Stal­baum con­tin­ues suc­cess even af­ter turn­ing train­ing du­ties over to Tarantino

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Mike Sardella

Life­long horse­man Larry Stal­baum has en­joyed suc­cess through­out his ca­reer and when the Michi­gan na­tive comes to town with his horses, the vet­eran reins­man al­ways seems to thrive.

Owner of the ma­jor­ity of the horses that he brings to Saratoga Casino Ho­tel, Stal­baum trained his own in the early part of this year and fared ex­tremely well when he came to town with the mem­bers of his sta­ble. A few months back, the 56 year old turned over train­ing du­ties to Tracy Tarantino and the re­sults have stayed al­most ex­actly the same. The Stal­baum-Tarantino barn has been on a tear at the Spa and re­cently has seen one of its top pacers emerge as a vi­able Horse of the Year can­di­date.

The New Zealand-bred Crock­ets Cullen N came to the United States in the fall of 2018 and af­ter one start for Stal­baum at Yonkers, the seven year old de­buted at Saratoga in Oc­to­ber of last year. The tal­ent of the American in­vader was ev­i­dent from the getgo as Crock­ets Cullen N pre­vailed in his first start at the Spa be­fore win­ning the Open Pace in his just his sec­ond lo­cal try. In that start, the ris­ing star set a life­time mark of 1:51.4 for Stal­baum who has thrived with the New Zealand pipe­line in re­cent sea­sons. Crock­ets Cullen N won the Open in two of his five starts in it last sea­son and is prov­ing to be the best of that strong group of pacers that has come via New Zealand to en­joy more than a fair amount of suc­cess for Stal­baum.

If 2018 served as the com­ing out party for Crock­ets Cullen N, the ‘19 sea­son is the break­out cam­paign for the pacer who has recorded wins at three dif­fer­ent tracks and has com­peted at a high level at a to­tal of five tracks this year. Af­ter the tear that Crock­ets Cullen N has gone on at Saratoga in the past cou­ple months,

though, there is lit­tle doubt what track is the fa­vorite of the su­per­star pacer. This spring, Crock­ets Cullen N won a pair of races at the Spa, one in the con­di­tional ranks be­fore grad­u­at­ing to the Win­ners Over, the un­der­card to the pac­ing fea­ture, in which he recorded yet an­other vic­tory. Fol­low­ing that win, the eight year old would never again see a class un­der the Open Pace in starts con­tested at the Saratoga. With two sec­ond­place fin­ishes in the Open un­der his belt this spring, Crock­ets Cullen N went on his tour of the north­east. The speedy star has com­peted at Har­rah’s Philadel­phia as well as Mo­he­gan Sun at Po­cono Downs in Penn­syl­va­nia in ad­di­tion to his New York tracks of Saratoga, Yonkers and Mon­ti­cello.

Crock­ets Cullen N re­turned to Saratoga in Au­gust while now un­der the guid­ance of Tarantino and looked like the same horse we saw this spring when he es­tab­lished him­self as a force among the track’s top pacers. Fol­low­ing a fourth­place fin­ish in his re­turn to town, Crock­ets Cullen N found that win­ning way again when in his fi­nal start in Au­gust, he swooped the group in the Open Pace. Once he dis­cov­ered the win­ning way, he wouldn’t lose it, at least not in his lo­cal starts. Stal­baum brought Crock­ets Cullen N to Yonkers af­ter his Open win on Septem­ber 21st but the pacer saw one of his few flaws flare up as he made breaks in back-to-back starts. Fol­low­ing a win­ning qual­i­fier, it was back to the

Spa for Crock­ets Cullen N mid­way through Oc­to­ber. If there were any ques­tions as to whether the breaks and the suc­ces­sive qual­i­fier were go­ing to take any of the edge off of the Stal­baum star, they were an­swered im­me­di­ately upon his re­turn to town.

Not only did Crock­ets Cullen N pick up right where he left off in Saratoga’s Open Pace but he dis­played ver­sa­til­ity in do­ing so. Stal­baum had Crock­ets Cullen N come from off the pace to record his first three Open scores this sea­son but upon his re­turn flashed the pow­er­ful pacer’s early speed. Start­ing from posts four and six, Crock­ets Cullen N went coast-to-coast in con­sec­u­tive $18,000 in­stall­ments of the Open in miles that were near car­bon copies of each other. Af­ter go­ing wire-to-wire in 1:52 and 1:52.1, Crock­ets Cullen N had moved his win streak to five in starts in the lo­cal Open. If it aint broke don’t fix it for Stal­baum whose de­ci­sion to con­tinue to race his star at Saratoga must have been an easy one as Crock­ets Cullen N was back to town last week­end. As­signed post po­si­tion eight in Novem­ber’s first Open, Crock­ets Cullen N wound up go­ing off at odds of 4-1. Not bad for a horse that came in as a win­ner of five straight against the Spa’s top pacers. Which tac­tic would Stal­baum use this time while sit­ting be­hind a horse who had sat back early on be­fore fly­ing in the fi­nal half en route to three Open wins and had gone wire-to-wire in his most re­cent two scores? Well, a lit­tle bit of both. In Satur­day’s $18,000 fea­ture, Crock­ets Cullen N left from his out­side post but set­tled in mid-pack find­ing a seat in fourth in the early go­ing.

Af­ter flush­ing out cover from the race’s fa­vorite ap­proach­ing the half, Crock­ets Cullen N drew along­side the horse who served as his cover and those two traded strides around the fi­nal turn. Crock­ets Cullen N did what he does and im­posed his will in the stretch be­fore com­ing on to win in 1:52.4. That’s a nearly un­heard of SIX con­sec­u­tive wins in Open Pace tries for Crock­ets Cullen N who has not only thrust him­self into con­tention for Pacer of the Year but is now a se­ri­ous can­di­date for Horse of the Year at Saratoga.

Though Hud­son Phil still owns the most wins for any Open Pacer in 2019 with eight, Crock­ets Cullen N has won six con­sec­u­tive and has recorded eight of his twelve ‘19 vic­to­ries right here at Saratoga. On Satur­day night, Stal­baum and Tarantino teamed up for three straight wins as their Teo En­teo A and Shady City each reg­is­tered vic­to­ries for an­other big night in what has been a ter­rific year in some­what lim­ited starts at the Spa for Stal­baum who owns al­most 6,000 ca­reer wins as a driver. Could his sta­ble star Crock­ets Cullen N add more than just Open stal­wart to his re­sume when the end of the sea­son awards are given out at Saratoga later this year? It’s some­thing that wouldn’t have even been a con­sid­er­a­tion a month or so ago but now seems like it’s very much pos­si­ble as Crock­ets Cullen N has be­come the new­est New Zealand in­vader to turn into a su­per­star at the Spa for Stal­baum.

Live rac­ing takes place ev­ery Wednes­day, Thurs­day and Sun­day af­ter­noon start­ing at 12 Noon and on Satur­day evening be­gin­ning at 6:45 pm.

Mike Sardella

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