There was no doubt that Saratoga Casino Hotel was the place to be on Saturday night as the eyes of the harness world converged on the historic track. Wiggle It Jiggleit became the first National Horse of the Year to race at Saratoga since homegrown talent Bunny Lake won the local Open in 2004. That John Stark Jr-trained mare was the National Horse of the Year in 2001 and wrapped up her career after the ’04 season with more than $2.8 million in earnings, which at the time of her retirement was second all-time among lady pacers in North America. While there has been some incredible talent to compete at Saratoga in the last decade, Saturday night marked the local debut of a racing phenom, 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggle it Jiggleit. The sensational four year old is having another terrific year in ’16 as a follow-up to his award-winning campaign in which he earned just shy of $2.2 million. Competing against the best horses in North America this year, Wiggle It Jiggleit had banked $673,667 in fourteen starts heading into Saturday night’s try in the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace.
Always the richest night of harness racing for the year at Saratoga, Gerrity night not only featured the $260,000 Invitational Pace but also consisted of a pair of New York Sire Stakes races for three year old pacing colts that went for purses of $91,550 and $89,950. The three weekly Opens were all contested on Saturday night as well with the regular $15,000 Opens seeing their purses get bumped up to $25,000 each. In total, there was better than $600,000 in purses distributed among the evening’s fourteen races. As per tradition, there was a t-shirt giveaway in conjunction with the eighth annual Gerrity Memorial with the purchase of a Saratoga program. There was free ice cream cones given to the first 500 people in attendance courtesy of Stewart’s Shops and the evening featured 75 cent hot dogs and sodas in honor of the 75th year of racing at Saratoga. The star-studded race card and the night’s specials brought out a big crowd on the beautiful summer night.
There was a horse buzz throughout the city as the biggest night of the year at the raceway came in conjunction with opening weekend at the race course across the street. Many fans made a full day of it and completed a racing doubleheader with the nightcap at the raceway following an afternoon at the thoroughbred track. Perhaps they would see a piece of history as the track and world record of 1:48.4 set by Dancin Yankee in the Gerrity two summers ago seemed within reach albeit a bit unlikely due to the incredible win time that would need to be eclipsed. If there was a horse that could do it, it was likely the race’e 6-5 morning line favorite Wiggle It Jiggleit. The public’s overwhelming choice drew post position five in the eighth annual Gerrity that was contested as fans flooded the rail to watch the race’s superstar pacer. Things looked awfully dicey in the early going as Wiggle It Jiggleit got parked out three wide at the start. Driver Montrell Teague waited as the horses sorted themselves out but stuck on the outside, the young reinsman had no choice but to drive on with the phenom who eventually cleared the lead after being parked to the half in 54.4. The public’s 1-9 betting favorite looked to steal a breather in the third quarter and boy did he ever get one. The third quarter was paced in just 29 seconds flat as Wiggle It Jiggleit had a chance to back things down with major danger Bit Of A Legend N boxed in on the rail. Wiggle It Jiggleit kicked away turning for home and sprinted the final quarter in 27.1 en route to a two length victory. Montrell Teague fist-pumped at the wire as the crowd roared in approval. The final time of 1:51 was certainly nowhere close to the track record but factoring in that heading to the half it appeared that the champ might be in trouble, the victory was surely a welcomed sight for team Teague and the fans who came out to see the equine sensation.
Bit Of A Legend N closed sharply up the rail and surged past a few rivals to finish second besting All Bets Off who after sitting the pocket to the favored winner had to settle for third. Teague waved to the fans as they expressed their appreciation for not only the effort that they had witnessed but perhaps the overall greatness of the horse as he paraded back to the winner’s circle. The presentation was made to the connections of Wiggle It Jiggleit by members of the Gerrity family who were on hand for the annual event. Clyde Francis trains Wiggle It Jiggleit who is now less than $10,000 away from banking $3 million in his incredible career. The four year old has now won 33 of his 42 career starts and has done so in large part against the top horses in North America. What a performance, what a horse and what a night it was on Saturday at Saratoga as a National Horse of the Year was in town for the first time in well over a decade. Wiggle It Jiggleit adds his name to the list of previous Gerrity winners Eagle Real One, Arts Ragin Jet, This Is Wyatt, Classic Rocknroll, Bolt The Duer, Dancin Yankee and PH Supercam. Bolt The Duer shattered the track record in 2013 when he prevailed in 1:49 but his mark only lasted a year as Dancin Yankee set the track and world record on a half mile track with his 1:48.4 score in the Gerrity in ‘15. The annual event has been a major success throughout the years and the list of winners now includes the reigning National Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit who by rule is automatically eligible to take part in next year’s Gerrity should his connections choose to bring him back to town.
Live racing moves to the extended schedule this week with racing every Tuesday through Saturday starting at 7:05pm. That schedule will remain through Labor Day. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!