With less than a month left in the 2022 racing season, Melissa Beckwith is all but certain to see her name at the top of the trainers’ standings at the conclusion of the meeting at the Saratoga Casino Hotel.
The veteran conditioner won an incredible eight training titles at Spa between 2011 and 2019, trailing only in 2014 before what would have been an unprecedented nine consecutive championships. Although the Beckwith stable starts more horses each year than almost anyone else, the impressive winning total is not just a reflection of quantity, it is certainly quality. Since Mark and Melissa Beckwith came to Saratoga to set up shop nearly fifteen years ago, the pair have put together a near-dominant stable every year. And while their successes have been spectacular in recent seasons as well, the Beckwith barn hasn’t been Saratoga’s best in either of the last two campaigns coming into ’22.
Gary Levine became the first non-Beckwith head coach since 2014 when he won his first championship in the somewhat abbreviated ’20 season. Last year it was veteran Larry Stalbaum who secured his first training title since coming to town just a few years ago. Taking zero out of the great seasons of the Levine and Stalbaum stables over the last two years, a major factor in Beckwith taking a rare back seat in the standings is that a portion of their huge stable spends their time competing at Plainridge Park in Massachusetts, so much so that in 2020, Beckwith was the head coach at Plainridge.
While several members of the Beckwith barn are still spending a good portion of the season in New England, the production at Saratoga has been nothing short of sensational. In fact, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that Beckwith will eclipse the all-time mark for wins in a season for a trainer at Spa. And while that feat is unlikely, Beckwith has already set career highs for wins and purses in a year. Currently third in the training standings at Plainridge, in addition to being a lock to add another title to her growing pile, Melissa Beckwith reached the 200-win mark in the ’22 season last week. 143 wins with four weeks left in the meeting leaves Beckwith just a few dozen behind the record for a trainer, a milestone set by Colin Johnson in 2009 when he trained 172 winners in the historic campaign.
The size of the Beckwith stable has grown over the past few years, but barn size wasn’t the only reason for the hefty winning total. In fact, with a current batting average of .417 locally (and .405 overall, including several hundred out-of-town starts), Beckwith is enjoying her best year yet. With $2 million in purses up for grabs, Beckwith broke her previous mark for purses won in a one-year season that would see her make history as a nine-time champion in training at Spa.
The diversity of the Beckwith barn was the spectacular quality that allowed the leading stable to accumulate near, and perhaps still, record results. The Beckwith-trained ladies have been a complete force in the Lilies and Mares Open this season. Probert will likely be the betting crowd’s favorite on Monday afternoon as she looks to claim her fourth win in the women’s feature this season and add to her trainer’s tally of ten ahead of Monday’s $16,000 stake Open for differences. Her stablemate Sea Shadows will no doubt be nominated for Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year when nominations are released in a few weeks. Sea Shadows, who finished third in last week’s Open, has seven wins in Monday’s regular feature, more than any other mare on the track this year. Beckwith has won a total of sixteen Opens this season at Spa recording three wins in both the Boys’ Open Pace and Open Trot to go with ten for the ladies.
While the open horses normally and understandably get a lot of awards, achieving a 200-win year certainly doesn’t come just because of the top horse’s achievements. A noteworthy Beckwith trainee who started the year strong and has incredibly maintained his degree of clarity throughout ’22 is Drawing Dragons. In 31 local starts, Drawing Dragons put together a campaign that saw him win fifteen races and hit the board 23 times en route to more than $100,000. A picture of consistency in perhaps the best season for any horse in the Beckwith barn, Drawing Dragons is Saratoga’s winningest horse in the 2022 season and accounts for more than 10% of his stable’s earnings.
The annual awards/holiday banquet will return this year after a two-year hiatus, and there is no doubt that Beckwith interns will be recognized with honors. Melissa Beckwith’s ninth training title will result in her being named Trainer of the Year and more likely Rider of the Year. Sea Shadows is the clear favorite to give her trainer what would be her second prize winner in any of the Pacer, Trotter or Filly and Large Pacer categories. Beckwith’s Happy Heart was named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year in 2019. Drawing Dragons will be a shoo-in for Claiming Pacer of the Year after posting her aforementioned six-figure campaign with fifteen wins . It remains to be seen if other Melissa Beckwith trainees have earned nominations, but here are a few things we do know about her ’22 campaign. Her ninth training title will come in resounding fashion despite a big season from conditioner Andy Gardner.
Gardner held the lead at the start of the meeting following a local “rookie” campaign that saw him take home the Peerless McGrath award for emerging local trainers. Gardner finished second in the standings in ’21, beating out Beckwith for second behind Larry Stalbaum that season. Gardner is having a great campaign to follow up his award, his first full year at Spa, but will have to settle for second once again as the lead for Beckwith in the trainers’ standings is unsurpassed in what she will be. record ninth training championship at Saratoga Casino Hotel.
There are three weeks left in the season, with live racing taking place on Saturday evenings at 5pm and Sunday and Monday afternoons starting at midday.