There are several different schools of thought for trainers when it comes to their winter modes of operation. With the craziness and uniqueness of the 2020 racing season, some local conditioners did things a bit different this winter than they normally would. More often than not, trainers give their horses the winter off for the roughly two-month break that Saratoga Casino Hotel traditionally takes from around mid-December to mid-February. This winter though, many of those trainers brought horses to Monticello, Yonkers, the Meadowlands and elsewhere to compete more so because those horses probably logged about half as many starts in the ’20 campaign as they would have in a normal year. The Spa’s leading trainer from last season Gary Levine often ships in the winter and this year was no different. Coming off of his first training title, Levine travelled about during the offseason and enjoyed some success. Levine has gotten off to a big start in the opening two weeks of the ’21 season at the Spa.
Trainer Kyle Spagnola is another conditioner like Levine that travels with his horses. One of the top local trainers in the past decade, Spagnola no doubt is a Saratoga guy but does compete at other tracks both during the bulk of the year and more so in the winter. This offseason was no different as Kyle recorded wins at Yonkers, Monticello and Freehold Raceways after the Spa season wrapped up in November. When the 80th racing season kicked off in March, Kyle had his horses ready to go and on opening day, the almost 30 year old scored a training double. A familiar face to Spa followers, Cash Me Out made his presence felt right away as he went coast-to-coast on opening day and accounted for one of two wins on the card for Spagnola who came up just shy of a hat trick as he recorded a second-place finish in the afternoon’s finale. He continued to thrive the following afternoon registering another victory to get off to as strong of a start as anyone, perhaps outside of Levine, in the early stages of ’21 at the Spa. Kyle continued to bring his show to the road last week as two of his trainees secured victories at Yonkers including another from Cash Me Out as the millionaire trotter and 2019 Horse of the Year at Saratoga continues to pile up the wins even in his “old age.”
While Levine and Kyle Spagnola were two of the top-flight local trainers who enjoyed some success while travelling all winter, the other Spagnola stable stuck to its normal offseason regiment. Trainer Dave Spagnola has won eight training titles at the Spa, more than any other conditioner, and was elected into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in 2016. “Spag” turned over the training duties to his wife Margaret a few years before his induction and the two have run the stable together ever since. Both when Dave was officially at the helm and since Margaret has been running the show, the Spagnola stable’s blueprint has stayed the same. A true Saratoga stable, they very rarely ship out of town to compete and wintertime means a shutdown of the barn, at least as far as actively racing.
Of the trainers who give their horses the winter off, there is a mix of those who use a qualifier or two as preps for the start of the season and those who just get rolling right away. Oftentimes, the first start or two back off the layoff amount to a sort of qualifier, tighteners that serve as building blocks towards races in the near future. Dave and Margaret Spagnola’s horses very rarely utilize qualifiers as preps. Sometimes that results in what seems like a slow start to their season but really, they are looking at the long term and the lengthy season ahead. While in some previous years the success doesn’t come right away for the barn, that certainly hasn’t been the case this in 2021.
The Spagnola stable recorded a win, a couple of seconds and a third during opening week. Unlike Levine and Kyle Spagnola who have a bit more turnover as far as horses, the Margaret Spagnola stable is comprised mostly of members who have competed for them for years. In many instances, Spagnola trainees have been a part of their stable since the beginning of their careers. Longtime owner Mike Polansky breeds a lot of his horses and those that have the broodmare Chapeau, a former top-flight distaffer and one-time Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year at the Spa, are named after different kinds of hats. One of those, Yamaka, gave the Spagnola stable its first winner of the season when he sprung a big time upset at odds of 21-1 during opening week. Those are the kind of odds you often get with horses that haven’t had a start or qualifier since November. The betting public essentially views those horses as “not ready yet” and wager accordingly. And while those thoughts certainly are warranted, they would cost the bettors of the Spa quite a bit last week when it came to the Spagnola barn.
Monday is trotting day at Saratoga and the Spagnola stable unveiled five trotters to compete on the card. The first one of the day didn’t fit the usual Spagnola formula. Match My Miracle was one of just two horses from his stable to qualify prior to racing for the first time in 2021. And that wasn’t the only thing that differentiated him from his stablemates on Monday. Brett Crawford has piloted all of the Spagnola trotters this year and was aggressive early on with Match My Miracle in his seasonal debut. The young high-stepper got his stable off to a good start for the day when he went wire-to-wire and did so at odds of 2-1. He was the rare Spagnola trainee to get bet down on Monday but he certainly wasn’t the only trotter to thrive out of the barn. Riverofroyalty upset at odds 8-1 just a week after finishing a strong second in her ’21 debut. Amazing Sevens was dismissed at 11-1 when he was a runner-up on Monday while Itsoneofthose came up second best at odds of 12-1. And remember those hat-named horses? On Wednesday, My Rugala lit up the tote board when he paid $91.50 to win while American Sombrero finished second at odds of 12-1 for the Spagnola stable which has not only thrived early on but has produced several successful longshots thus far. The methods are certainly different but the successes in the first couple weeks of the season are similar for the two Spagnola stables. Whether the horses raced through the winter like several of Kyle’s or they rested this winter in anticipation of the start of the Spa campaign like Margaret and Dave’s, the Spagnolas have come out of the gates fast in the opening month of the 2021 season at Saratoga.
Live racing takes place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons starting at 12 Noon. The new wagers unveiled this year have yet to find a jackpot winner. Bettors seek to hold the unique ticket in the Jackpot Pick 6 and the Jackpot Super High Five. The jackpots head into the week sitting at $2,569 for the Pick 6 and $3,068 for the High 5. Each bet is a 20 cent wager. Have the only winning ticket and take down the entire jackpot!