Sunday Opens Wide Open at Saratoga

The Open Trot has been the feature on Sunday afternoons for several years now at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The track’s top trotters are usually confronted by capable out-of-towners and the mix often makes for a great Sunday feature. Veteran Slugfest was the dominant force among local trotters in 2014 and 2015 and became the first horse since 1998-1999 to earn Trotter of the Year honor in back to back seasons at the Spa. In the subsequent years, though there have been a couple of trotters to excel in a given season, the sustainability hasn’t been there for any of the track’s regular highsteppers. Stirling Cadet was Trotter and Horse of the Year in 2016 while Twisted Pretzel earned top honors among trotters in ’17.

Jackie Greene’s Stirling Cadet dominated the Sunday action in 2016 as he secured ten victories in 23 local starts en route to earnings of just shy of $100,000. Stirling Cadet encountered some soundness issues last season and only raced nine times in ’16 though he did record two Open victories. Here in 2017, though Stirling Cadet has recorded three wins out of town, he is yet to secure an Open win at the Spa. 2017’s Trotter of the Year was Twisted Pretzel as the Scott Mongeon trainee had just a sensational season. A true Saratoga horse through and through, Twisted Pretzel has competed in nearly all of his 170+ starts at the Spa but it wasn’t until last year that he asserted himself as a true Open force.  Behind fourteen wins (six coming in the Open), Twisted Pretzel had his career year, earning more than $120,000, significantly more than any other local trotter in 2017. Towards the end of last season, there was a new trotter that would emerge, one that dominated the Open in the early stages of ’18.

Ulster has always displayed ability but it wasn’t until the final weeks of last year that he would put it all together and prevail in the local Open. Ulster recorded wins in the final two Opens in ’17, which would ultimately foreshadow what was to come this year. The Amanda Facin trainee not only won the first Open of this season but went on to score in the Sunday feature in three of the first four installments in 2018. With a total of five Open Trot victories already this season, Ulster is one of only two top-flight trotters to register multiple wins in the $14,500 Open this year in a season that has seen multiple different winners of the Sunday feature, many of which scored Open victories for the first time in their career.

Crazycat showed some promise last year but it wasn’t until here in 2018 when the Jose Godinez trainee really saw his potential fulfilled. Bruce Aldrich Jr. co-owns Crazycat and is his regular driver. As a team, Crazycat and Aldrich scored a pair of Open wins this spring as the five year old became just the second trotter to win multiple Opens this season. Seven of the first nine Opens were won by Ulster or Crazycat but that consistency came to an end in mid-April. Crazycat, who dropped in class on Sunday and recorded a win, last won the Open on April 8th. Ulster’s last score in the $14,500 feature came the following Sunday afternoon. Since that time, there have been six Open Trots contested at Saratoga and six different winners.

The trotters that early in the season appeared to be those that would be the top forces throughout the year have regressed a bit and ever since the Open has become wide open. Of the six different trotters that have scored in the last six weeks, there has been a mix of trainers who regularly win Opens and those doing so for the first time. Trainer Rene Allard saw three of his trainees win the Saratoga Open Trot in ’17 a total of four times. With the calendar just turning to June last week, Allard has already registered three Open victories on Sundays as the same trio of highsteppers that prevailed last year for him has done so again early on in 2018. Millionaire Charmed Life, who went one-for-two at the Spa in ’17, recorded an early season win for Allard as the well-traveled mare made her lone local start of the campaign a winning one in March. Charmed Life’s stablemate Consolidator became the only other lady to win the track’s Open Trot this season when she prevailed in late April. Smalltownthrowdown made his seasonal debut a winning when in May, he outclosed his rivals in the Open Trot to prevail. All three trotters have local Open scores already this spring for Allard who is no stranger to winning Opens, whether competing out of town or locally.

While winning Opens is nothing new for conditioner Rene Allard, doing so for a pair of local trainers who each recorded their first career victory in the Open Trot last month certainly was. Tony Ciuffetelli and Amy Dowd added their names to the list of winning trainers of a local Open Trot when Tropical Storm Bi and Mugshots Bro registered Sunday scores in May. Tropical Storm Bi, who owns the fastest time for any local trotter this season (1:54.3), went coast to coast to record his trainer’s first career score in the Open Trot. Amy Dowd’s Mugshots Bro drew the rail in the most recent installment of the Open and driver Jim Morrill Jr, who was in town for the New York Sire Stakes, pulled the longshot first over after the half. Mugshots Bro backed up his driver’s confidence as he toughed out a trip overland to prevail in upset fashion, scoring at odds of 18-1. For Dowd, it was her first ever Open victory of any kind as the six year old trotter that she claimed last year for $15,000 has progressed into competing against top flight competition at the Spa. After his upset score, Mugshots Bro has now added Open winner to his resume as has his trainer Amy Dowd. The Open Trot, which early in the season was dominated by Ulster, and to a lesser extent Crazycat, has now become the most wide-open of levels at the Spa with six winners in the last six installments. Though there was no Open Trot contested last weekend with the Winners Over trot supplanting it, the regular Sunday feature has become as fascinating of a race as we have on the docket each week as the Spa seems to have a new top trotter emerging in each and every installment of Sunday afternoon’s main event.

Live racing takes place every Thursday and Sunday afternoon with matinees starting at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evenings 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!

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