To win an Open is tough. Just think, first you need to have a top-flight caliber horse. Then, if that horse has been successful in its most recent starts then he likely gets assigned one of the outside post positions, a spot from which is it certainly difficult to win from on a half-mile track. After that, you need to have any and all of the race luck that it takes for any horse to win any race. The driver needs to give a good drive and the horse needs to have his ‘A’ game. Then, maybe you win. Easy enough, right? Well, obviously not. For some Open horses, they simply lay over the field. That was the case for a couple of season at Saratoga Casino Hotel with Artful Way and more recently with Crockets Cullen N in installments of the local Open Pace. In 2019, the Open Trot belonged most commonly to Cash Me Out, the eventual Horse of the Year. This season, the competition has been a bit more wide open in Opens which haven’t been carded as often as in previous years. Yes, early in the year Crockets Cullen N was the dominant force once against among colt and gelding pacers in Open competition and for a large part of the season Bontz N was the top lady in the Fillies and Mares Open. The Open Trot, though, has been the most competitive and up-for-grabs among the feature races at the Spa with no one horse standing out from the rest. Maybe no one horse hasn’t been head and shoulders above the rest in the Open Trot but one trainer certainly has.
Kyle Spagnola took home the Peerless McGrath Award as the track’s top up-and-coming trainer at Saratoga back in 2013 and has been a force among local conditioners ever since. The son of eight-time training champion Dave Spagnola, as well as trainer Margaret Spagnola, has been around horses his entire life. And now, a top-five trainer in most seasons at the Spa, Kyle’s stable features a blend of top-flight competitors and those at the lower levels. His first trainee to win one of the “big awards” for Pacer, Trotter or Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year was lady pacer Road Bet who was named the track’s top filly or mare in 2014. Then came Cash Me Out. The local legend, who is bound to become a Saratoga Hall of Famer one day, is the track’s defending Horse of the Year after enjoying a 2019 campaign in which he won nine Opens at the Spa. Cash Me Out provided Kyle his first ever Horse of the Year Award in addition to being the track’s Trotter of the Year last season.
Cash Me Out has spent much of his 2020 season competing out of town. The nine year old did win one installment of the Open Trot at the Spa back in March and then scored in the first trotting feature after the return from the shutdown in June. The Spagnola trainee, though, only raced at Saratoga seven times this season. That left plenty of opportunities for other trotters trained by Kyle to get chances to race against the track’s top-flight highsteppers. Waiting On A Woman is no stranger to Opens in fact the twelve year old won his first local Open back in 2015. A speedy, classy “old timer,” Waiting On A Woman started a stretch for his trainer in early November of this year which would become historic.
Phil Fluet piloted Waiting On A Woman to his first two Open wins of the year at the Spa and once again sat behind the veteran when he went coast-to-coast to prevail on November 2nd. The twelve year old wrapped up his local campaign with three wins, two seconds and a third in his six Open tries in 2020. The November victory would also serve as the first of what would become an unconventional hat trick for Spagnola. The following week marked the return to Saratoga for Cash Me Out who also had Fluet sitting behind. Overcoming post eight, Cash Me Out blasted out early and didn’t stop until he reached the top. Once Cash Me Out got to the front-end, it was over. The millionaire trotter cruised to a decisive three-length victory in 1:55.3 to record his third Open Trot victory of the season and made himself the second Spagnola trainee to win three Opens this year. While impressive, that feat in and of itself isn’t all that unique and certainly not historic.
History came into play last Monday afternoon when If Not Why Not made just his second lifetime start in the local Open. Yet another top-caliber trotter to come out of the Spagnola barn, If Not Why Not isn’t your most conventional of Open horses. A trotter who has consistently won races dating back to the start of his career, If Not Why Not was bred by his current owner Mike Polansky. Polansky also owns Waiting On A Woman, whom he purchased five years ago, but If Not Why Not has been his from the start of young trotter’s career. If Not Why Not prevailed in his first ever race in 2017 and continued on to have a strong freshman campaign. A winner of five of ten starts as a two year old, If Not Why Not really broke out as a three year old. In a year that concluded with him prevailing four times at the Meadowlands in the final six weeks, If Not Why Not has been a winning machine. In fact, in a 2020 year in which pretty much no horse has achieved anything close to career highs, the five year old has now won a career-high seven times in ’20 after scoring for the first time in the Open Trot last Monday. Yes, Fluet drove a Spagnola-trained trotter to a win in the $10,000 Open. Sound familiar? It should. It has happened for three consecutive weeks now.
Looking at the stats we’ve kept dating back a decade, there has never been a trainer to win an Open in three straight weeks with three different horses at Saratoga. Simply put, it’s historic what Kyle Spagnola did this month along with Phil Fluet who was the reinsman for all three Open scores. If Not Why Not now owns 20 wins in 71 career starts. With closing week of the 2020 campaign already upon us, Monday’s Open Trot will be just the 19th installment of it this season and Spagnola will have a legitimate shot at his eighth victory in those 19 starts. Though he can’t extend his “different horse winning consecutive Opens” streak, Spagnola can record his fourth Open win in a row if If Not Why Not can repeat in the co-featured race on Monday. Fluet will again be sitting behind the five year old who has the daunting task of starting from post six in the six-horse Open. Whatever happens on Monday, it has been an historic run in the Open Trot for Kyle Spagnola and Phil Fluet who have achieved something maybe never done before at Saratoga, recording an unconventional Open hat trick, by doing it with three different horses in three weeks.
Monday and Tuesday will be the final two race cards for the 2020 season at Saratoga in what has certainly been an unconventional year to say the least. Billy Dobson and Gary Levine will be recognized in the winner’s circle on Tuesday with plaques recognizing their achievements as leading driver and trainer, respectively. First post time on Monday and Tuesday is 12 Noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!