With Labor Day weekend now behind us, so to is the summer portion of the racing season in Saratoga. The thoroughbred meet across the street wrapped up its campaign on Labor Day and thus the live racing schedule at Saratoga Casino Hotel reverts back to pre-summer days. Gone is the Friday, Saturday, Sunday evening race schedule and returning is a calendar for fall that looks very similar to what it looked like in the spring. A three-day per week slate will ensue this week with racing still taking place on Saturday evenings but with a first post time of 5pm. That evening card will be followed by matinees on Sunday and Monday afternoons with action beginning at 12 noon. There are potentially a few more matinees that could be added to the schedule at some point this fall although that is still to be determined.
As is always the case, the summer season at the Spa was electric. New York Sire Stakes action begins in late May each year and gives fans a chance to see some of the top drivers and trainers from North America that usually race elsewhere compete locally. This occurred, notably, when “The White Knight” Brian Sears came to town twice and the Hall of Famer certainly made his presence felt. On July 9th, Sears scored two wins and two second-place finishes among his five drives in Sire Stakes action including a victory in the $38,650 race for two year old filly trotters. Sears’ second and final trip to the Spa for the year saw him pilot five freshmen colt and gelding trotters on an evening in early August. He made three trips to the winner’s circle to go with a pair of runner-up tries among his five drives on the night. Sears piloted winners of both $74.000+ stakes starts for sophomore trotters that evening.
The highlight of the summer racing season at Saratoga Casino Hotel is always Gerrity night. This year, it was the 14th annual installment of the race that honors the memory of Joe Gerrity Jr, the longtime Saratoga Harness Chairman of the Board. On a beautiful Saturday evening in late July, superstar pacer Tattoo Artist was heavily favored as he was one of two participants in this year’s Gerrity to have won the Invitational Pace in the past. Tattoo Artist was looking to go back-to-back in the Gerrity after scoring in it in 2022 while rival This Is The Plan, the ’21 winner, was also part of the eight-horse group looking to get the winner’s share of the $250,000 purse. Tattoo Artist attempted to wire the field as the 2-5 betting favorite in this year’s Gerrity but history was made when longshot Idealsomemagic A scored the biggest upset in the race’s history when he came from well off the pace to score at odds of 27-1. Star reinsman George Brennan piloted the Cory Stratton-trained Idealsomemagic A to the historic win in the Gerrity. When Tattoo Artist came up second-best, it marked the sixth time in fourteen years that a previous Gerrity winner was the runner-up in a different year in which he prevailed in the track’s annually featured race. Tattoo Artist and Idealsomemagic A were separated by only a neck in a tremendous Gerrity stretch drive that saw seven of its participants within three and a half lengths of each other at the wire.
The track was packed on August 19th when the highly touted match race took place. Young driver Brett Beckwith, who currently sits second in the local driver standings, squared off against Flavien Prat, the thoroughbred jockey who finished second in the rider standings at the Saratoga Race Course in 2022 in his first summer in New York. Prat, whose family had standardbreds growing up in his native France, expressed interest in jogging harness horses, something he got into again with Saratoga-based trainer Kevin McDermott. Beckwith and Prat squared off in a match race for charity in front of a packed house at the Spa. The crossover appeal was apparent as there were a host of jockeys and trainers from the “flats” who came over to support the endeavor. Beckwith wound up prevailing in the match race in which he represented The Franklin Community Center who was gifted a check for $6,480. Prat drove for BCCA Faith’s House of Saratoga who was presented with a $4,320 check during the wonderful event for charity that may have exposed some people to harness racing who otherwise hadn’t been overly familiar with the sport.
As the summer portion of the racing season wraps up, one of the things that all eyes will be on in the fall is the trainer’s race. Brett Derue sits atop the trainer standings as he seeks his first ever training title. Derue, who finished seventh among local conditioners in ’22, has had a fantastic season by featuring a well-balanced stable comprised of young and old trainees as well as a blend of lower level and top-flight horses. Although Derue holds a fairly sizeable lead (about ten at the conclusion of last weekend’s action), trainer Melissa Beckwith lurks just behind in second. While Derue is looking for his first training championship, Beckwith is seeking to become a ten-time leading trainer at the Spa. Though the race to be leading trainer will likely come down to the wire, the driving championship, barring something unforeseen, will almost certainly go the way of Jimmy Devaux in a landslide. Devaux, who has been a fixture at Saratoga for more than a decade, was the leading driver at the Spa for the first time in ’21 before going back-to-back by dominating the competition last year. Once again, Devaux has opened up a huge lead and sits atop the standings with better than seventy wins more than his closest competitor Brett Beckwith. The race’s for Pacer, Trotter and Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year are still wide open and could go any one of several directions in the coming months. What a summer it was at Saratoga Casino Hotel and there is a lot to look forward to as the calendar turns to the fall for the final three months of the racing season.
Live racing will now take place on Saturday evenings starting at 5pm and on Sunday and Monday afternoons with matinees that begin at noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!