Sonny Rising to the Summit at the Spa

When trainer Jesse McAssey acquired Summit City Sonny last fall, the young trotter made an immediate impact. McAssey enjoyed a breakout season at Saratoga Casino Hotel in 2022, a campaign that ended up with him finishing in the top twenty in the trainer standings and being a nominee for the Peerless McGrath Award which recognizes the track’s top up-and-coming trainer. Summit City Sonny played a huge part in the McAssey breakout as he scored a victory in his local debut while competing in the $9,500 non-winners of two race lifetime class before stepping up and continuing his success, a pattern that has continued up through the present day.

Summit City Sonny was purchased for a more than reasonable amount of $26,000 at a horse sale in Delaware, Ohio last fall. Owner Adam Friedland certainly did his research, watching all the replays from the horse’s races in the Indiana Fair Circuit. “Adam picked him out,” McAssey told me. “He’s got a pretty good eye for horses and he liked what he saw from Sonny in the replays so we went for it.” McAssey was excited about the acquisition of Summit City Sonny and felt pretty confident that his new trotter would be a force in the winners of two but not more than five race lifetime class at the Spa. As a three year old last season, Summit City Sonny had competed in the Fairs in the Midwest and enjoyed plenty of success. Though there is always quite a bit of uncertainty when it comes to the prospective success of a trotter with credentials like his, one thing McAssey liked about Summit City Sonny was that he could navigate his way over a half mile track despite the fact that he is a very big horse.

Following a win in his local debut, Summit City Sonny stepped up in company last September and continued to thrive. In four starts that led up to the Jim Derue Memorial Trotting Series last fall, Summit City Sonny earned two wins and two second-place finishes in the winners of two but not more than five class in which McAssey figured his new trainee could do some damage. And thrive he did. After having a big month, it was into the Derue Memorial last fall for Summit City Sonny who enjoyed a solid series but ultimately drew an outside post and was a non-factor in the Series Final. In his final five starts of the ’22 campaign, Summit City Sonny was back in the winners of two but not more than five race condition where he earned a pair of second-place finishes. A solid beginning to the local career of the McAssey trainee but nothing that you saw from Summit City Sonny necessarily served as a proper foreshadow for what was to come once the calendar turned to 2023.

When I talked to McAssey about Summit City Sonny and how he felt about the trotter he acquired late last year, he was excited. “He was a bit unlucky last year I thought. He seemed to get some tough trips and he made a few breaks behind the gate in spots where I thought he’d be tough. I knew when we got him that he would be able to make money in the two but not more than five class. Then we just hoped that once he moved up, he could compete and hopefully continue to learn and get better,” McAssey told me. Well get better he did. Following a second-place finish in his ’23 debut, Summit City Sonny did graduate out of the two but not more than five class when he rattled off back-to-back jacks in February. The four year old extended his win streak to three when he went coast-to-coast upon jumping up in company before completing a grand slam by setting a lifetime mark winning in 1:56.2 on a chilly March afternoon.

While in the midst of an impressive win streak, Summit City Sonny moved all the way up into the Open, making his debut in the local trotting feature on March 19th. “Sonny loves to win. He tries incredibly hard and when he’s on the front, he hates to let anyone pass him. He prefers when a horse is behind him. He keeps going that way. He likes to be up in the action but he can close too,” Jesse said of his rising star. On a cold Sunday matinee, Summit City Sonny drew post two for his debut in the $17,000 Open and was dismissed at odds of 10-1. Driver Leon Bailey, who has piloted Sonny in every one of his local starts this year, had the utmost confidence in the razor-sharp trotter so much so that he pulled the youngster first-over despite squaring off against the track’s top high-steppers. The aggressive drive proved fruitful when Summit City Sonny toughed it on the outside to extend his win streak to five and prevail in his first ever try in the Open. “Leon has gotten along great with Sonny,” McAssey told me. “He’s had confidence in him since the first time he drove him. He said since day one that he was Trotter of the Year type caliber. When the driver trusts Sonny, he rewards you. Give him a chance and he’ll get you there.” And there, in this case, was the winner’s circle on five consecutive occasions.

With his connections having paid him into a series at Yonkers, Summit City Sonny headed downstate to test his luck against a group which included some massively expensive and talented trotters in a $25,000 per division series. “He raced well down there,” McAssey said. “He was super sharp so we figured we’d take a shot. Those horses were just a bit too much for him so we decided to come back to his home here at Saratoga.” Following a third and a fourth place finish at Yonkers, Summit City Sonny brought his five-race local win streak back to the Spa on Sunday April 23rd for another try in the Open. Drawing post four, the speedy trotter left and wound up in the pocket to the race’s longshot. He fell behind the upset-minded leader by more than two lengths at the three-quarter pole but as his trainer said he always does, Summit City Sonny kept plugging away when close to the pace. Out of the pocket came Sonny past three-quarters and away he went.

The McAssey stable’s star drew away to win the Open by more than three lengths and set a new lifetime mark in the process, stopping the timer in 1:55.1 over a track labeled ‘sloppy.’ Six wins in seven local starts this season for a trotter who not only is on the massive upswing but is displaying characteristics of the kind of horse who could put together Trotter of the Year type credentials. “He’s such a likeable and special horse,” McAssey said of Summit City Sonny. “The guy we bought him from, Byron Hooley, calls me after every one of Sonny’s races. He loves him and still follows him like he’s his own.” And there certainly has been a lot to follow and to be excited about with Sonny as the four year old is putting together a few months to remember for Jesse McAssey and owner Adam Friedland. Though his win streak came to an end last Sunday when he drew post six in the six-horse installment of the Open, Summit City Sonny has been a force in the early stages of the season and has added multiple Open winner to his lengthening resume, a resume that will likely fortify in the coming months. And who knows, with a combination of health, luck and continued improvement, maybe just maybe that resume could even add Trotter of the Year nominee to it. “He’s as handy as can be right now,” McAssey gleamed. “Who knows how long he’ll stay this sharp but we’re still learning how fast he really might be. And for now, we’re definitely enjoying the ride.”

Live racing takes place every Saturday evening starting at 5pm and continues on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday afternoons with matinees that start at noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!

Back to all