Sardella’s Column

Panocchio Named Saratoga's 2014 Horse of the Year


The 2014 racing season came to an abrupt halt a couple weeks ago as the winter weather caused the track surface to be deemed unsuitable to race. The cancellations caused the final two plus weeks of the racing season to go by the wayside. On Sunday night, though, the season officially came to a close as the annual holiday banquet took place at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga. The season’s awards were doled out to the group of successful horses and deserving people who enjoyed big years in 2014. The majority of the winners were on hand or had representatives presen to accept their awards on Sunday evening.
             Panocchio entered his name into the record books as he was named Aged Pacer, Pacer and Horse of the Year. The Open Pacer had a sensational campaign for trainer Jimmy Mattison and regular driver Gerry Mattison who was on hand to accept the award with Panocchio’s co-owner Emile Johnson Jr. The five year old prevailed in the Open seven times en route to becoming by far the most prolific winner in the Open Pace in several seasons at the Spa. It was a dominant year for Panocchio who was the Saturday night feature’s biggest force despite not competing in the style necessarily best suited for Saratoga. Panocchio isn’t a horse who a lot of early speed but rather did almost all of his damage from off the pace in his award winning 2014 campaign.   
             Open trotter Slugfest took home top honors as Aged Trotter and Trotter of the Year. The Maureen Salino trainee came out of the gates strong in the spring and dominated the Open early on in the season. Though he was not at his best during the summertime, Slugfest again thrived when the weather got cold and he finished up his year with three consecutive victories. Jay Randall was Slugfest’s driver in almost every one of his local tries this season. While Panocchio earned almost all of the votes in the pacing categories, Slugfest got a run for his money in the balloting from fellow trotter Obrigado who was dominant in his local races but didn’t have nearly the amount of starts or money made at the Spa than did Slugfest.
             Road Bet came to town this summer and wound up winning six times in the Fillies and Mares Open. Utilizing her terrific early speed, the four year old became the winningest mare in the ladies’ Open in ’14 and was named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. Road Bet is trained by Kyle Spagnola. Let’s Go Higher, who was the Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year in 2013, finished second in the voting this season while looking to become the first distaff pacer since Dandy’s Jewel in ’07-’08 to go back to back in the ladies category. 
             The winners of the awards for Claiming Pacer of the Year were Big Bambu ($5000-$7500 level), Clooney Drummond ($12500-$15000) and Coach Cal ($20000 and up). Filly and Mare top claimers were Canamerica ($5000-$7500) and Shortest Distance ($10000 and up). Savage Cinderella was named Claiming Trotter of the Year for the lower levels while the race to be the top claiming trotter with price tags of $12500 and higher was the closest of all the votes this season. Fear The Football edged Baby Boy Grin, who was also a nominee for Trotter of the Year, and Morosita Bi, who climbed the claiming ranks from the bottom to the top this year.
             Two year olds who won awards were Starznheaven for pacers and Kinda Naughty for trotters. The three year old winners were both horses that not only raced at a high level locally but also thrived in the New York Sire Stakes. Spreester, who was the Two Year Old Pacer of the Year last season, had a sensational campaign in 2014 for trainer Paul Zabielski as she not only dominated the three year old filly division of the Sire Stakes but also competed at a high level in the Fillies and Mares Open in the fall at the Spa. Cash Me Out joined Spreester as rare horses to win top honors as both a two year old and three year old as he was named the track’s top sophomore trotter. Much like Spreester, Cash Me Out had a terrific year in the Sire Stakes but also raced well in his starts at the Spa including a few tries in the local Open. Spreester became the first pacer to win the two year old and three year old awards since Alpine Dandy did it in ’02-’03 while Cash Me Out achieved that accomplishment for the first time among trotters since Omega Angel did it in ’03 and ’04.
             Trainer Heidi Rohr won her first local training title this year and was subsequently named Trainer of the Year and Horsewoman of the Year. The 35 year old Rohr, who also won both awards last season, finished second in the trainer standings the previous two years at the Spa but secured the title in ’14. Billy Dobson won his fifth consecutive driving championship this season and subsequently was named Driver of the Year once again. The Horseman of the Year saw a first timer win. Jordan Derue became the ninth different winner of the award in the last thirteen years as the young horseman finished second in the trainer standings and sixth amongst drivers. The voting for both the Johnny Page and Peerless McGrath Awards were landslides as Austin Siegelman ran away with the race to be named the track’s top up-and-coming driver while Don Sherman won the Peerless McGrath award recognizing trainers who are up-and-coming or had a breakthrough season at the Spa. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners and especially to Panocchio who subplanted Bolt The Duer as Saratoga’s Horse of the Year following an incredible campaign in 2014. Thank you to all of those who helped make the 2014 racing season a success at Saratoga and we look forward to being back with you on Sunday March 1st when racing is scheduled to resume. Until next year, I’m Mike Sardella wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and we’ll see YOU in 2015 at the finish line!  
 
 




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