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The 2017 harness racing season reached its conclusion on Sunday afternoon at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The final feature of the year was the $19,500 Open Trot which was won by Ulster (Glidemaster). The Amanda Facin trainee won his first Open last Sunday when he scored the mild upset at odds of 6-1 with Jay Randall in the sulky. Ulster repeated after enduring a first-over journey to prevail in 1:55.4. DW's NY Yank (Bruce Aldrich Jr) was late on the scene to finish second while Dragin The Wagon (Phil Fluet) earned the show spot. Ulster returned $13.60 while pulling off his second consecutive mild upset in the trotting feature. The 2017 live racing season has concluded with harness racing resuming on Sunday February 18th of 2018. Mike Sardella

Artful Way (Artistic Fella) continued his dominance of the Open Pace at Saratoga Casino Hotel as the harness racing Jackie Greene trainee won the Saturday feature for the ninth time in 2017. Artful Way sizzled off the car and made the early lead in the $19,500 Open but it took the five year old 26.1 to get to the opening quarter. Leading driver Frank Coppola Jr. just kept rolling the race's 3-5 betting favorite who reached the half in 54.3 and never really had an anxious moment before stopping the timer in 1:51.2 on a snowy night in Saratoga. Artful Way's ninth Open victory of the year was his 14th win overall this season and the 34th in now 100 lifetime starts. Last week's Open winner The Wayfaring Man (Bruce Aldrich Jr) came from last to finish second on Saturday night while Deetzy (Billy Dobson) earned the show spot. Artful Way is a lock to repeat as the track's Pacer of the Year and may be the favorite to be Horse of the Year when the awards are given out next month. Live racing continues on Sunday afternoon with a matinee beginning at 12:15pm. Mike Sardella

Thursday afternoon featured the Snowflake Mini Series for harness racing trotters at Saratoga Casino Hotel. There were two divisions of the lone leg of the Mini Series that will culminate next Thursday with a $15,000 Final. Driver Phil Fluet piloted the winners of both divisions, each of them pulling off upsets. Fluet guided the Lisa Zabielski-trained Wrightwood (Powerful Emotion) to a 1:59.2 score on Thursday as the four year old came from well off the pace before storming past his rivals to pull off the upset in the $7,000 tilt. Despite coming off a win, Wrightwood was dismissed at odds of 16-1 as he repeated and secured his third victory of the season. The other division, which was slated to have nine participants, went for a purse of $7,490. The field shrunk to six after three scratches and again it was Fluet who wound up making a trip to the winner's circle after guiding longshot Mr Butterworth (Mr Lavec) to victory in 1:58.3. The 13-1 shot Mr Butterworth parlayed his pocket trip to score for Fluet and trainer Laurie Tranowicz. Fluet piloted three winners on the matinee card. The Mini Series is for trotters who had earnings of less than $12,500 in 2017 or were non-winners of $20,000 in '16-'17. Live racing continues on Friday night at Saratoga with a 6:45pm first post. Mike Sardella

If you’ve ever wondered what that ‘N’ is after a standardbred’s name in your harness racing program, you’re not alone. An ‘N’ or an ‘A’ that comes at the end of a horse’s name is an indicator that said horse was bred in and likely raced in New Zealand or Australia. There are many foreign invaders (more from New Zealand than Australia) in harness racing. Oftentimes, they are stars. People with connections abroad usually negotiate a price over the phone (or through an agent) and then the New Zealander or Australian makes the long journey to the U.S. But why? Why when there are so many horses bred in this country would people go to such lengths to connect with others abroad to acquire new members for their stables? The answer is fairly simple I suppose. Harness racing is big in New Zealand and Australia and there have been thousands of horses to come over to the states and enjoy success. For a handicapper, it can be a bit tricky as often times all you really have to go on is the mandatory qualifier the horse shows that is contested in the U.S. once he/she gets here. The charted lines from abroad aren’t thorough enough to make an analysis of. One thing that often happens when the new horses come to the U.S. is that they are heavily bet in their first start or starts. That’s because the success rate of these horses is very high not only while racing at Saratoga but at pretty much every track where they compete. Trainer Al Annunziata and owners the Blindswitch Racing Stable seem to have a good thing going. Their pipeline abroad has often brought them some very talented horses from New Zealand and Australia. Those horses with that N’ or the ‘A’ after their name have shown up with regularity for those connections and for the most part, those imports have proven to be very powerful. Though they certainly don’t always work out, many of the invaders have thrived in years past and even more so this season at Saratoga Casino Hotel for Annunziata. On Friday night, the overwhelming betting favorite in the $19,500 Fillies and Mares Open was Annunziata’s Sally Fletcher A. This Australian-bred made her debut for her new connections a few weeks ago at the Spa and looked like she may be next in the long line of pacing mares that have come from overseas and thrived out of the Annunziata stable. Annunziata, who races at several of the tracks in the northeast, has had a big season at Saratoga and currently sits fourth in the local trainer standings. His stable saw its fourth different member win the Fillies and Mares Open at the Spa this season as Sally Fletcher A rolled to a convincing victory on Friday night. Sally Fletcher A, who won the feature in 1:53.1, is now 3-for-3 in the U.S. with a win at Pocono Downs to go with her pair of local scores. The six year old mare, who now owns 17 wins in 59 lifetime starts, went wire-to-wire in each of her first two victories after joining her new home but on Friday night, driver Jimmy Devaux took back in the early going with the public’s overwhelming 1-9 betting favorite. Devaux waited until things settled in a bit and made his move approaching the opening quarter. Once Sally Fletcher A got to the lead, it was lights out. The rising star cruised through the majority of the mile before briefly being tested in the stretch by the pocket-sitter who gave futile chase. Friday night is ladies night at Saratoga and last weekend, Annunziata’s mares scored four victories on the card. On an evening in which Sally Fletcher A prevailed in the feature, Annunziata had three other lady pacers secure victories and two of them were New Zealand-breds. The string of successful New Zealanders continued for the connections of Our Els Dream N and Glenferrie Bronte N on Friday as each of those mares were down in class from where they have competed for the majority of the year. Both Our Els Dream N and Glenferrie Bronte N have been Open participants this season at the Spa. In fact, coming into Friday night, Glenferrie Bronte N’s previous four local starts have all come in the Fillies and Mares Open. With a pair of seconds and a third place finish in those four tries, Glenferrie Bronte N looked like she would be the most impactful of Annunziata’s foreign born mares in the local Open for distaffers. Actually, though she has done well in the ladies’ feature recently, she is not one of the four New Zealand or Australian invaders to prevail for Annunziata in the Saratoga Open this year. Sally Fletcher A and Our Els Dream N joined Quick Draft A and Betabcool N as Open winners in ‘17. Quick Draft A started out the year with a victory in the season’s first Fillies and Mares Open and the New Zealanders and Australians have continued to pile up the feature wins all year long for Annunziata. On a night in which foreign invaders gave Annunziata’s stable three of its four Friday victories, there was another pair of New Zealand-bred mares that secured wins. Carrickmannon N set her lifetime mark at Saratoga last season after coming to town as one of those overseas purchases from the New Zealand pipeline. The mare won 10 times in 2016 and set her lifetime mark of 1:52.3 right here at the Spa. On Friday night, she prevailed in her second start since returning to town while competing out of the Beckwith stable. Myeyesadoreya N became the fifth invader from “down under” to score on Friday night’s card, moving her record to three-for-five since making the trek from New Zealand. Five of the thirteen winners came from New Zealand or Australia on a Friday night that highlighted the pipeline from Oceania to the U.S.A. which has been heavily traveled in the past few years by some very successful standardbreds and is becoming quite a popular path in harness racing these days. That trend is certainly not lost on trainer Al Annunziata and the Blindswitch Racing Stable who have thrived at Saratoga this year with their foreign invaders and most notably with the lady pacers who have been extremely impactful in the Friday features at the Spa. Only two weeks remain in the 2017 racing season at Saratoga with live racing taking place on Thursday and Sunday afternoons beginning at 12:15 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 6:45 p.m. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line! Mike Sardella writes about harness racing Mondays in The Saratogian and The Record. He may be reached at Reprinted with permission of The Troy Record

The Wayfaring Man (Dragon Again) made his local harness racing debut a winning one at Saratoga on Saturday night in the evening's $19,500 Open Pace. The Ron Burke trainee utilized his terrific early speed and situated himself in the pocket behind veteran Dancin Yankee (Mark Beckwith) who got a relatively easy lead in the Saturday feature. Dancin Yankee traveled unopposed in a first half clocked in 57 seconds but after checking in at three quarters in 1:25 was confronted by The Wayfaring Man who pocket pulled and cruised by the Saratoga track record holder en route to victory in 1:53.1. Dancin Yankee was the runner-up while continuing his pattern of finishing second or third every week in the Open Pace. Americanprimetime (Phil Fluet) earned the show spot. The Wayfaring Man, who was driven to victory by Bruce Aldrich Jr, paid $25.80 to win in his Saratoga debut. Live racing continues on Sunday afternoon with a matinee beginning at 12:15pm. Mike Sardella

Sally Fletcher A (American Ideal) moved her record to three-for-three since coming to the U.S. for harness racing trainer Al Annunziata as the six year old mare prevailed in Friday's Fillies and Mares Open at Saratoga Casino Hotel. Sally Fletcher A made her American debut in November when she romped in a condition race at the Spa before setting a lifetime mark last week when airing in 1:52 at Pocono Downs. On Friday night, backed to the tune of 1-9 odds by the betting public, Sally Fletcher A drew away late in the mile to prevail in 1:53.1 in the $19.500 Open for distaffers. Jimmy Devaux piloted the mare to her third consecutive victory. Wishy Washy Girl (Bruce Aldrich Jr) was the runner-up in the Open for the second time in three tries while Tataria (Mark Beckwith) earned the show spot. Annunziata, who currently sits fourth in the local trainer standings, scored a grand slam on Friday night as he also had wins with pacing mares Our Els Dream N, Glenferrie Bronte N and Tracey's Desire. Live racing continues on Saturday night at Saratoga with a 6:45pm first post. Mike Sardella

Cartier Volo (Cash Hall) completed a double for her connections on Thursday afternoon at Saratoga Casino Hotel as the three year old filly prevailed in the harness racing matinee's co-feature. Frank Coppola Jr. piloted Cartier Volo to her fifth win of the season for trainer Dave Spagnola and owner Mike Polansky while competing in the $11,250 feature for New York sired trotters. The sophomore moved out to the early lead and after getting past by a first-over rival, rallied back on the inside and wound up proving best in the co-feature, stopping the timer in 1:59. Coppola and Spagnola also teamed up for a Thursday score with Polansky's Yamaka (American Ideal) who came from off the pace to prevail in 1:57.3. Explosive (Chapter Seven) scored in the other co-feature, overcoming post position eight to win in 2:01 with Mark Beckwith piloting for trainer Brian Walker. Live racing continues on Friday night at Saratoga with a 6:45pm first post. Mike Sardella

Consolidator (Triumphant Caviar) scored her first Open Trot win at Saratoga Casino Hotel on Sunday afternoon. After being a beaten favorite in each of her last two tries in the Sunday feature, the Rene Allard trainee made an easy lead in the $20,780 Open on Sunday and the even money favorite had things her own way throughout. At the head of the stretch, longshot Battle Mage (Phil Fluet) came charging at the favorite who held on to prevail in 1:57. Battle Mage was the runner-up while The Royal Harry (Dan Cappello Jr) earned the show spot. Consolidator moved close to the $100,000 mark in seasonal earnings in her four year old campaign with the win. Billy Dobson piloted the talented mare to the Sunday score and drove two of Allard's three Sunday winners. Dobson had three wins of his own on the matinee card. It was the second consecutive Sunday afternoon in which Dobson and Allard teamed up for a win in the Open Trot as their Smalltownthrowdown prevailed in last weekend's feature. Live racing resumes on Thursday afternoon at Saratoga with a 12:15pm start to the matinee. Mike Sardella

Veteran pacer Texas Terror N (Western Terror) made his return to Saratoga Casino Hotel on Saturday night following a harness racing lifetime best performance at the Meadowlands. The Al Annunziata trainee was the 4-5 betting favorite in the $19,500 Open Pace following a 1:50.1 victory in New Jersey last week. Bruce Aldrich Jr. wasted no time moving the favorite out to the early lead in the Saturday feature and the nine year old pacer took it from there. Following first half fractions of 27.1 and 56.1, Texas Terror N paced a final half in 55.3 en route to his wire-to-wire win that came in 1:51.4. Deetzy (Billy Dobson) sat the pocket to the winner and finished as the runner-up while Dancin Yankee (Mark Beckwith) earned the show spot. The favorites finished 1-2-3 in the seven-horse Open which had an exacta that paid $10.20 and triple that returned $17.20. Live racing continues on Sunday afternoon with a 12:15pm start to the matinee. Mike Sardella

Truth And Liberty (Total Truth) is doing things that are very rarely ever done at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The Bob Lounsbury harness racing trainee was assigned post eight in Friday's Fillies and Mares Open after going last to first just last week in the feature for distaffers. The five year old mare swooped the group once again in this week's installment of the $19,500 Fillies and Mares Open and did so in ultra-impressive fashion with Bruce Aldrich Jr in the sulky. Truth And Liberty got away eighth in the eight-horse field and found herself fourth over at the half. Having to endure a rare four-wide move around the final turn, the star pacer came on to win in 1:53.4 to record her fifth Open win in the last seven tries, including three in a row. Returning a solid $7.40 to win, Truth And Liberty won for the 13th time in 2017 and moved her career earnings to over the $250,000 mark. Longshot Annabeth (Jimmy Devaux) came from seventh to finish second in the Friday feature while Tataria (Mark Beckwith) earned the show spot. Truth And Liberty's victory was her 24th over the last two years as the superstar continues to dazzle. Live racing continues at Saratoga on Saturday night with a 6:45pm first post. Mike Sardella

Smalltownthrowdown (Cash Hall) scored for the second time of the harness racing season in the Open Trot at Saratoga Casino Hotel on Sunday afternoon. The Rene Allard trainee won his first local Open back in July before spending the next two months winless. The four year old trotter returned to the Spa last week after winning four consecutive races at Pocono Downs. Smalltownthrowdown romped in last Sunday's $15,000 Winners Over at the Spa before going off the 1-5 betting favorite in this week's feature. Driver Billy Dobson moved the big favorite out to the early lead in the $19,500 Open and the former Sire Stakes star took it from there. Smalltownthrowdown cruised to a wire-to-wire victory in 1:56.1 on Sunday. Can I Say (Bruce Aldrich Jr) finished second while last week's Open winner Stirling Cadet (Frank Coppola Jr) earned the show spot. Smalltownthrowdown, whose Sunday win was his sixth consecutive, has now recorded 16 wins in 39 lifetime starts. Live racing resumes on Friday evening at Saratoga with a 6:45pm first post. Mike Sardella  

Artful Way (Artistic Fella) was at it again. The Jackie Greene trainee scored another win in the Open Pace at Saratoga Casino Hotel on Saturday night as the harness racing  five year old destined to be the track's Pacer of the Year for the second straight season prevailed in the local Open for the eighth time of the year. Artful Way blasted out to the early lead over a sloppy track on Saturday and the public's 4-5 betting favorite never had an anxious moment before stopping the timer in 1:53. The track's Pacer of the Year in '16, Artful Way is having an even better year in '17 as his Saturday victory was his thirteenth of the campaign, eight of which have come in the local Open. Dancin Yankee (Mark Beckwith) finished second in the $19,500 feature as he kept a streak of his own alive. The pacer who holds the all-time track record at the Spa has competed seven times in the Open this year and finished second or third in all seven. Bet You (Billy Dobson) earned the show spot on Saturday as Artful Way cemented his Pacer of the Year status once again. The local star will certainly be a top candidate to be Horse of the Year in '17 as well. Frank Coppola Jr, who piloted the superstar Artful Way to the victory, had a sensational night. The track's top driver piled up an amazing seven victories on the card, padding an already insurmountable lead in the driver standings. Trainer Jackie Greene had four winners on the Saturday program. Live racing continues on Sunday afternoon at Saratoga with a matinee beginning at 12:15pm. Mike Sardella  

Truth And Liberty (Total Truth) continues to dominate the harness racing competition in the Friday night Fillies and Mares Open at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The Bob Lounsbury-trained mare was assigned post position eight for Friday's try in the $19,500 feature after winning the Open three times in the last five weeks. Driver Bruce Aldrich Jr. was patient while piloting the five year old mare on Friday as they got away last in the eight-horse field of distaffers. Truth And Liberty got in gear approaching the half and wound up first over once again this week- a trip that the razor sharp mare loves. Front-running Wishy Washy Girl (Phil Fluet) fought gamely but proved to be no match for Truth And Liberty in the stretch as track's sharpest mare went on to win in 1:54. Wishy Washy Girl was the runner-up while Bye Bye Michelle (Mark Beckwith) earned the show spot. The win for Truth And Liberty was her twelfth of the year as she has proven that her breakout 2016 campaign, in which she won eleven races, was no fluke. On Friday night, the winner was the 6-5 betting favorite despite the difficult post position. The exacta and triple paid $29.20 and $197.50, respectively. Live racing continues on Saturday night at Saratoga with a 6:45pm first post. Mike Sardella

Artful Way (Artistic Fella) looks to be cementing his second consecutive harness racing 'Pacer of the Year' honors at Saratoga Casino Hotel. On Saturday, the Jackie Greene trainee secured his twelfth win of the season and seventh victory in the local Open Pace. The five year old who earned top honors among pacers at the Spa in 2016 is actually having a better season in '17 and on Saturday parlayed a pocket trip to victory, scoring in 1:51.4 with Frank Coppola Jr. in the sulky. The race's front-runner Deetzy (Billy Dobson) set sizzling fractions early on in the $19,500 feature but faded a bit late. Sitting a patient pocket in a first quarter in 26.3 and half in 55.4, Artful Way made his move approaching three quarters and powered away from his rivals to score as the public's 1-2 betting favorite. Last week's Open winner Rocknroll Wildcats (Jimmy Devaux) closed from last to finish second on Saturday while Chevals Clivesdale (Bruce Aldrich Jr) earned the show spot. Coppola, who is running away with the lead in pursuit of his twelfth career driving title at Saratoga, piloted three winners on the Saturday card. Live racing continues on Sunday afternoon at the Spa with a 12:15pm first post. Mike Sardella

Truth And Liberty (Total Truth) continued her harness racing hot streak on a cold night at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The Robert Lounsbury-trained distaffer went last to first to prevail in the $19,500 Fillies and Mares Open on Friday night. Bruce Aldrich Jr. piloted the five year old mare who wasted very little time moving first over in the six-horse feature before grinding front-running Glenferrie Bronte N (Jimmy Devaux) into submission. Truth And Liberty, who stopped the timer in 1:54.3, came on to win the fillies and mares feature for the third time in the last five starts. Keene Olivia (Billy Dobson) followed the winner's cover and came on to finish second while Glenferrie Bronte N had to settle for third. Truth And Liberty was the 4-5 betting favorite on Friday night and led an exacta and triple that paid $26.40 and $52, respectively. Live racing continues on Saturday night at Saratoga with a 6:45pm first post. Mike Sardella

Deli-Delite (RC Royalty) continued her breakout harness racing season on Thursday afternoon at Saratoga Casino Hotel. The Tony Mondi-trained sophomore trotter spent the summer racing in the New York Sire Stakes. The three year old had enough success to qualify her for the $225,000 Sire Stakes Final contested in October though, unfortunately, she was scratched sick from that event. Deli-Delite has rallied back after that disappointment and on Thursday afternoon, prevailed in the $11,250 co-feature for New York sired trotters at Saratoga. Coming off a convincing win last week at the Spa, Deli-Delite was up in class for her most recent assignment but passed the test with flying colors. Backed by the betting public to the tune of odds of 1-9, Deli-Delite made an easy lead on Thursday and never had an anxious moment. She appeared to be wrapped up at the wire by leading driver Frank Coppola Jr. as she stopped the timer in 1:58 for her fourth victory of the season. Coastal Region prevailed in the other co-feature as he cruised to another convincing score for trainer Robert Dill and driver Jay Randall. Coastal Region's win, which came in 2:00.1, was his seventh of the season as he has thrived at the Spa since coming to town this summer. Live racing continues on Friday night at Saratoga with a 6:45pm first post. Mike Sardella

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