Well, it’s that time again. It seems like it wasn’t long ago when the Saratoga Race Course put a bow on their season on Labor Day and in the blink of an eye, here we are in the final week of the 2019 campaign at Saratoga Casino Hotel. With just four race cards remaining on the slate for the season, there are still a few things to be decided. The $20,000 Finals of the Holiday Trot and Holiday Pace Series’ will be contested this week on Wednesday and Saturday’s programs, respectively. The driving and training championships are set as Billy Dobson will take home his seventh driving title and Melissa Beckwith will finish atop the trainer standings at the Spa for the eighth time. Those two will take home the Driver of the Year and Trainer of the Year awards due to winning their respective titles but as when it comes to the other awards, many of the races are wide open.
The voting has been completed as those casting ballots needed to have them turned in by the 6th of December. In addition, voters were asked to only consider the statistics accrued though the date that the numbers were assembled in mid-November. Therefore, any of the action over the course of the final month of the meet will not factor into the voting. Some of the races, especially for the top-level awards (the big three if you will), are likely to be very close. Two of the horses that are likely favorites for top honors among pacers and trotters are wrapping up their seasons in style and continued to pads their stats over the course of the final few weeks.
Trainer Jackie Greene has had the Pacer of the Year in three consecutive seasons as her Artful Way took home the award after the ’16, ’17 and ’18 campaigns. Greene has a four year streak of training at least one of the horses that have taken home an award for either Pacer, Trotter or Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. That streak is on the line here and it all comes down to Hudson Phil. With Artful Way sidelined for most of 2019 due to injury, Hudson Phil emerged as the Greene stable’s star and midway through the year, it appeared that Hudson Phil would runaway in the race for Pacer and Horse of the Year. By the time August came to an end, Hudson Phil had eight Open Pace wins to his credit and as summer wrapped up looked like a shoe-in for top honors. The four year old hit a bit of a cold streak and due to a combination of stiff competition, a summer of difficult posts and trips and maybe just getting just a bit tired, Hudson Phil has not recorded an Open win since August. The pacing star did prevail in an installment of the $14,000 Winners Over in October and since registering that eleventh win of the season finished second three times in the Open Pace heading into Saturday’s try. Frank Coppola Jr. has become the driver for Hudson Phil in recent weeks and on Saturday piloted him to his third consecutive second-place finish in the feature. Though 2019’s breakout star is still winless in Open company since August, he is the likely favorite to be named Pacer of the Year when the awards are announced in two weeks.
Though Hudson Phil winning Pacer of the Year, and likely Horse of the Year, seemed like a foregone conclusion this summer, it no longer is a lock. The only thing that could’ve spoiled Hudson Phil’s bid would have been if someone put together some kind of sensational streak in conjunction with the winless spell for the Greene trainee. Well, not only did Crockets Cullen N go on a tear but he put together an historic run in the Open Pace. Larry Stalbaum owns and drives Crockets Cullen N who won two installments of the local Open in ’18 and is currently in the midst of an unprecedented stretch. Starting with a win in the Open Pace on August 31st, coincidentally the week after Hudson Phil’s last score in the Saturday feature, Crockets Cullen N has now rattled off eight consecutive wins in the local Open. Since he has raced a bit out of town, the eight wins for Crockets Cullen N that have come over the course of a three month time-period is a streak that is still intact. The last two victories for him came after the statistics were submitted to voters though and for that reason, his chances to best Hudson Phil for Pacer of the Year are a bit reduced- but it’s not impossible. Watching Crockets Cullen N dominate despite getting outside posts for each and every one of his local starts and victories has been, dare I say, almost Artful Way-like. All told, both Hudson Phil and Crockets Cullen N have eight Open wins on their card at the Spa this year which should make for a good race for Pacer of the Year, a race that didn’t seem possible just a couple months ago.
The Trotter of the Year favorite is a horse that is very familiar to Saratoga Harness racing fans. Cash Me Out was named Two Year Old Trotter of the Year and Three Year Old Trotter of the Year back in 2013 and 2014. Now, with over $1.1 million in career earnings, the Spa veteran is having perhaps his best year in the local Open Trot. On Sunday, December 1st Cash Me Out won the Open for the eighth time in ’19, more than any other trotter. The victory was the second straight for the Kyle Spagnola trainee and maybe more impressively, it came in 1:55.3 on a chilly snow-filled afternoon at the Spa. Cash Me Out began his eight year old season with a win in the Open back in February and after prevailing in the feature three times before the calendar even turned to April appeared poised for another big season. Though he hit a bit of a cold spell for a time, at least in regards to wins in the local Open, Cash Me Out continued to build his resume and has emerged as the favorite to be named Trotter of the Year. Now with more money earned than any other horse at Saratoga this season, Cash Me Out may well be in line to add a different trophy to his collection….or maybe even two. The Traylor Racing Stable’s star is a big favorite, though no lock, to be named Trotter of the Year for 2019 and in turn gets a big chance to be Horse of the Year. He has been nominated before but the talented high-stepper who has been a Spa regular really since the start of his career has emerged this season as the clear-cut one to beat among trotters for the first time. And though Hudson Phil has raced much better of late, he isn’t wrapping up the campaign with Open wins whereas perhaps the track’s top trotter Cash Me Out is finishing out his season pretty much how he started it- recording victories in the Open Trot. Both Spa stars have enjoyed terrific campaigns and may well wrap up their season with a trophy, or two, when the award-winners are announced on December 21st at the annual holiday banquet.
Closing week is upon on at Saratoga Casino Hotel with only four race cards left in 2019. Action takes place on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon as well as Saturday evening before closing day on Sunday. Afternoon racing begins at 12 Noon with evening 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!