Raceway Readies For Summer’s Biggest Night

Saratoga Casino Hotel began the Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace a decade ago to honor the memory of the longtime Chairman of the Board at Saratoga Raceway. The memorial was created as a pacing series to honor Joe Gerrity Jr. and his contributions to harness racing, particularly to Saratoga Raceway. A highly respected leader, Gerrity was an incredible proponent for racing at Saratoga and for the horse racing industry in general. He was involved in nearly every facet of the sport at some point in his career. He was a breeder, a driver and eventually was named Chairman of the Board of Saratoga Harness Racing, Inc (now Saratoga Casino Hotel) in 1987. Gerrity was instrumental in the expansion of the facility and the installation of the video gaming machines, even funding part of the project himself. Gerrity passed away in 2005 and the track instituted a series in his honor a few years later. Following four years of being a three week long pacing series, the Gerrity was changed to a single race, a free-for-all invitational pace that has attracted some of the top horses in the northeast. The eleventh installment of the Gerrity Memorial will highlight an action-packed Saturday night this week at the Spa as the track’s richest night of harness racing for the year will take place with a full slate on tap.

As has been the tradition since the Gerrity started, there will be a t-shirt giveaway on Saturday in conjunction with the year’s biggest race. With the purchase of a live racing program on Saturday, fans will get a coupon to be redeemed for a commemorative t-shirt (while supplies last.) There will be a guaranteed Pick Five pool of $5,000 in addition to a new wager that is being unveiled- a “Cross Country Pick 5” which features the Coaching Club American Oaks (NYRA), the New York Derby and New York Oaks (Finger Lakes, an allowance race at Ellis Park and the Joe Gerrity Memorial Pace. Also, will be a 10% winner’s bonus for on-property Saratoga Harness wagers for users of Saratogabets.

The history of the Gerrity is rich to say the least. In 2013, when the Gerrity went from series to individual free-for-all pace, the track record was broken. Invading pacer Bolt The Duer dazzled the fans with a 1:49 wire-to-wire win, a victory so impressive that it would eventually result in him being named Horse of the Year at Saratoga. The ’14 edition of the Gerrity certainly had a tough act to follow but boy, it did not disappoint. The 1:49 record clocking from Bolt The Duer wound up lasting almost exactly a year to the day. Veteran pacer Dancin Yankee was piloted by Tyler Buter and set sizzling fractions on the lead. As he paced for the wire, all eyes were on the timer as the Yankee appeared poised to challenge Bolt The Duer’s record time. When 1:48.4 popped up on the teletimer, the crowd roared realizing that they had just witnessed history. The 1:48.4 time from that warm summer night still stands as the fastest in track history.

2016’s installment of the Gerrity saw a rarity. The defending National Horse of the Year made a trek to Saratoga to compete for his share of the better than a quarter million dollar purse. Wiggle It Jiggleit was coming off an historic campaign when he came to the Spa and as the public’s overwhelming betting favorite raced parked out in a first half in 54.4. He overcame the nightmarish first lap and still emerged victorious in 1:51. It wasn’t a track record like in the previous two installments of the Gerrity but it was another eye-popping performance by a legendary pacer. Wiggle It Jiggleit went on to earn over $1.7 million in 2016 just one year after his Horse of the Year campaign in ’15 in which he took home close to $2.2 million.

Veteran pacer Bit Of A Legend N was the runner-up to Wiggle It Jiggleit in the ’16 Gerrity and followed it up with a victory in 2017’s installment of the track’s richest race. Last season, Bit Of A Legend N was in town once again to compete in the $260,000 Gerrity and wound up as the runner-up to Evenin Of Pleasure. Evenin Of Pleasure and reinsman Joe Bongiorno put the swoop to the group last July to earn a decisive win in the Gerrity at Saratoga where Bongiorno had taken home the award for the track’s top up-and-coming driver back in 2012. Bongiorno is set to be in town on Saturday night once again as he will sit behind star pacer None Bettor A who is trained by Joe’s sister Jenn. The six year old Australian invader made his American debut in April of this year and following two third-place finishes to begin his USA career rattled off eight consecutive victories, the biggest of which came in the $200,000 Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park in Ohio last month. Bongiorno will not only seek a repeat but looks to become the first driver to ever win the Gerrity more than one time. Interestingly, ten different reinsmen have prevailed in the first ten editions of the Gerrity Pace.

The $260,000 purse makes the Gerrity the second richest race of the year on a half mile track in North America, the richest being the $664,000 Levy Final which takes place every spring at Yonkers Raceway. The razor sharp None Bettor A will no doubt be tasked with squaring off against some big time pacers including the horse who won the Levy this April. The Rene Allard-trained Western Fame leads the group of Gerrity entrants expected to take part in the season’s richest race on Saturday night. Western Fame is simply a superstar and is in the midst of his fourth consecutive campaign of earning $225,000 or more as he has already accrued over a half million dollars in 2019. Western Fame appears the most likely favorite in the Gerrity, depending of course on the post draw, but there is another legend looming as a potential entrant into Saturday’s big race. Mcwicked was nominated for the Gerrity and could well be one of its participants when the draw comes out on Wednesday. Mcwicked won the award for National Horse of the Year in 2018 at age seven, becoming the oldest horse to even take home that honor. In a year in which he earned over $1.5 million, Mcwicked won 12 of his 19 starts last season and has now piled up more than $4 million in his illustrious career. It remains to be seen whether the Casey Coleman trainee will be entered into the Gerrity but the top eight money earners in 2019 of the 24 nominated pacers will get the invites to take part in what is shaping up to look like a very competitive version of the 11th annual Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace this Saturday night at the Spa. New York Sire Stakes action will also take place on Saturday as two year old pacing colts are part of the richest night of harness racing for the year at the Spa.

Live racing takes place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening this summer at Saratoga with first post time each night set for 7:05pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!

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