The annual ceremony for the end of season awards being given out at Saratoga Casino Hotel went on pause last year. As was the case with so much in our world that tradition was halted in 2020 primarily due to the fact that we had a much abbreviated racing season at the Spa (and everywhere else) and upon returning from the shutdown didn’t feature as many Opens and claimers and such who would normally be the recipients of such awards. The track did recognize Billy Dobson and Gary Levine as Driver and Trainer of the Year, respectively, as they finished atop their respective leaderboards. Along with Pacer, Trotter, Filly and Mare Pacer and Horse of the Year, one of the most prominent awards given out annually is the one for Horseman of the Year. In years past, this honor was usually bestowed to the leading driver at the track. More recently, though, the voters have seemed to shift their focus a bit to the men who thrive in both the driving and training departments in that year. As a result, there have been six different winners of the Horseman of the Year Award in the last decade. The well-balanced colony of top horsemen could well add another unique name to the list this year as Larry Stalbaum is putting in a big time bid to be Horseman of the Year in 2021.
Stalbaum, whose career started in Michigan about 35 years ago, may well have been the favorite to take home Horseman of the Year honors last year had there been voting for awards. Led by his stable star Crockets Cullen N, Stalbaum has thrived as a trainer since coming to the Spa full-time a couple of seasons ago and finished third in both the driver and trainer standings in 2020. The 57 year old picked up right where he left off last season and has thrived throughout the campaign this season. Stalbaum had another terrific week last week at Saratoga, and elsewhere, and continues along the path that could well lead to him becoming the seventh different Horseman of the Year winner in the last ten votings.
Stalbaum is having a terrific year once again in ’21 and his seemingly season-long hot streak continued in full force last week. On Monday’s matinee, the Michigan native sat behind three winners from his barn. What is unique about Stalbaum too is that he owns the majority of horses that race out of his stable. Stalbaum started four horses on Monday and he owns all three that scored victories. Larry got the matinee started in style when his Oh So Pine recorded his first victory since coming to Saratoga this spring, doing so in wire-to-wire fashion in the afternoon’s opening race. The wins just kept coming for Stalbaum’s trotters as Bucketlist Hanover prevailed off the drop out of the Open when he sprung the upset at odds of 9-1 in an $11,250 race for high-steppers. The standout horseman had one more win in him as Mr Cool Seaeyre N dropped and popped in a low level condition race to complete the Monday hat trick for his owner/trainer/driver. Stalbaum came up just shy of going four-for-four when his Thanks For Leaving traveled on the front-end in her race on Monday before fading to a third-place finish to complete what was a big time successful afternoon for Stalbaum.
With a big act to follow from Monday’s matinee, Stalbaum had just one of his trainees in to go on Tuesday afternoon. Gingerbred Girl came into the day winless in ten tries in the ’21 campaign including her three starts that came since moving to Stalbaum’s stable in July. The filly proved up to the task on Tuesday though as she came first-over and surged past her rivals to record her first victory of the season. Later on the card, Stalbaum piloted another winner while catch-driving to add another two to his growing total of scores in ’21. On Wednesday, Stalbaum traveled out to Batavia Downs where he piloted his Miss Irish Rose A to a wire-to-wire victory in a $9,500 for pacing mares to continue his strong week.
On Saturday night, Stalbaum’s stable star Crockets Cullen N drew post seven in the seven-horse Open Pace here at Saratoga. The winningest horse in the Open over the course of the last three seasons, Crockets Cullen N had yet to score in the local feature in ’21 before doing so three weeks ago. On July 31, Crockets Cullen N pulled off a mild upset in the Saturday feature when he came from off the pace to secure his first Open score of the season. Following an equipment break the next week, Crockets Cullen N went wire-to-wire in 1:52 on August 14th but wound up as the 9-5 second choice in the wagering last Saturday as he looked for his third win in the last four starts in the Open. Stalbaum powered the veteran pacer out to the lead and despite going 26.4 to the opening quarter had plenty left to prevail in decisive fashion in 1:52.2. The victory in the $15,000 Open Pace wound up being one of three on Saturday for Stalbaum as a driver and trainer as he wrapped up just an incredible week in which his trainees won seven out of their ten starts at Saratoga, not including the win and a second-place finish he recorded at Batavia Downs. After the monster week which included two hat tricks, Stalbaum has moved into third in the driver and the trainer standings at the Spa as he continues to put together a resume that will be awfully tough to beat when it comes time for nominations and voting for the 2021 Horseman of the Year. With a driving average of above .280 and a training average of around a dazzling .370, Larry would seem to be a shoe-in for the award. If he were to win, Stalbaum would be the seventh different guy to do so since 2011 and would add his name to the list of previous winners over the course of the last decade that includes Kim Crawford, Billy Dobson (twice), Jordan Derue, Bruce Aldrich Jr, Mark Beckwith (twice) and Frank Coppola Jr. There’s certainly a lot of season left but as the Stalbaum stable stays red hot, there is no sign of the veteran horseman slowing down in pursuit of Horseman of the Year honors.
Live racing takes place this week on Monday and Tuesday afternoon starting at 12 Noon and on Saturday evening with a first post set for 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!