There were eight installments of the New York Sire Stakes contested at Saratoga Casino Hotel this summer. Each year the top two and three year olds in the state compete for big purses in Sire Stakes competition and for points towards the end of the season Finals. The Night of Champions is a magical night of racing, the top evening in New York State for the year as the top eight point earners in each of the eight divisions of the NY Sire Stakes slug it out for their share of purses of $225,000 per division. This year the Night of Champions will be held at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday night, September 22ndwhile the eight Excelsior Finals (purses of $55,000 per division) will take place this Sunday afternoon here at Saratoga. Throughout the summer, we have witnessed several terrific performances by the two and three year olds when they’ve come to the Spa to compete. In fact, there were multiple track records set this summer and on Thursday afternoon, a world record.
The New York Sire Stakes season bookends the summer at Saratoga with the first installment of the 2018 NYSS being contested on Memorial Day weekend. Three year old pacing fillies kicked off what would be a memorable stakes campaign at the Spa back in May. As is the case every year, the top New York breds got better, stronger and faster as the season moved on and by the end of July, we started to see track records fall by the wayside during Sire Stakes competition at the Spa.
On July 31st, two year old trotting colts and geldings invaded the Spa to compete for purses of close to $55,000 per division in what for most of the freshman trotters was one of their first lifetime starts. Out of towner Gimpanzee came to Saratoga with a two-for-two record in NYSS action and had Brian Sears in the sulky as the up-and-comer was one of the evening’s biggest favorites. Gimpanzee stayed undefeated on the late July evening and in the process, added track record holder to his budding resume. The freshman stopped the timer in 1:55.4 in his track record-setting performance, lowering the previous mark for two year old trotting colts by a full second. Gimpanzee went on to go six-for-six in the NYSS this summer following a Friday night romp at Yonkers and will head into Saturday’s Final as one of the biggest favorites of the night.
Gimpanzee was the first participant of the NYSS to set a track record this summer at Saratoga but he wouldn’t be the last. Two year old pacing filly So Awesome qualified back in June for local trainer Tony Ciuffetelli who also piloted the freshman. That afternoon, the two year old went coast to coast in the qualifier, pacing in 1:57.4 in her first ever official appearance on the racetrack. The effort was “so awesome” that the offers rolled in immediately to Ciuffetelli. The local conditioner sold the filly for a hefty price and off she went to join the stable of out of town trainer Scott Di Domenico. Though the filly managed just a fourth place finish in her first start in an overnight race in Pennsylvania, when So Awesome debuted in NYSS competition the following week, she quickly proved that the first qualifier was no fluke.
By the time So Awesome made her return to Saratoga on the final weekend of August, the freshman filly had amassed over $100,000 in just six lifetime starts, winning three of them. Returning to where it all started for her, So Awesome took part in a $78,750 division of the NYSS at the Spa on a warm August evening against competition so fierce that even with the credentials she amassed in the early stages of her career, So Awesome was not the favorite in her stakes try. Tim Tetrick piloted the filly who proved dominant in the stakes start cruising to an open length victory and stopping the timer in 1:53.3. The win time resulted in the second track record in the NY Sire Stakes this summer as the So Awesome became the fastest freshman filly pacer in Saratoga history. So Awesome will head into the Night of Champions with more than $175,000 in earnings in just eight career starts as the top two year old lady pacer in the state. And to think, it all started right here at Saratoga for the filly who has flourished in the early portion of what will no doubt be a terrific career.
Last Thursday afternoon marked the eighth and final installment of the NYSS to be contested at the Spa this season (Excelsior Finals not withstanding) as two year old trotting fillies took center stage. The first of two $81,750 divisions for the freshman high-steppers on paper looked like it could be the race of not just the local Sire Stakes season but of the year at the Spa. After all, freshman filly Winndevie swept the first five installments of the NYSS and came into Thursday’s race undefeated. She had simply been masterful. The only potential question mark for the standout freshman was the fact that she missed the most recent leg of the Sire Stakes contested at Vernon Downs a few weeks ago which led to a month long layoff heading into Thursday’s tilt. Meanwhile, Woodside Charm got off to a late start to her freshman campaign but had gone three-for-three to begin her career, including a pair of victories in NYSS competition. She drew the rail on Thursday and looked like a worthy rival for the fellow undefeated Winndevie.
Trainer-driver Verlin Yoder had been an unknown in the NYSS circuit before bringing Woodside Charm east in the last couple of months but the Hoosier Park-based conditioner wouldn’t stay anonymous for long. Woodside Charm played catch me if you can on Thursday, laying down fractions of 27.3 and 55.2 in the first half, unheard of times for a two year old trotting filly! Despite facing such a formidable foe, Woodside Charm was the 1-5 betting favorite and as she and Yoder clicked off three quarters in 1:24.1, it was apparent that the track record of 1:57.2 for freshman fillies was going down. What was unknown though was whether Woodside Charm would be able to hang in there after setting those fractions or if Winndevie would stay undefeated and surge past the filly who was blazing the trail. Woodside Charm hung in there alright. In fact, she trotted to victory in 1:53.4, a time that not only demolished the track record for two year old fillies but shattered the previous world record of 1:55.2 for freshman fillies. Woodside Charm posted the third fastest time for a trotter in the HISTORY of Saratoga in the eye-popping mile. This is a two year old trotting filly! Truly unbelievable. And Winndevie? Well, she finished second and was only beaten by two lengths in a performance that must have made her connections just shake their heads as on any other day, it could’ve been Winndevie that added world record holder to her lengthening list of credentials in what was, in her own right, a tremendous effort. Verlin Yoder is an unknown no more as his superstar filly made the harness racing world take notice with as impressive of a performance as any horse has ever put forth in the history of Saratoga Harness, a performance that set a world record.
Live harness racing takes place every Thursday and Sunday afternoon with matinees beginning at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evenings beginning at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!