Trainers Unveil Young Stars as Stakes Season Begins

For trainers like Paul Kelley, this is the time of year to begin to shine. After all, Sunday afternoon brought about the season’s first installment of the New York Sire Stakes at Saratoga Casino Hotel as trainers unveil their young horses who will compete for top-level purses throughout the summer. Before Sunday’s Sire Stakes kickoff, Kelley brought a trio of young trotters to town to compete on Thursday’s card. Kelley had three, three year old fillies that took part in the matinee program, all of whom were driven by leading driver Billy Dobson and were big favorites in the betting. All three fillies proved victorious on Thursday, each prevailing with relative ease.

While Kelley’s Byway and Fast Love each broke their maiden, it was his The Russian Spy who stood out among the trio. This sophomore filly showed real signs as a freshman when she recorded two wins, a second and a third in just four starts in 2017. Taking a mark of 1:56.1 at Vernon Downs last year, The Russian Spy appears poised for a solid season for Kelley albeit likely while competing in the Excelsiors, the tier of NY Sire Stakes just beneath the caliber which goes for the big money. Though Kelley’s trio was impressive on Thursday, the competition it will face will surely be much more difficult as the spring turns into summer and the Sire Stakes season goes into full swing.

Paul Kelley has been one of several trainers who focuses primarily on young horses and doesn’t race many claimers or many “overnight” horses. He did, though, train the winner of the National Dan Patch Award for aged trotters in 2016 when his Obrigado won top honors among all aged highsteppers in the country. Obrigado was an Open force while competing at Saratoga from time to time and then hit the big time as Kelley’s private purchase simply turned into a superstar. Obrigado is still making his way back after a long winter rest as Kelley says for older trotters like his, the big races mostly take place later in the year. Obrigado’s return will come soon but this is the time of year for the veteran conditioner to start to get excited about seeing who could be the next in his line of stable stars.

As is the case for all trainers of young horses, the springtime is the launch, or re-launch, for their three year old horses that will compete in stakes competition. Industry wide, two year old horses aren’t unveiled as early in the season as their sophomore counterparts and with baby races beginning at a host of tracks in the coming weeks, the freshman pacers and trotters will soon begin to emerge in qualifiers. When I asked Kelley if he has any two year olds he really has high hopes for, he mentioned two to me. Kelley mentioned Winning Habit, a full brother to a superstar trotter named Habitat, who has done all the right things thus far while training. Also, a freshman filly named Seaside Bliss whose mother You Want Me was a Sire Stakes champion a few years ago. The only other foal out of You Want Me won some prestigious races as a two year old and is considered a Hambletonian hopeful here in ’18. His name is You Know You Do and he earned almost $375,000 last season and is thought to be among the top trotters out of the stable of star conditioner Jimmy Takter.

“Usually we get a pretty good feel for our horses when we train them down in the winter and spring,” Kelley told me. “Sometimes we’re wrong one way or another. You have one that does everything right and just never pans out like you’d hope then you have one that you don’t think a ton of that turns out to be great. You never know for sure until they’re out there competing but I think as trainers, we generally have a pretty good idea who we think the top ones out of our barn will be.” While Seaside Bliss is a Pennsylvania-bred, we will have to keep an eye out for Winning Habit who has duel eligibility as a NY bred that is also eligible for Kentucky stakes and is likely to compete in the New York Sire Stakes this summer. She and the rest of the two year old pacers and trotters in the sport will begin to emerge from their stables in the next few weeks with, for many of them, an eye on New York Sire Stakes action which for two year olds begins in July.

Sunday afternoon marked the start of the NY Sire Stakes season at Saratoga as three year old pacing fillies were featured on a star-studded fifteen race program. The Dan Patch Award winner from 2017 for two year old pacing fillies was Youaremycandygirl and on Sunday, the Ron Burke trainee competed for the first time in her sophomore season. Earning almost $900,000 in eleven starts in ’17, Youaremycandygirl bested the top fillies in North America after competing at a high level in the NY Sire Stakes. The super filly won three times in the NY Sire Stakes last year but scored four victories while racing for six-figure purses in ’17 including a win in the Breeders Crown in October. In her return on Sunday, Youaremycandygirl was tasked with defeating the defending NYSS champion Alexis Faith who started from the rail in the $59,100 stakes try on Sunday as well as a few other talented fillies. Youaremycandygirl appeared poised for a track record performance as she opened up a lead of better than a dozen lengths pacing a half in an eye-popping 53.3!! The filly faltered though and sharply dropped back turning for home and it was the Ed Hart-trained Wisdom Tree would wound up upsetting. Alexis Faith, who made an early break in the mile, finished second while the champion filly Youaremycandygirl faded to last in a mile that went in 1:52.2. Sometimes, even with superstars, you just never know what to expect from a young horse.

A pair of Canadian invaders recorded victories in the other two divisions of the Sire Stakes on the matinee card as Ubettergo Go prevailed convincingly in 1:52.3 with Mark Macdonald in the sulky and Pueblo Blue Chip held on to win in 1:54.3 with Jim Morrill Jr. sitting behind. We have started to see the young talent begin to emerge as the pacers and trotters ready themselves for a big summer of stakes action in the coming months with the two year olds set to begin their careers and take part in baby races in the weeks to come. The next installment of the New York Sire Stakes at Saratoga doesn’t take place until July 21stwhen three year old pacing colts are featured as part of seven more evenings of star-studded Sire Stakes action this season at the Spa.

Live racing has a bit of a different schedule this week as a Monday Memorial Day card with a 12:15pm start replaces the regular Thursday matinee. Action will take place on Friday and Saturday night beginning at 6:45pm and on Sunday afternoon with a 12:15pm start to the afternoon card. 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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