Last year, the previously annual celebration on July 3rd at Saratoga Casino Hotel returned. The “fireworks night” bonanza was back in full effect in 2018 following a several year hiatus. The fan-favorite evening, which serves as the unofficial kickoff to the summer season at Saratoga, is set for this Wednesday and promises to be one of the best nights of the year at the track. With a special first post time of 5pm, fans are recommended to come out early and get your spot for an evening of food, fun and fireworks in conjunction with a full card of harness racing featuring multiple series finals. Food vendors will be set up and ready to go by the time the race program kicks off at 5:00. Soon after, Shaker High School student and American Idol finalist Madison VanDenburg will be on hand to do a meet and greet and to perform a special rendition of God Bless America following a parade of ponies that will make its way down to the winner’s circle.
At 6pm, the trackside concert will get underway with Ten Most Wanted doing their thing during the races on the special night. On the track, four finals from the recently contested mini-series’ will be featured on the twelve race card. The first leg of the Freedom Pace and the Stars and Stripes Pace took place on Saturday June 22nd and each consisted of two divisions. The Freedom Pace was for the more productive group and thus had divisions that each went for a purse of $10,000. The clear cut series favorite heading into it was a former Open horse and top-flight conditional pacer at the Spa. In The Huddle just barely met the qualifications for the series, almost earning too much money last year to meet the cut-off to compete. The Amanda Kelley trainee was subsequently his division’s 1-9 betting favorite and despite having his way on the engine tired as the pacers turned for home. Longshot rival Montera shook loose late and came charging hard to get by In The Huddle and register the upset at odds of 13-1. Brett Crawford piloted Montera for owner Mike Polansky and trainer Margaret Spagnola.
Montera’s win wasn’t just one of two for Polansky, Spagnola and Crawford in leg one of the Freedom Pace but it was one of two for his own family as well. Montera’s little brother Yamaka recorded the win in the other division of the series contested on that Saturday evening. A full brother to Montera, Yamaka, who set his lifetime mark of 1:53.3 in a victory in early June, came back to prevail in leg one of the Freedom Pace. Unlike his brother who scored an upset, Yamaka was his race’s 4-5 betting favorite and emerged as one of the series’ favorites heading into Wednesday evening’s final. Montera and Yamaka are both out of the mare Chapeau, a former Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year at Saratoga. Polansky breeds several of his former racehorses so Chapeau was a logical broodmare candidate. Chapeau, which is the French word for ‘hat,’ inspired her connections to name her offspring after different headwear. Montera, a cloth hat, became one of the productive sons of Chapeau, and has earned almost $150,000 for Polansky and connections since his career began back in 2014. Yamaka doesn’t have the earnings of his big brother at this point in his career but the five year old may be faster than big bro these days. The rules of the series state that the connections cannot race two horses in the same final and thus they have chosen Yamaka to compete in the $20,000 Freedom Pace. Don’t count out leg one’s beaten favorite In The Huddle who could still well be the favorite in the final with Pan Street USA, the runner-up to Montera, looming as a major danger after drawing the rail for the $20,000 series culmination.
The Stars and Stripes Pace is for horses with noticeably lesser earnings than their counterparts comprising the Freedom Pace. Ten horses competed in two divisions of leg one each going for a purse of $7,500. Unlike the Freedom Pace which featured an upset, the Stars and Stripes series held true to form as both favorites, West Liberty and About The Benjamns recorded wins. Since the 1:55.4 score by About The Benjamns was almost two full seconds faster than that of West Liberty in leg one, the favorite in the final will likely be About The Benjamns who drew post five for the $15,000 Wednesday final. The seven year old is piloted by Saratoga veteran Frank Coppola Jr. for owner-trainer Greg Malta.
Remember that Polansky-Spagnola combo from the Freedom Pace? That tandem was at it again in the first leg of the Star Spangled Trot. The faster of the two divisions for trotters was won by Amazing Sevens who had Coppola piloting for Polansky and Spagnola. The five year old high-stepper picked a good time to put in a career-best performance as he trotted to a 1:57.1 lifetime mark in his $10,000 division of the series. The other division went the way of Phil Fluet’s Barn Star who scored his first win of the year, stopping the timer in 1:58.4 in a decisive, first-over victory. With both leg one winners prevailing after coming from off the pace, the trip will be imperative in Wednesday’s $20,000 final.
With only eight horses entered into the Independence Trot, there was just one $7,500 division contested on Sunday June 23rd. Coppola was at it again and he got a pocket trip for trotting mare Howdy Jane who like Amazing Sevens set a new lifetime mark in series competition. Howdy Jane stopped the timer in 1:59 and gave her trainer Rachel Beaulieu her first career training win. In what was her 21st career start, young conditioner Beaulieu saw her Howdy Jane emerge as the one to beat in the Independence Trot despite suffering broken equipment early on in the mile. Howdy Jane is the 5-2 morning line favorite for Wednesday’s $15,000 final.
The Independence Day celebration will continue, of course, long after the series finals and the races are complete. The Capital Region’s BEST fireworks display will launch after the horses have cleared the paddock and are safely back in the stable area. It is a fireworks show you do NOT want to miss! At the conclusion of the fireworks, stick around and head to Vapor as Aquanett, billed as New England’s most authentic 80’s tribute band, will take the stage for a night of rock-n-roll. Join us at the track on Wednesday for food, fun, fireworks and finals as the Independence Day celebration at the Spa is one you will want to be a part of. First post time is set for 5pm but it is recommended that you get here as early as you can to beat the crowd and secure your spot for the sensational fireworks display after an evening of live harness racing action!
In addition to Wednesday’s celebration, live racing will take place on Saturday night at 6:45pm and on Sunday afternoon with a 12 Noon start to the matinee. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!