party Man, his answer was simple. “Billy loves him. He’s become one of his favorite horses. He’s a total pleasure to drive.” As far as the plan for Yucatan Party Man who has quickly established himself as a top-flight trotter at the Spa, Levine says he’ll just ride the wave with him while he can.
“He isn’t a total killer like some of the horses that race in the Open,” Levine admitted. “But he’s sharp right now and even though he’s been great on or close to the lead, he’ll get money even when he gets away towards the back of the pack. Not sure what the future will hold for him but right now, we’ll just ride the wave that he’s on.” And if Yucatan Party Man continues to race like he is, the five year old may just stick around a while in the Levine stable, a trait not always the norm for trainees of the ’20 leading trainer at the Spa who credits groom Jillian Riley with a lot of the successes for the summer trotting star.
“Jill gives the horse so much love and care. She spoils him,” Levine credited. And Levine, as Yucatan Party Man’s owner and trainer, is currently being spoiled by the trotter who he took a chance acquiring and has far exceeded any thoughts or expectations Gary could have had when he made the purchase. And who knows, maybe he’ll just stick around a while in the stable of the one of the track’s top conditioners of the last decade.
Live racing takes place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening in the month of August with first post times 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!