Lifelong horseman Larry Stalbaum has enjoyed success throughout his career and when the Michigan native comes to town with his horses, the veteran reinsman always seems to thrive. Owner of the majority of the horses that he brings to Saratoga Casino Hotel, Stalbaum trained his own in the early part of this year and fared extremely well when he came to town with the members of his stable. A few months back, the 56 year old turned over training duties to Tracy Tarantino and the results have stayed almost exactly the same. The Stalbaum-Tarantino barn has been on a tear at the Spa and recently has seen one of its top pacers emerge as a viable Horse of the Year candidate.
The New Zealand-bred Crockets Cullen N came to the United States in the fall of 2018 and after one start for Stalbaum at Yonkers, the seven year old debuted at Saratoga in October of last year. The talent of the American invader was evident from the get-go as Crockets Cullen N prevailed in his first start at the Spa before winning the Open Pace in his just his second local try. In that start, the rising star set a lifetime mark of 1:51.4 for Stalbaum who has thrived with the New Zealand pipeline in recent seasons. Crockets Cullen N won the Open in two of his five starts in it last season and is proving to be the best of that strong group of pacers that has come via New Zealand to enjoy more than a fair amount of success for Stalbaum.
If 2018 served as the coming out party for Crockets Cullen N, the ’19 season is the breakout campaign for the pacer who has recorded wins at three different tracks and has competed at a high level at a total of five tracks this year. After the tear that Crockets Cullen N has gone on at Saratoga in the past couple months, though, there is little doubt what track is the favorite of the superstar pacer. This spring, Crockets Cullen N won a pair of races at the Spa, one in the conditional ranks before graduating to the Winners Over, the undercard to the pacing feature, in which he recorded yet another victory. Following that win, the eight year old would never again see a class under the Open Pace in starts contested at the Saratoga. With two second-place finishes in the Open under his belt this spring, Crockets Cullen N went on his tour of the northeast. The speedy star has competed at Harrah’s Philadelphia as well as Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania in addition to his New York tracks of Saratoga, Yonkers and Monticello.
Crockets Cullen N returned to Saratoga in August while now under the guidance of Tarantino and looked like the same horse we saw this spring when he established himself as a force among the track’s top pacers. Following a fourth-place finish in his return to town, Crockets Cullen N found that winning way again when in his final start in August, he swooped the group in the Open Pace. Once he discovered the winning way, he wouldn’t lose it, at least not in his local starts. Stalbaum brought Crockets Cullen N to Yonkers after his Open win on September 21st but the pacer saw one of his few flaws flare up as he made breaks in back-to-back starts. Following a winning qualifier, it was back to the Spa for Crockets Cullen N midway through October. If there were any questions as to whether the breaks and the successive qualifier were going to take any of the edge off of the Stalbaum star, they were answered immediately upon his return to town.
Not only did Crockets Cullen N pick up right where he left off in Saratoga’s Open Pace but he displayed versatility in doing so. Stalbaum had Crockets Cullen N come from off the pace to record his first three Open scores this season but upon his return flashed the powerful pacer’s early speed. Starting from posts four and six, Crockets Cullen N went coast-to-coast in consecutive $18,000 installments of the Open in miles that were near carbon copies of each other. After going wire-to-wire in 1:52 and 1:52.1, Crockets Cullen N had moved his win streak to five in starts in the local Open. If it aint broke don’t fix it for Stalbaum whose decision to continue to race his star at Saratoga must have been an easy one as Crockets Cullen N was back to town last weekend. Assigned post position eight in November’s first Open, Crockets Cullen N wound up going off at odds of 4-1. Not bad for a horse that came in as a winner of five straight against the Spa’s top pacers. Which tactic would Stalbaum use this time while sitting behind a horse who had sat back early on before flying in the final half en route to three Open wins and had gone wire-to-wire in his most recent two scores? Well, a little bit of both. In Saturday’s $18,000 feature, Crockets Cullen N left from his outside post but settled in mid-pack finding a seat in fourth in the early going. After flushing out cover from the race’s favorite approaching the half, Crockets Cullen N drew alongside the horse who served as his cover and those two traded strides around the final turn. Crockets Cullen N did what he does and imposed his will in the stretch before coming on to win in 1:52.4. That’s a nearly unheard of SIX consecutive wins in Open Pace tries for Crockets Cullen N who has not only thrust himself into contention for Pacer of the Year but is now a serious candidate for Horse of the Year at Saratoga.
Though Hudson Phil still owns the most wins for any Open Pacer in 2019 with eight, Crockets Cullen N has won six consecutive and has recorded eight of his twelve ’19 victories right here at Saratoga. On Saturday night, Stalbaum and Tarantino teamed up for three straight wins as their Teo Enteo A and Shady City each registered victories for another big night in what has been a terrific year in somewhat limited starts at the Spa for Stalbaum who owns almost 6,000 career wins as a driver. Could his stable star Crockets Cullen N add more than just Open stalwart to his resume when the end of the season awards are given out at Saratoga later this year? It’s something that wouldn’t have even been a consideration a month or so ago but now seems like it’s very much possible as Crockets Cullen N has become the newest New Zealand invader to turn into a superstar at the Spa for Stalbaum.
Live racing takes place every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon starting at 12 Noon and on Saturday evening 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!