Most series’ that are contested over the course of the year at Saratoga Casino Hotel are for younger horses. Series’ such as the JP Morel, Virginia O’Brien and Gary Kamal Pacing Series’ and John Mongeon and Jim Derue Trotting Series’ are normally comprised of six year olds and younger. The two newly started series’ that got underway last week, though, are for pacers and trotters who haven’t had the best seasons. The Holiday Trotting Series and Holiday Pacing Series kicked off on Thursday and Friday, respectively, and are for horses who were non-winners of $12,500 this year as of 10/31/16. The purpose of these series’ is to essentially give some horses who aren’t having the best year a chance at some late season money while battling other horses who are in a similar situation. While there were just two divisions of the first leg of the Holiday Trot on Thursday, there were four divisions of the Holiday Pace on Friday, each contested for a purse of $6,000.
Though the series’ were comprised of a mix of young and old, it was the “old” guys that got it done on Friday night in the Holiday Pace’s first leg. Mayfield Hanover was a nominee for Claiming Pacer of the Year at the $12,500 level and above in 2015 as the Don Sherman trainee put together a strong eight year old campaign. The nine year old season for Mayfield Hanover has not been quite the same though. Maybe father time is catching up to him a bit or perhaps it’s just a bit of a down year for the veteran pacer but Mayfield Hanover headed into leg one of the series with just two wins and no second place finishes on the year. Quite the contrast from a ’15 campaign in which he scored eight wins and hit the board nineteen times en route to over $46,000 in earnings. On Friday night, Mayfield Hanover was the second choice in the wagering and powered up first over to test the race’s favorite heading to the half. Mark Beckwith piloted Mayfield Hanover to what would be an open length win in 1:55.2, a time that would be the fastest of the four leg one winners.
Mayfield Hanover wasn’t the only winner that Beckwith would pilot during Friday’s series, in fact, he wasn’t the only Hanover he would guide to victory. Avogadro Hanover was the biggest longshot to prevail in leg one as the Jen Sansone-trained veteran upset at odds of 15-1. Taking advantage of an early speed duel in the race, Avogadro Hanover came from the back of the pack to secure his fourth victory of the season. While nine and eight year olds Mayfield Hanover and Avogadro Hanover showed that they have something left it the tank, the old man of the series scored maybe the most impressive victory of leg one.
Paradise Willie broke a track record this fall when the Simone Noud trainee went coast to coast in an October score. What was historic about the victory was that the old man pacer set the track record for thirteen year old with a 1:53.2 romp. Not only did Paradise Willie set a track record that day but he set a new lifetime mark for himself, a nearly unheard of feat for a horse of his age especially for one that has earned more than a quarter million dollars in his career. The veteran campaigner rediscovered the winning way on Friday night despite starting from post eight in his $6,000 division of the Holiday Pacing Series. Driver Billy Dobson moved Paradise Willie out to the early lead and despite sustaining pressure throughout the mile, the old-timer held strong in the stretch to record a 1:55.4 score. The thirteen year old…still getting it done. I’m Blue Too was the other leg one winner. No “kid” himself, the seven year old I’m Blue Too parlayed his pocket trip to a 1:56.4 win. The second leg will take place next Friday night with the $15,000+ Final scheduled for closing weekend.
Thursday’s program featured just two divisions of the Holiday Trotting Series and much like in the pace, an old timer shined. Twelve year old Tagmaster entered the series perhaps as the sharpest of any of the trotters but the post draw seemed like it might really hurt him. Tony Ciuffetelli owns, trains and drives the veteran highstepper who got away eighth in the nine horse field on Thursday. Tagmaster made it look easy late as he put the swoop to the group circling the field seemingly with ease before drawing away to win by almost five lengths. Though he was perhaps a bit fortunate that the favorite in his race made a break, Tagmaster was ultra-impressive on Thursday and certainly stamped himself as the one to beat in the Holiday Trotting Series. The other division was won by Golden Stroke (Stephane Bouchard) who at the age of six was the youngest of the six winners in the first leg of the Holiday Series that kicked off this week at the Spa. The trotting series’ second leg is set to take place on Thursday and will feature Tagmaster and Golden Stroke in the same division with them starting from posts one and two, respectively. The Final is scheduled for closing week. Next week in this column I will announce the nominees for the 2016 awards as the stats will be considered for races contested through December 4th.
With just two weeks remaining in the ’16 racing season, Thursday racing begins at 4pm while Friday and Saturday night action starts at 6:45pm. Sunday matinees take place kicking off at 12:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!