By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Brett Beckwith has watched the Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial in the past but will see it from a whole new perspective Saturday.
Three weeks removed from getting the first Grand Circuit win of his career, the 20-year-old Beckwith will drive Semi Tough for trainer Ron Burke in the 14th edition of the Gerrity at Saratoga Casino Hotel. It will mark Beckwith’s first appearance in the Gerrity, which features eight of the sport’s top male pacers going for a purse of $250,000.
Semi Tough is one of five millionaires in the Gerrity, along with returning champion Tattoo Artist, This Is The Plan, Funatthebeach N and I Did It Myway. The field also includes MGM Borgata Pacing Series winner Hellabalou and Camluck Classic winner Covered Bridge. Idealsomemagic A, who won three prelims in the Borgata series, completes the group.
“It’s super,” Beckwith said about the chance to drive Semi Tough in the Gerrity. “I’m grateful to be in the race. It’s at my home track and it’s always been a fun race to watch every year. To be able to drive in it is surreal.”
Beckwith, who is in his third full year of driving, entered Wednesday with 551 lifetime wins. This season, he has 202 victories (ranking No. 15 among drivers in North America) and $2.02 million in purses, nearly matching the career highs of 230 wins and $2.25 million he set in 2022.
At Saratoga this year, Beckwith trails only two-time defending champ Jim Devaux in wins, and he is tied for third in victories at Plainridge Park.
“I went into this year, not with a certain set of expectations, but I expected a lot out of myself,” said Beckwith, who is the son of driver Mark Beckwith and Saratoga leading trainer Melissa Beckwith. “Saratoga has been really good. Without my parents, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They’ve helped me progress and put me on the map.
“It’s been a good year. I try to hustle as much as I can, going track-to-track to get my name out there. I’m always appreciative of the opportunities I get. Whether it’s in a big race like (the Gerrity) or a non-winners of $2,000, it doesn’t really matter. I’ve just been lucky to get the right opportunities.”
His opportunities have included getting to sit behind Stormcloudfashion and Walcango in divisions of the Tompkins-Geers Stakes when trainer Jim Campbell needed a driver for those races, which were contested 70 minutes prior to the main card at The Meadowlands on June 30. Beckwith won with Stormcloudfashion — his first Grand Circuit victory — and finished second with Walcango.
Earlier in the year, Beckwith drove Joe Holloway-trained Sheer Terror in the Paul Revere Pace at Plainridge, finishing third.
Now on Saturday, he will drive in his first race with a six-figure purse. Semi Tough will start from post eight and is 12-1 on the morning line. Tattoo Artist, coming off a second-place finish behind Charlie May in the W.R. Haughton Memorial last week at The Meadowlands, is the 5-2 favorite for driver Jason Bartlett and trainer Chris Ryder.
“In these races, the eight hole is never easy,” Beckwith said. “Not many horses can win from the back against these types of horses. These horses can go a half (mile) in :54 and keep on going. But you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got.”
Semi Tough, a 7-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere-Jan It Jackson, has won seven of 20 races this year and earned $143,280. He is owned by Burke Racing Stable, Frank Baldachino, J&T Silva-Purnel & Libby, and Weaver Bruscemi.
Twenty of his 30 career wins have come on a half-mile track, such as Saratoga.
“I’m excited,” Beckwith said. “I’ll try to do the best I can for the Burke crew. They’re good people to drive for, and their horses are always ready to go. I think it will be a great race, just from the way it looks on paper. I think it will be action-packed.”
TATTOO ARTIST AIMS FOR REPEAT
In the 13-year history of the Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial, there has never been a horse, driver or trainer win the race more than once.
A victory by Tattoo Artist on Saturday would put an end to all that.
Tattoo Artist, who won last year’s Gerrity for trainer Chris Ryder and driver Wally Hennessey, returns to this year’s race as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Ryder and driver Jason Bartlett. Although Bartlett did not drive Tattoo Artist last year, he did win the Gerrity in 2015 with P H Supercam.
Bartlett and Tattoo Artist will start Saturday from post three.
A 6-year-old stallion, Tattoo Artist heads to the Gerrity off a second-place finish behind Charlie May in the William R. Haughton Memorial last week at The Meadowlands. He has a win and three seconds in five starts since returning from a one-month layoff following the Borgata Series in April.
“He wasn’t himself in the Borgata,” Ryder said, referring to Tattoo Artist’s one win in five preliminary rounds and third-place finish in the event’s consolation race. “After the Borgata, we freshened him up and changed his program around. We put him on Lasix, too, which has helped him. Now, he’s back to himself.”
Since his return, Tattoo Artist has won a conditioned race and been second in the #SendItIn Invitational at Harrah’s Philadelphia, Gold Cup Invitational at Woodbine Mohawk Park, and Haughton. His only off-the-board finish was a fifth in the Dave Brower Memorial from post 10 at The Meadowlands.
In the Haughton, Tattoo Artist raced on the outside for the entire mile. He was eighth at the quarter, seventh at the half, and a three-wide sixth at three-quarters, but rallied to take the lead in the stretch. Charlie May, though, found an opening along the pylons nearing the finish and got up for the victory.
“I thought we were home,” Ryder said, adding with a laugh, “I like Charlie May, but not to beat me when I think I’m a winner.”
Tattoo Artist has won 32 of 83 lifetime races and earned $2.04 million. The son of He’s Watching-Stylish Artist is owned by Let It Ride Stables, Frank Cannon, Diamond Creek Racing, and Bottom Line Racing.
The only other trainer with the chance to win the Gerrity for a second time is Ron Burke, who sends out Hellabalou (3-1), This Is The Plan (6-1) and Semi Tough (12-1). Drivers with the chance to win a second are Joe Bongiorno with Hellabalou, Mark MacDonald with Funatthebeach N (8-1) and Jordan Stratton with Covered Bridge (9-2).
Racing begins at 6:45 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at Saratoga.