To win a horse race is difficult. You need so many things to go well. The horse needs to be talented and sound. You most likely need a good post position but regardless of post draw, race luck is a must. The trainer needs to do his job, the driver needs to do his. So many things need to go just right to win a race. Now, consider you have a top-flight horse racing at an Open level. To beat the best is difficult. To do so twice in a row is unlikely but to score three consecutive victories in Opens is extremely rare. In fact, at Saratoga Casino Hotel no horse won three straight Opens in the entire 2020 campaign. Now granted, the season was a bit of an abbreviated one due to the pandemic but still there were plenty of Opens contested at the Spa.
There was a total of 54 Opens at Saratoga in 2020 between the pace, the trot and fillies and mares pace. Throughout the year, there was a grand total of one horse that won as many as three consecutive tries in an Open. In fact, only four horses won consecutive starts in a feature at any point in the season. Crockets Cullen, the 2019 Pacer of the Year at the Spa, went back-to-back in the Open Pace in early summer last year joining Americanprimetime as the only Open pacers to achieve that feat. Bontz N won the Filly and Mare Open four straight times, over a four-month span due to the spring shutdown, and was one of two mares to win the ladies’ feature on successive occasions. The Open Trot had seventeen installments in the ’20 campaign and no horse won as many as two in a row! It’s difficult to beat top-flight horses on multiple occasions, especially when considering the fact that when a horse wins an Open at the Spa oftentimes they are assigned an outside post or at worst they draw in an outside grouping of horses in the following feature.
While staying hot in an Open was a difficult task last year, in the early stages of the 2021 racing season at Saratoga, the story has been quite different. There was a horse in each of the three Opens contested last week that came in on a two-race Open win streak. Gruden has been a familiar face at Saratoga over the last couple of seasons and the Monica Krist-trained trotter has never been sharper than he is right now. Gruden came into Monday’s try in the $14,000 Open Trot off back-to-back wins in the feature for high-steppers and in the midst of a strong start to his season. Following a solid winter stint at the Meadowlands, the eight year old Gruden posted three wins, a second and a third in his five local starts heading into Monday’s try in which he drew post position eight. With a daunting task ahead, leading driver Billy Dobson took Gruden back at the start and the horse who often exhibits early speed was left to attempt to complete his hat trick while coming from last. Aided by a pair of breakers in the race, Gruden wound up sixth in the early going and after the quarter time popped up 27.2, Dobson had to think he had a real shot at the third straight feature win with Gruden. The veteran, although somewhat lightly raced in his career, loves to win and it’s something he did for the 27th time in 73 career starts when he swooped the group before stopping the timer in 1:57.3 to register his third consecutive Open win. No trotter won as many as TWO in a row all of last year and only two months into the ’21 campaign, Gruden has secured the feature hat trick.
Tuesday is the day of the pacer at Saratoga and this week’s Open Pace went for a purse of $14,000 for the first time of the season. Macheasy A had never stepped hoof on the Spa oval before April of this year but with what he did this month, one would think we will wind up seeing quite a bit more of him moving forward. Trainer Rob Harmon often brings Open caliber horses to town to compete and Macheasy A was just the latest out of his barn to fit that blueprint when he sat the pocket and pulled off a mild upset in his local debut on April 6th. The Aussie invader proved that his Open win was no fluke when he came out the following week and repeated this time as the public’s 3-5 betting favorite. Macheasy A’s second Open win came in a dazzling 1:51.3, a time that is the fastest for any horse in the still young season at the Spa. Last Tuesday afternoon, Macheasy A started from post six in a six-horse Open Pace with Jay Randall in the sulky. Randall pilots most of Harmon’s trainees when the out-of-town conditioner comes to town and has fared very well with this most recent Harmon invader. This week, though, Randall wouldn’t be content with a pocket trip, a journey the eight year old got in his first two local victories. The veteran reinsman moved Macheasy A out to the early lead and he would never look back. The score was the third consecutive in the Open Pace for Macheasy A, a feat not achieved by any horse at Saratoga since 2019.
After both Gruden and Macheasy A completed their hat tricks last week, it was up to Surreal Feeling to try and complete the unlikely trio of Open hat tricks. The pacing mare loves to win and came into her try in the $14,000 Fillies and Mares Open on a three-race win streak. The first of the three victories came out of town and came in career-best fashion. The Dale Lawton-trained distaffer drew post seven in the eight-horse feature on Wednesday and had a new driver as Alek Chartrand sat behind her for the first time. The pilot may have been different but the tactic was the same for Surreal Feeling who utilized her best asset, her early speed, to make a relatively easy lead. Chartrand rated the pace very well and the six year old mare cruised to a decisive victory, the 25th of her career in 72 lifetime starts. Now technically, this didn’t complete an Open hat trick as the first of the three consecutive local scores for Surreal Feeling came in a feature but it was a Winners Over and not technically an Open. But the accomplishment is just the same. To beat the top-flight horses that the track has to offer isn’t easy. To repeat, while oftentimes assigned an outside post, is very difficult and to three-peat is nearly unheard of- at least here at Saratoga over the course of the last few years. None of the three recent hat-trickers will have a chance to extend their streak this week as there is only one Open scheduled for this week’s action with the Open Pace serving as the Tuesday feature but with no Open Trot or Open for the ladies on the docket.
Live racing takes place every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with first post time schedule for 12 Noon. While fans will be allowed back very soon, that return will not occur this week though we are hopeful that we will see you back by next week (May 3rd). Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!