The annual autumn series’ reached their conclusion last week at Saratoga Casino Hotel as the track recognized its newest winners of the Gary Kamal Pace, the Jim Derue Trot and the Bunny Lake Pace. The Gary Kamal Pacing Series began back in 2014 so this year’s installment was the ninth in its history, since the autumn series’ did not take place in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. The series for young colt and gelding pacers featured three legs this year leading up to the $36,900 Final contested on October 28th.
Rock Solid Express certainly proved to be the force among the Kamal Memorial contenders. Despite winding up as the runner-up while getting upset in leg one, Rock Solid Express rattled off back-to-back victories leading up to his try in the Final. Drawing post three in the biggest race of the three year old’s young career, the Jessica Okusko-trained Rock Solid Express wasted little time moving out to the early lead with Hall of Famer Wally Hennessey guiding the way. The sophomore pacer dictating the terms throughout while being tracked just as he had been in the previous week by rival Twin B Kingston who got another pocket ride to the 8-5 betting favorite. Those two briefly sparred in the stretch and were joined by Hunky Hanover, a leg one winner, as they battled to the wire. When all was said and done, it was Rock Solid Express reigning supreme to secure the biggest win of his young career. It was victory number seven on the season for the Okusko trainee who becomes the ninth winner of the series named in honor of Gary Kamal who was a standout driver-trainer who raced the New England circuit for many years before settling in at Saratoga and becoming a fixture here for several years. Kamal compiled almost 2,200 wins as a driver in his career before sadly passing away in 2007 at the age of 52 after battling head injuries sustained in racing accidents.
Just one year before the track commenced the Gary Kamal Memorial for pacers, the Jim Derue Memorial Trot started in 2013 at the Spa. The series was named in the memory of Jim Derue, a longtime farrier at the track and friend to so many at Saratoga Casino Hotel. He is the father of Jordan Derue, longtime driver-trainer at the track and former Horseman of the Year Award winner and Brett Derue, the current leading trainer for the ’23 campaign at the Spa. The series serves as a tribute to a man who spent his life around horses and in the harness racing business.
The tenth annual installment of the Derue Memorial was dominated by a trotter who enjoyed success in the Excelsior division of the New York Sire Stakes this summer. Western New York invader Crazy Ritz came to town from Batavia where he won the two starts leading up to the Derue Trot. Trainer Lisa Zabielski assumed training duties for the three year old trotter who announced his presence with authority when in leg one of the Derue, he won by more than a dozen lengths instantly establishing himself as the series’ one to beat. Crazy Ritz followed up the romp with another open-length drubbing of his rivals in leg two but was upset as the biggest possible favorite in leg three of the series heading into last Sunday’s (Oct 29) $39,600 Final. Jim Mcneight Jr. wasted little time moving his talented sophomore to the front to assume a lead he would never relinquish. Crazy Ritz was posed with just a mild threat from Las Vegas Hanover, who defeated him in leg three, before recording the Series Final victory in 1:57.4. Las Vegas Hanover was the runner-up to the 1-9 betting favorite while Sevenatchi rounded out a strong series for himself with a third-place finish in the Final. With the win, Mcneight and Zabielski became the tenth different driver and trainer, respectively, to score wins in the ten years of the Derue Memorial Trot. Derue’s son Brett won the Consolation of the series when his stable’s Yo Cheyenne beat the boys with Brett Beckwith in the sulky scoring in the $20,000 race contested just after the Series Final on Sunday.
While the favorites thrived in the Finals of the Kamal and Derue Memorials, it was a longshot who secured the biggest win of her career in Monday afternoon’s $37,500 Final of the Bunny Lake Pace. Named for the 2001 National Horse of the Year who was based at Saratoga for local Hall of Famer John Stark Jr, Bunny Lake had the series for fillies and mares named after her starting in 2021. Trainer Lisa Zabielski was looking to follow up her win in the Derue Trot with one in the Bunny Lake Pace as her Bri Express N wound up being the favorite in the ladies’ Final. Bri Express N was the only two-time winner among the three legs of the series and wound up attempting a wire-to-wire score in the series’ culmination race. Meanwhile, as the favorite carved out the fractions, it was the race’s longshot HP Mary Sunshine who sat the pocket mirroring the leader’s every move. HP Mary Sunshine got into the Final due to her leg one victory but after a pair of fourth-place finishes in the starts that followed was dismissed by the betting public to the tune of 35-1 odds. Alek Chartrand sat behind the Francis Raia II trainee as she popped the two-hole turning for home before surging past the favorite to become an unlikely upset winner in the third annual installment of the Bunny Lake Pace. It was the biggest career victory for the four year old mare who got hot at the right time and cashed in the series win. Bri Express N had to settle for second-best while Premier Star earned the show spot.
The racing calendar adds Tuesdays to the mix starting this week. Racing takes place on Saturday evenings at 5pm and continues with matinees every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday throughout the month of November. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!