Jay Randall has been a regular in the sulky at Saratoga Casino Hotel on and off for decades. The veteran reinsman has taken some breaks from the Spa in the past to set up shop in New Jersey to drive at multiple different tracks there. While he has never won a driving title at Saratoga, Randall is one of the top ten winningest drivers here over the course of the last three decades. A more than capable trainer who often runs a small barn of horses, Randall’s real impact in his career has been as a catch-driver.
Always a solid, top-flight driver wherever he’s called home, Randall has piled up close to 4,500 wins in his over forty years in the sulky. Winning the award for top up-and-coming driver at Saratoga all the way back in 1982, the New York native had his breakout year in ’86 when he piloted 247 winners, a total that is still atop his resume as the most he’s recorded in any year. The “prime” of Randall’s career, it seemed, came from 2000-2012 where he drove over 100 winners eleven out of thirteen seasons including nine consecutive at one point. Though he has been as solid as they come, Jay never could quite return to the times when he won close to 250 races in a year. In fact, the ’17 campaign was maybe the worst, from a statistical standpoint, of Jay’s illustrious career. But it was right then when what I call the Randall renaissance occurred in 2018 and 2019.
Following a bulk of time that could be considered a down time for Jay, once the ’18 season came around it was like old-school Randall. Jay seemed like a new man on the track. He was aggressive, but not overly. He was getting drives for some of the track’s top trainers but not exclusively. He was driving with what appeared to be a newly rediscovered confidence. That whole formula amounted to a rise in the driver standings at the Spa where Randall wound up finishing third in ’19 in what wound up being the second straight year in which he was a nominee for Horseman of the Year for his big-time vault up the standings in conjunction with his solid work as a trainer.
With the increasing success Randall was enjoying, the veteran reinsman started to take to the road a bit in 2019. Not only was Jay a regular at the Spa but he started to become one of the top catch-drivers at Plainridge Park in Massachusetts. He was driving full-time at Saratoga and traveling to Plainridge on days we didn’t race. On occasion, Jay would have to miss a day at one of the tracks if the schedules overlapped. Why Plainridge? Well, the purses there are terrific. Randall went a few times and found immediate success, driving for some Saratoga trainers who shipped there and quickly picked up drives for some of the New England-based conditioners. All told, in ’19 Randall shattered his previous career-high in purses earned, piling up just shy of $2 million in the best year he’s ever had. He also had the third highest total in drives in his forty plus years in the bike and his 238 trips to the winner’s circle were his most since that breakout campaign of ’86. Last season, in a year unlike any other before, Jay continued to do double duty at Saratoga and Plainridge and though he obviously couldn’t compile the same kind of numbers than he accrued the two previous years because of the harness racing world shutting down for a chunk of 2020, he again enjoyed another strong season.
Though the beginning of the ’21 campaign at the Spa wasn’t anything eye-popping for Randall, the veteran pilot still entered last week fourth in the driver standings. And things were about to get better for the almost 60 year old affable reinsman. After all, last Monday marked the opening of the 2021 racing season at Plainridge. That meant Jay was about to be a busy man and would be doing a lot of driving moving forward. Driving a lot of horses and driving in the car, making the roughly three hour trip to Plainridge Park. Randall got on the board at Plainridge when on opening day he got into the win column. On Tuesday, Jay was back on his home court and won a pair of races including his second consecutive in the Open Pace behind out-of-towner Macheasy A. Macheasy A sat the pocket in his local debut on April 6th and scored in the Open for Randall. Last Tuesday, the Aussie invader make it two-for-two at the Spa when he again parlayed a pocket trip to victory, this time stopping the timer in 1:51.3, the fastest clocking of the young season at Saratoga.
On Wednesday afternoon, Randall was at it again. Not only did he win two more races but he took the afternoon’s featured race once again. Rob Harmon, who is the trainer for Macheasy A, also brought pacing mare Shecouldbegood N to town last week to compete in the $10,000 Wednesday feature for fillies and mares. Shecouldbegood N was the longest shot on the board in the lady’s feature when Randall put the New Zealand invader on the front end. The out-of-towner never looked back before scoring in 1:55.4 in her local debut. The victory accounted for half of another driving double for Randall on Wednesday who also piloted local star distaffer Bontz N to a front-running score. Following another strong week at the Spa, it was back to the highway for Jay who drove at Plainridge on both Thursday and Friday afternoons, recording another win and few seconds along the way. Jay Randall will be a busy man once again for the foreseeable future by racing what appears to be five days a week while traveling back and forth to New England several times along the way. Could Randall be getting better with age? Well, it certainly appears that way as the veteran reinsman is in the midst of the best stretch of his long career and is now doing it at two tracks simultaneously. And right now, not only is Randall winning races, he’s had a knack for winning the big one lately as he has been thriving in Opens at the Spa. Jay is scheduled to pilot local legend Artful Way in the $15,000 Plainridge feature on Monday afternoon before returning to the Spa on Tuesday and Wednesday whose matinees will include Macheasy A and Shecouldbegood N once again as a traveling, roving Randall looks to stay red hot in features, perhaps at two different tracks.
Live racing takes place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons this week with matinees beginning at 12 Noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!