As the calendar turns to May this week, the spring portion of the racing season is in full swing at Saratoga Casino Hotel. That fact is no further evidenced by the start of three annual series’ that take place each spring which got underway last week at the Spa. Series to honor past horsemen JP Morel and John Mongeon Sr. as well as longtime ambassador for harness racing Virginia O’Brien have taken place each spring for the past several years and each series had two divisions of the first leg contested last week. Thursday afternoon marked the start of the third annual Virginia O’Brien Memorial Pacing Series, a series that honors the memory of the longtime employee in the press box at Saratoga Raceway. She was a passionate woman who was a member of the U.S. Harness Writers Association for decades and was responsible for the launch and subsequent running of the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame. The series, which is fittingly for the ladies, began in 2015 when Brian Cross’ Karla Art won in upset fashion. Last year, She’snobeachboy scored the series win leading up to the third installment of the O’Brien pace for fillies and mares that featured two $10,000 divisions on Thursday afternoon.
Trainer Joe DeCarlo has been on a tear in the opening months of the season at Saratoga and the red hot conditioner sent out Nashurallability to compete in leg one of the O’Brien. Coming off a victory in her lone local start, Nashurallability was the race’s 9-5 second choice in the wagering on Thursday as she went coast to coast with Chris Long in the sulky. The four year old mare stamped herself as the series’ one to beat behind her score that came in a career best 1:55.4. Letherriptaterchip and House Always Wins finished second and third behind Nashurallability and are both likely to factor prominently in the Final set for two weeks from now. The other leg one division didn’t go nearly as fast but still yielded an impressive victory from a mare who had yet to see the winner’s circle this year. Maureen Salino’s Constant Factor was winless in 2017 but picked a good time for her best effort of the season. Jay Randall piloted the four year old mare and got her a second over journey. As the race’s favorite Moonlight Spin got locked in and shuffled back, Constant Factor came charging hard before stopping the timer in 1:57.3 to upset at odds of 17-1. Moonlight Spin shook free too late and had to settle for second but could be one to watch as the series progresses. The series’ rules state that if there are not at least 12 betting interests, leg two will be canceled and that is in fact the case. Therefore, there is a $10,000 “Final Prep” set for Thursday afternoon in which eight lady pacers will slug it out, most likely serving as a preview for the $30,000+ Final set for May 13th.
Friday night featured leg one of the John Mongeon Sr. Memorial Trotting Series which also consisted of two divisions, each going for a purse of $10,000. The Mongeon Memorial started in 2013 and in the fifth annual installment of it, there were twelve competitors (after one was scratched) divided up into two divisions. Jay Randall’s Osvaldo Blue Chip was named Two Year Old Trotter of the Year last season and has recently made his return. Following a second place finish in his seasonal debut, the sophomore appeared ready to roll and on Friday, roll he did. Osvaldo Blue Chip coasted to a 1:58.2 open-length victory in leg one of the series and did so while seemingly unasked by Randall. Equally as impressive was John Stark Jr’s Lasa Dida Lady. One week removed from her maiden win, Lasa Dida Lady made an extended break behind the gate on Friday. Seemingly out of it in the early going, the three year old filly was fifteen lengths behind the leader at the quarter pole but gobbled up ground from that point forward and surged all the way up to finish second to Osvaldo Blue Chip. It was an ultra-impressive runner-up try for a filly trotter making just her fourth career start. She is one to watch not only in the series but perhaps moving forward into the summer. Call My Broker never had an anxious moment in securing his fifth win in the last six starts. The three year old Melissa Beckwith trainee drew the rail and was thus the overwhelming 1-9 betting favorite as he set sail early and never looked back. The fifth victory of the season came in 1:59 for Call My Broker who has been dominant for nearly two months now and will likely head into the final as the one to beat. Whether or not there is a second leg to be contested, as the rules are the same as those for the O’Brien pace as far as a minimum participant requirement in order to have a leg two, remains to be seen. Whether or not leg two fills, the Mongeon Series Final will be set for Sunday May 14th.
There were two divisions of the JP Morel Memorial Pacing Series first leg on Saturday night. The series introduced to honor the memory of the longtime top driver at Saratoga is in its fifth installment. A couple of good looking three year olds recorded victories in leg one on Saturday night as favorites Beckarama and In A Single Bound each cruised to open-length scores. Beckarama is the winningest horse thus far this year at the Spa and added to his tally with a convincing romp in a career best 1:53.3 on Saturday. Mark Beckwith piloted the sophomore rising star to his eighth win of the season, six of which have come at Saratoga. In the win, Beckarama lowered his lifetime mark by almost two seconds which would have seemingly stamped him as the one to beat in the series. That was, before In A Single Bound took to the track later that night. In A Single Bound was the Two Year Old Pacer of the Year in ’16 and despite finishing second in his return last week was the race’s 1-5 favorite on Saturday night. And boy, did he ever race like a favorite! In A Single Bound set a lifetime mark of his own pacing away from his rivals before stopping the timer in 1:52.4 with Billy Dobson in the bike. It might be a sign of things to come in what could be a special year for the Monica Krist-trained In A Single Bound who was simply dazzling on Saturday and established himself as the one to beat among the colts and geldings competing to be the champion of the fifth annual JP Morel Memorial Pacing Series which concludes on May 13th.
Live racing takes place on Thursdays and Sundays beginning at 12:15pm while nighttime racing starts at 6:45pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!