In the last few years, the Open Trot has been contested on Sunday afternoons throughout the season at Saratoga Casino Hotel. In 2014 and 2015, Slugfest became just the third horse since 1955, when the award began being given out, to be named Trotter of the Year at the Spa in back-to-back seasons. Since then, there has been a host of different trotters who have displayed flashes of brilliance for periods of time with maybe one being a bit more consistent than the rest. Earlier this year, Cash Me Out became a millionaire as he moved his career bankroll to seven digits in what has been another solid campaign for the veteran trotter. Though nominated multiple times, Cash Me Out has not yet taken home honors for Trotter of the Year however. Following up Slugfest’s consecutive award-winning campaigns, Stirling Cadet, Twisted Pretzel and Ulster were named Trotter of the Year heading into a 2019 season in which none of the afore mentioned winners have been Open participants. That leaves the door wide open for a new trotter to become the king of the Sunday Opens and at least one has emerged as that new local star.
Bobs Hope has followed a bit of an unconventional path to Open success. For the majority of Open horses, they are private purchases or longtime veterans who have always displayed the propensity to dominate or at least to compete against top-flight horses at the track where they compete. Very rarely does a claimer become an Open participant and it is even rarer that such a horse becomes an Open stalwart. Bobs Hope was lightly raced in the first few years of his career but seemed to love Saratoga upon coming here for the first time in 2017. A fairly inexperienced trotter when he debuted at the Spa in June of ’17, Bobs Hope won his first two local starts while under the guidance of trainer Rene Allard. He was claimed out of his second Spa start by conditioner Norm Dessureault and continued to enjoy success for his new connections following the acquisition. He surged up the claiming ladder and even tested his hooves in the Open for the first time that autumn. Though he didn’t have much success against the track’s top flight trotters at that point, his long-term fate would be quite different when competing against the Open trotters at the Spa. All told, in his breakout ’17 season, Bobs Hope recorded twelve victories including a career-best 1:54.3 score at the Spa and earned more than $66,000.
After a winter stint at Pompano Park in Florida, Bobs Hope came back to Saratoga last year and was claimed by local trainer Amanda Kelley. The claim didn’t result in wins right away but the-then six year old trotter did pile up the second-place finishes and eventually made it back into the local Open in his final start of the campaign. Coincidentally, his new connections also traveled to Pompano to race last winter and Bobs Hope made the familiar trek back to Florida. The speedy high-stepper secured victories in his final two starts down south in February including a career-best 1:54.2 score before coming back to Saratoga and finding himself back in the Open. The winning way that the seven year old trotter rediscovered in Florida carried over to his starts at the Spa when Bobs Hope started from the inside post in his first try in the $15,000 Open Trot.
Veteran driver Jay Randall got the task of piloting the Kelley trainee and why not? Randall was Slugfest’s regular reinsman for his back-to-back award-winning campaigns and also sat behind the current defending Trotter of the Year Ulster in each of his Open victories in 2018. In their debut together, Randall and Bobs Hope parlayed a pocket ride to victory to spring the mild upset at odds of 5-1 in the Sunday feature. He followed up the Open score with a second-place finish to longtime local star Cash Me Out the following week but the runner-up status was one he would not hold for long. Once the calendar turned to April, all Bobs Hope did was win. With Randall in the sulky, the track’s top trotter in 2019 doled out the early speed in each of the next three weeks to cut the mile in three consecutive installments of the Sunday Open. Bobs Hope went coast-to-coast in those races scoring decisive wins in two of them and hanging on to prevail in the other. In the victory in which he held on to win by just a half length, the rising star was parked three-wide to the opening quarter and remained parked out throughout the first lap of the race but still had enough left in the tank to secure the win.
Coming into his start on Mother’s Day afternoon, Bobs Hope was a winner of three straight in the Open Trot and in six of his last seven races dating back to his stint at Pompano. Assigned the outside post once again on Sunday, Bobs Hope found himself in perhaps the toughest spot he’s been in since returning to the Spa in March. Directly to his inside were Cash Me Out and Mandeville, the former a three-time Open winner this season and the latter fresh off a win in 1:54.2, the fastest clocking of the year for any trotter at Saratoga. Bobs Hope took back to last in the early going but wound up first-over after Mandeville cleared the lead approaching the half. Those two battled throughout the final lap before Mandeville reigned supreme in 1:55.3. Bobs Hope was again impressive as he finished second. In thirteen races thus far in 2019, Bobs Hope has amassed over $50,000 in earnings with almost $37,000 coming in his just six local starts, all six as a first or second-place finisher in the Open Trot.
As we sit here in May, it is certainly too early to be seriously thinking about end of the season awards. That being said, the resume Bobs Hope is putting together at the Spa this year is such that he is looking like not only a nominee for Trotter of the Year but certainly the young season’s front-runner. With his early speed as his biggest asset, will Bobs Hope have enough versatility to stand the test of time among local trotters over the course of the entire year? Will his background as a claimer lower his ceiling for potential long-term success? Though he raced very well as a closer on Sunday, almost all of the trotter’s wins have come while on the front-end or after getting a pocket trip. With the quick early speed that he possesses, the seven year old will likely continue to follow that blueprint to success as the season unfolds on Sunday afternoons at the Spa, afternoons that have been hosted thus far this year by Bobs Hope.
Live racing takes place every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon starting at 12:00 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!