The three series’ that began in late April reached their conclusion last weekend at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The mostly three and four year old pacers and trotters battled through two legs of their respective series’ to earn points towards the finals that took place last weekend. The Virginia O’Brien Pacing Series and the JP Morel Pacing Series wrapped up on Saturday night and resulted in hard fought conclusions to the short series’ honoring the memory of two past legends of the raceway.
Virginia O’Brien was long considered the First Lady of Saratoga Raceway. A woman who was an incredible ambassador for harness racing at Saratoga, O’Brien was a longtime employee in the press box at Saratoga before launching and running the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame. She was a passionate woman who was a member of the United States Harness Writers Association for decades. Following her passing a few ago, the track began a series in her memory featuring, what else, but lady pacers. B B Royale came into the Virginia O’Brien Pacing Series as a maiden. Trained by Eve Bergeron, B B Royale showed some promise last year as a freshman but wasn’t able to secure a victory before kicking off her ’16 campaign last month. Following a win in her first start back, B B Royale entered the O’Brien Series as one of the ones to beat. She proved worthy by prevailing in the first and second leg of the series before heading into Saturday’s $27,500 final as the race’s odds-on favorite. B B Royale was used hard to get to the early lead and subsequently faded in the final quarter after getting bypassed by first over rival She’snobeachboy. Frank Coppola Jr. piloted She’snobeachboy for veteran conditioner Dave Spagnola and had the four year old mare in perfect position heading towards the wire. The mare secured the biggest win of her career in a race whose purse was more than the four year old had earned in her career heading into Saturday’s Final. Stormin Spree came on for second while Southwind Marilyn earned the show spot. She’snobeachboy, who paid $9.50 to win in the mild upset, was not nearly as big of a price as last year’s winner of the O’Brien as Brian Cross’ Karla Art upset at odds of 34-1.
JP Morel was a sulky staple at Saratoga Raceway for decades. The Canadian born Morel won his first local driving title in 1972 and by 1978 had already secured six driving championships at the Spa. Morel, who spent the majority of his career at the Spa, was the winningest driver in the Saratoga Harness history at the time of his retirement. JP passed away in 2012 and is remembered with a pacing series in his honor. This year’s installment of the Morel Series was a highly competitive one in which the colts and geldings did not have any horse win both the first and second legs heading into the Saturday final. Brigadoon came up second best from post eight in the second leg after a leg one victory.
Hillbillycashflow drew post position one for the $27,500 Final and driver Jimmy Devaux moved the Heidi Rohr trainee out to the early lead, pocketing the 1-5 shot Brigadoon. After a slow first half clocked in 59 seconds, Hillbillycashflow stepped on the gas and had just to enough to outsprint the big favorite home to secure the upset win. The victory in 1:56.2 was the second in as many weeks for Hillbillycashflow who was a dead heat winner in leg two of the series. Brigadoon extended his streak of finishing first or second to six in a row with Saturday’s runner up try, a streak that dates back to last year. Wishes In The Rain, who dead-heated with Hillbillycashflow in the series’ second leg, earned the show spot in the final. She’snobeachboy and Hillbillycashflow each utilized their inside post positions on Saturday to aid them to victories which came in upset fashion, the biggest wins in the career of both four year old pacers.
This year was the fourth annual John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trotting Series. Mongeon, who passed away in 2009, was a longtime trainer and driver of standardbreds, competing mostly at Saratoga. He was a fixture in the backstretch even years after the conclusion of his career in the business. Members of the Mongeon family were on hand in the winner’s circle on Sunday to help make the presentation to Palmers Pride. In the final of the fourth installment of the Mongeon Trot, Palmers Pride went wire-to-wire to continue what has been a breakout season for the Don Sherman-trained five year old. Sherman piloted Palmers Pride to his leg one victory before turning over the driving duties to Larry Stalbaum. Stalbaum sat behind the rising trotting star as he finished second in leg two before wiring the field in Sunday’s $28,500 Final. The only favorite to win among the finals contested this weekend, Palmers Pride now has four victories in his eight career starts and is yet to finish worse than third. Band Winsome, a leg one winner, closed to finish second in the final while Mo Titos Blue Chip earned the show spot. Palmers Pride, whose Sunday score came in 1:59.3 on a chilly and windy afternoon at the Spa, adds his name to the list of previous winners of the Mongeon Memorial which includes Quick Feet, Order By Don and Pop I.
Live racing takes place every Thursday at Saratoga starting at 4:00pm and continues on Fridays and Saturdays with first posts of 6:45pm. Sunday matinees take place each week kicking off at 12:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!