When you think of the different guys currently competing at Saratoga Casino Hotel who have been leading drivers at tracks throughout their career, it is easy to rattle off names such as Frank Coppola Jr., Billy Dobson, Bruce Aldrich Jr, Mark Beckwith or Jimmy Devaux. Even some local Hall of Famers like Dan Cappello Jr, John Stark Jr and Kim Crawford could quickly come to mind for many when discussing former leading drivers that are racing at the Spa. One name though that sometimes seems to slip through the cracks is Shawn Gray.
In 2011, Gray had what may have been his career year. After dominating the action in his home state of Maine that season, Gray wound up with the highest driving percentage in all of North America, driving to an unbelievable average of .440! It was the third consecutive season in which Gray finished with an average of .415 or higher. To give it some context, a driver’s percentage is roughly equitable to a baseball player’s batting average. While .400 isn’t as unheard of in harness racing as it is in baseball, the feat is rarely accomplished. After the breakout 2011 season he had, Gray decided to pull up his roots and leave his native Maine. Gray landed at Buffalo Raceway after deciding that it was the track that was the best fit for the horses he had and since they raced year round, Western New York became the destination for Gray and his wife Alicia. Shawn recorded career bests in 2012, at least in terms of number of wins and purses earned. Behind 356 victories, Gray piled up earnings of over $1.85 million in his ’12 campaign, surpassing the million dollar mark for the first time in his more than twenty years in the sulky.
Gray decided to head to back east in 2013. He figured that Saratoga is closer to home than is Buffalo and having competed here from time to time in the past, he also enjoyed racing at the Spa. So Gray brought his stable to town and in his first season at the Spa, to say Shawn Gray made an impact would be an understatement. Competing almost exclusively at Saratoga in ’13, Gray won over 230 races and had more than 200 second-place finishes en route to earning purses of $1.5 million plus. Since his breakout local season, Gray has kind of become a nomad. While Saratoga has been where he has primarily raced, the 44 year old has dabbled back out west at Buffalo and has even done some stints in Maine along the way.
Shawn Gray’s 2018 campaign has seen him split time between Buffalo Raceway and Saratoga with the former housing the majority of his starts. Atop the driver standings at Buffalo to start the week, Gray has thrived in his somewhat limited starts at the Spa this season as well. Gray entered the week with just 82 drives at the Spa but with a solid stat line of 16 wins, 16 seconds and 12 thirds en route to a driving average of .352, second only to Billy Dobson among the regular reinsmen in ’18.
Beginning just a couple weeks ago, Gray added a third track to his schedule as he has been one of the regulars at Plainridge Park in Massachusetts since they opened last month. Utilizing his New England connections, Gray has gotten as many drives as anyone at the start of their meet and again has thrived. Being near the top at his other two tracks, Gray has managed to race only sparingly at Saratoga in the last few weeks, a schedule that is likely to continue for the top-flight catch driver. Gray was in town on Friday night and had just three drives. His biggest one came in the one of the richest races on the young season at the Spa as Gray drove Maggies Way in the $32,200 Virginia O’Brien Memorial Pacing Series Final. Following second place finishes in both of legs of the series, Maggies Way wound up as the public’s 9-5 betting favorite in what looked to be a wide open race. Gray moved the favored mare out to the early lead in the Series Final and Maggies Way held strong throughout before stopping the timer in a career-best 1:56.4 for out-of-town trainer Mike Girouard. While Maggies Way gave Gray not only his biggest win of the night but his biggest on the season to date, she wasn’t the only mare Shawn guided to the winner’s circle on the evening. Gray picked up the catch drive behind the Brett Derue-trained Miss Bling on Friday evening, a mare whom he had previously piloted to a pair of victories. Miss Bling went coast to coast for Gray on Friday who has been a somewhat silent but deadly force among local drivers ever since coming to town five years ago. With Gray’s busy travel schedule taking him to numerous tracks in a given week, he surely won’t be among the top few in the win column among local drivers this year but the veteran reinsman, and one time North American leader in driving average, continues to do it the Gray way, winning at a high percentage in his limited starts at the Spa.
While Gray guided Maggies Way back to the winner’s circle after the victory in Friday’s O’Brien Series Final, it was rising star Brett Crawford who piloted the winners of the other two Series Finals contested at the Spa last week. Crawford sat behind Spoiler Alert and Justin Credible as they set lifetime marks in scoring in their respective Series Finals. Spoiler Alert completed a sweep of the John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trotting Series when on Thursday afternoon, he took advantage of his inside post position to go coast to coast in a career-best 1:57.1 with Crawford in the sulky to score in the $32,700 Final. On Saturday night, Crawford was at it again as he aggressively piloted Justin Credible, whom he also trains, out to the early lead and the young pacer went on to overcome a first half of 55.4 to power away from his rivals and prevail in a career best 1:53.3. What a week it was for Brett Crawford in what has been a breakout season for the young reinsman who has been a star in the opening months of the meet.
Live racing takes place every Thursday and Sunday afternoon at Saratoga with matinees beginning at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evenings with first post times set for 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!