It is hard to believe that we are already heading into the homestretch of the 2020 racing season at Saratoga Casino Hotel. There are plenty of reasons making it so difficult to grasp the fact that only three weeks (six race cards) remain in this incredibly difficult and unique campaign. Obviously, the world stood still in March and subsequently we lost three months of the racing season. In addition, the regular four-day per week racing schedule was reduced to three and then two days upon returning from the spring shutdown. With only a little over a month of racing taking place between mid-December and mid-June, the opportunities just weren’t there for the horsemen and horses to acquire the same statistics that they normally would. Most horses will wind up with somewhere around half of the starts they would have logged had it been a regular season. Hopefully, when we open back up in 2021, things will be getting much closer to normal whether that be with an uptick in race cards per week and/or fans in the stands and with a few full months of the casino having been opened back up as to help the purse account refuel after the pounding it took during the forced shutdown.
Due to the aforementioned reasons, there won’t be awards given out this year like in seasons past. After all, we didn’t have many claimers racing and the number of Opens was less than half of what it would have been in a regular campaign. Unfortunately, there will be a hole in the record books where Horse of the Year and all of the awards are logged. Hopefully, and most likely (fingers crossed), this will be the only year we will have to deal with such drastic changes. The track does plan to recognize the Driver of the Year and Trainer of the Year with plaques at season’s end. And right now, the driving championship is all but sown up as Billy Dobson will put the finishing touches on his eighth Saratoga title in the coming weeks. Who the leading trainer will be though is still unknown.
Melissa Beckwith has eight training titles to her credit at Saratoga and has a shot at her ninth this year. With just six races card left though, she currently sits second in the trainer standings. Gary Levine has been atop the trainer’s list for a large portion of the ’20 campaign and heads into the final six race cards with a four-win advantage. Several members of the Beckwith barn have been competing at Plainridge Racecourse in Massachusetts which has caused the number of local starts from the stable to be reduced, that number is still very close to that of Levine. Heading into this week’s action, the Beckwith barn has 45 winners in 231 starts while Levine has trained 49 winners in 249 races. The percentages of the two are very close but in the end, it is the number of wins that determines the leading trainer and in turn the Trainer of the Year. Levine is in pursuit of his first career training title as the race within the race will be one to keep an eye on in the final three weeks of the season at the Spa.
While no awards will be given out to the track’s top horses this season, the defending champs will be competing this week. Crockets Cullen N was the Pacer of the Year in 2019 and would be a shoe-in to go back-to-back in this abbreviated campaign were there to be awards. Larry Stalbaum owns, trains and drives the superstar pacer who won nine consecutive installments of the Open Pace last season and is the winningest horse among the track’s top pacers once again in 2020. Crockets Cullen N owns six Open wins in thirteen starts in the track’s feature for pacers. The nine year old star is the 7-5 morning line favorite in this Monday’s $10,000 Open Pace despite drawing post seven in the seven-horse feature as seeks yet another score against the track’s top pacers.
The Spa’s defending Horse of the Year is making his return to town on Monday as well. The Open Trot will serve as the co-feature on the matinee card and is highlighted by the return of Cash Me Out. The Kyle Spagnola trainee won the Open nine times in ’19 en route to his top honors. This year, between the shut down and time spent competing at other tracks, Cash Me Out has made just six starts at Saratoga this season. He owns two Open Trot victories and on Monday will be looking to make it three. If the stalwart is to get it done, he will have to overcome post position eight in the $10,000 trotting event but is the 5-2 morning line favorite in what looks to be a wide open race.
Would there have been awards this year, Cash Me Out would likely not have repeated as Trotter of the Year but it is very possible that Spagnola would have earned the honor again. His Waiting On A Woman won the Open Trot last Tuesday (Nov 3). Still doing great work at the age of 12, Waiting On A Woman went coast-to-coast with driver Phil Fluet in the sulky to record his third win in six starts in the Open this season. In the six Open tries, the veteran speedster has three wins, two seconds and a third in the Open Trot which was the least commonly contested of the Opens this year. Fluet will pilot Cash Me Out on Monday as Spagnola looks for back-to-back wins in the Open Trot.
If there were awards this year, the one for Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year would no doubt go to Bontz N. Gary Levine trains the mare who last season came up just one vote shy of winning the award for top lady pacer at the Spa. Now, in her second season out of the Levine barn, Bontz N has not only been her stable’s star but has been the winningest horse in the track’s top distaff. The shutdown came after successive Open victories for Bontz N who wasted little time rediscovering her winning ways upon returning in June. Overall, in eighteen local starts in ’20, Bontz N has seven wins and has hit the board an ultra impressive fifteen times. Among her local scores, five have come in the Open, the most of any lady pacer at the Spa this year. It’s unfortunate that no awards will be given to horses this season but after all, it’s 2020 right? Nothing has been normal. The race for the training title is certainly one to watch in the final three weeks of racing while the top two horses from last year will be highlighted in the double feature scheduled for Monday afternoon at the Spa with a pair of $10,000 Opens highlighting a big matinee card.
Live racing has three Mondays and three Tuesdays left in this season with closing day set for November 27th. First post time each day is 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!