I got my start as a fan of Saratoga Casino Hotel, then just known as Saratoga Harness, back in the mid 90’s.
As a casual fan at first, I certainly recognized the regular names. Frank Coppola Jr, Dan Cappello Jr. They did most of the damage among local reinsmen, winning most of the driving titles at the Spa at the time. Those “top dogs” were joined in the majority of races by familiar faces Brian Cross, Scott Mongeon and Jay Randall. And when he wasn’t traveling, John Stark Jr was a consistent stalwart in the sulky as well. While there were several other drivers who called Saratoga home in those days, some of whom are still competing locally, there were others like Denis St. Pierre who have come and gone on numerous occasions.
St. Pierre was always known for making speed with horses, getting the most out of those he sat behind. While at Saratoga in the mid 90’s, the native of Canada consistently enjoyed a strong level of success. Towards the end of the century, St. Pierre made his return to Canada to compete full time and the talented pilot simply thrived. Denis was a sulky standout, earning more than $1 Million in purses in every year but one from 2000-2012 while driving in over a thousand races consistently throughout that span. While most of his damage was done north of the border, there was a time when St. Pierre headed back to his old stomping grounds and competed as a Spa regular once again. Driving for three-time Spa training champion Colin Johnson and then two-time top trainer Jackie Greene (Jackie Rousse at the time), St. Pierre enjoyed plenty of success in his “second stint” at the Spa. He was the regular reinsman for the top local stable for a couple of seasons and within that time, Denis drove the 2007 Pacer and Horse of the Year Gimmebackmybullets. In that historic season, Gimmebackmybullets not only was the dominant force among pacers but on a warm summer evening, he matched the all-time track record when he won the Open in 1:51 with St. Pierre in the sulky. That season, Gimmebackmybullets, who was just four years old, earned over $200,000 between Saratoga and Canada with the majority of his earnings coming in local starts in a year in which St. Pierre finished fifth in the local driver standings despite splitting his efforts between the Spa and several Canadian tracks.
Not far after the award-winning campaign of Gimmebackmybullets, we didn’t see much of St. Pierre anymore. He made his return to Canada full-time and thrived for several years before seeing his starts sharply decline in the last handful of years. This season, the now 60 year old St. Pierre has made his return to Saratoga once again. Running a stable with his girlfriend Tiffanee Staley, St. Pierre has again found some local success. On Tuesday afternoon, an up-and-coming trotter who has emerged as one of the stable stars a few months into the 2021 campaign rattled off her third consecutive local victory and fifth in her six starts at the Spa.
When Tesla Seelster made her Saratoga debut in early May, she did so with a win in the Wine and Roses Series at Woodbine in Canada to her credit. St. Pierre piloted her to that victory in the $13,600 leg of the series and together, they overcame a tough journey to score in that race. Then came the relocation to Saratoga for the four year old trotting mare who didn’t waste any time in making her presence felt at the Spa. Tesla Seelster cruised to back-to-back front-running scores for St. Pierre in the non-winners of two race lifetime class. While things started out perfectly for Tesla Seelster in her local races, it wasn’t all perfection for the high-stepper in the starts that followed. Upon stepping up in class on the final day of May, Tesla Seelster made an early break taking her right out of the race. The next week, she drew post position seven and couldn’t get into the mix. Maybe Tesla Seelster did what a lot of horses do. They win in the lower level conditions and once they graduate, it becomes clear that maybe they reached their peak. Fast forward a month later and we now know that that certainly isn’t the case with Tesla Seelster.
The Staley stable’s promising youngster Tesla Seelster got parked out as her race’s 8-5 second choice in the wagering in her start on June 16th and what resulted was pretty special. It isn’t very often a horse wins parked the mile and for a four year old trotting mare to do it is even more special. The youngster showed her gutsiness by taking the overland journey to the winner’s circle and that victory seemed to reignite the mare who has now won over half of her starts in 2021. Tesla Seelster toughed out yet another difficult journey in her next start and got up to win by a nose in 1:56.3. Last Tuesday, St. Pierre had seemingly had enough of the tough trips and after the 1-5 betting favorite got away fourth in the early going, the veteran reinsman cut her loose and brushed right into the lead approaching the half mile pole. From there, she trotted away from her rivals to prevail by almost six lengths in mile clocked in 1:56.1, the fastest time for the mare since coming to Saratoga a couple months ago. Her record now sits at six for ten in the win column this year and five for seven in her local starts as St. Pierre and Staley have found themselves a young, budding trotter who could continue to thrive at the Spa this summer.
While Tesla Seelster has been the driving force behind St. Pierre piloting ten winners in fifty starts since returning to Saratoga, there is another trotter who is clearly the star of the barn. Reign Of Honor was a new addition to the Staley stable in May and the young high-stepper has raced six times since changing connections. After a win and a second in his first two local starts, Reign Of Honor overcame a Tesla Seelster-esque journey to grind out a victory in his lone local start in the $14,000 Open Trot. The four year old followed up that win with a score at Yonkers when going for a purse of $28,000 before competing in a $135,000 race at the Meadowlands. It probably won’t be long before we see Reign Of Honor back at the Spa to take on the track’s top trotters.
While the top members of the Staley/St. Pierre stable have been trotters, a young pacer has shown big time promise in recent weeks as well. Bettor Half started his career right here at Saratoga back in May and showed some flashes of good things. On Monday afternoon, the three year old drew the rail and despite being installed at odds of 9-5 in the morning line went off at odds of 6-1 for St. Pierre who sat behind Bettor Half as he broke his maiden in front-running fashion. The maiden win came in 1:55.2 for Bettor Half whose trainer Tiffanee Staley is now training to an average of .527 overall this year, albeit in just 26 starts in ‘21. Her next win will be the 100th of her career as a conditioner. As for St. Pierre, his third stint at the Spa is proving to be another successful one and though he isn’t driving at the same frequency as in his past local stays, the Canadian native is still finding speed when he sits behind horses as he continues to add to his more than 4,100 career victories in the sulky.
Live racing takes place this week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons starting at Noon before adding Saturday to the schedule this weekend. Saturday first posts will be 6:45pm. This will be the final week that contains Wednesday afternoons with just one exception in September.