For the last six weeks, the summer has been filled with horse racing in Saratoga. Annually, in conjunction with the thoroughbred meet across the street, the Saratoga Casino Hotel racing schedule picks up and there are five nights of live harness racing under the lights per week. This summer was one filled with stars, track records, standout performances from drivers and trainers and even a rare appearance by a National Horse of The Year.
The eighth annual Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace featured Wiggleit Jiggle It. The superstar pacer earned over $2.1 million last year after winning 22 times in 26 tries. His follow-up campaign in ’16 certainly hasn’t been a disappointment as the four year old pacer is again having a million dollar season. The Clyde Francis-trained pacer became the first National Horse of the Year to race at Saratoga since 2001 winner Bunny Lake was last here over a decade ago. Wiggle It Jiggleit dazzled the packed house on the late July evening as harness racing’s biggest star raced parked out throughout the first half which was clocked in an unheard of 54 seconds. After getting a third quarter breather from driver Montrell Teague, Wiggle It Jiggleit paced away from his rivals to stop the timer in 1:51 in the $260,000 Gerrity and added his name to the list of stars who have prevailed in the biggest race contested annually at the Spa. Wiggle It Jiggleit currently holds a record of eleven wins, five seconds and two thirds in his 18 starts in 2016 en route to over a million dollars in earnings.
While Wiggle It Jiggleit was clearly the star on the biggest night of the year, the evening of the Gerrity featured three $25,000 Opens and another pair of Winners Overs. Invader Velocity Vespa was assigned post eight in the Winners Over for distaffers and could never get involved in the race. The mare who has been a winning machine throughout the last couple of years got claimed out of the race by out of town conditioner Rich Banca. Banca moved Velocity Vespa into the local Open where she competed in the three weeks that followed her claim and all she did was go three-for-three. If her first two wins in 1:52.1 and 1:52.2 weren’t impressive enough, on August 12th, the six year old became the fastest lady pacer in the 75 year history of the track when she went coast to coast in 1:51.3. The previous mark of 1:52 for aged pacing mares was held, coincidentally, by So Nice who finished second to Velocity Vespa in her record-setting mile.
The performance by Velocity Vespa was just one of many track record efforts for the summer which saw Sire Stakes stars sizzle. Freshman filly Roaring To Go kicked off the New York Sire Stakes season with a track record performance when the two year old pacing fillies came to town on July 27th. Having to overcome both the outside post and a rival who had not only been undefeated in her first two starts but had been an overwhelming winner in both races after an eye-popping qualifier at the Meadowlands, Roaring To Go went last to first to become the fastest two year old filly in track history. Driver Brett Miller piloted the up-and-coming stakes star to her 1:54 score.
Sire Stakes season yielded more track records when freshman trotting colts converged on the Spa on August 2nd. Among the host of talented young highsteppers competing that night was two that wound up being good enough to set a new mark for freshmen. Big Man Ev trotted to victory in 1:57.4 in the evening’s first $53,000+ NY Sire Stake to best the previous track record of 1:58.1 set last year in the Sire Stakes by Boxall. Big Man Ev’s mark didn’t stand alone for long as locally trained filly Such An Angel matched his 1:57.4 effort later on that night. Trained by local conditioner Paul Kelley, Such An Angel was piloted to victory by Hall of Fame driver John Campbell who was making a rare appearance at the Spa. That night, a star was born as Such An Angel has gone on to have a season in which he has already earned over $100,000 in just seven starts by way of four victories. This rising star, who owns a piece of the track record for freshman colts, will likely be representing the local colony in the NYSS Night of Champions later this month.
There has never been a year in which so many of the track records have fallen than here in 2016 and while the afore mentioned two year olds set records over the course of the summer, the three year old trotters made a clean sweep of the local record books. The three year old records for trotting colts, geldings and fillies were all lowered this summer in NYSS competition and while national driving stars Brett Miller, Andy Miller and John Campbell piloted the afore mentioned record setters this summer, there was another trio of renowned reinsmen who drove the sophomore trotters to their record setting performances. Smalltownthrowdown lowered the record for three year old trotting colts to 1:54.4 and later that evening, Dayson and Yannick Gingras cruised to a 1:54.2 score. Dayson’s mark now stands for three year old trotting geldings. When the fillies came to town later in August, it was superstar reinsman Jim Morrill Jr. who sat behind Fad Finance as she set the track record for three year old fillies behind a score in an impressive 1:54.1. You might say, “all these records being set. Big deal. There are so many different categories of records to be broken.” True, but the feats are really impressive when you consider that these Sire Stakes performers along with Velocity Vespa who set the mark for pacing mares are now the fastest horses in their categories in the 75 year history of the track. And these record setters weren’t even the biggest stars on the stage this summer at the Spa as Wiggle It Jiggleit came to town, wowed the crowd and scored in 1:51, which is tied with Open Pacers Artful Way and Givenupdreaming for fastest for any horse in the 2016 season at the Spa.
With the conclusion of the summer racing season at Saratoga, live racing will take a short hiatus and will return on Thursday September 15th. First post time on Thursdays will be 4:00pm while Friday and Saturday racing begins at 6:45pm. Sunday matinees will resume as well kicking off at 12:15pm each week. Until two weeks from now, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!