01/16/2015 12:12AM

Giwner: Gingras stirring memories of Case

Geri Schwarz
Driver Yannick Gingras moved his game to a new level in 2014.

More than 20 years ago I read a handicapping piece authored by Bob Pandolfo which mostly centered on Walter Case, Jr., but if memory serves also included fellow former Yonkers Raceway driving kingpin Luc Ouellette. The premise of this opinion article was that certain drivers move horses up or make them better.

Although Pandy doesn’t even remember writing the piece for Sports Eye back in the early 1990s, it has stuck in my mind for years. Case was a rare talent. The now forced-into-retirement driver was once the best half-mile track driver I ever saw. He dominated Yonkers to the point where in some races he would be listed to drive at least half the field and would get his choice of the lot.

While having the ability to choose the best horse certainly contributed to his gaudy win percentage (he routinely hovered around a 30% win rate and even recorded a .506 Universal Driver Rating one year), it was a special talent which made Case so larger than life on the track. Case simply made horses go faster and it really didn’t matter how bad the horse looked on paper.

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I saw Case win with horses that hadn’t seen the winner’s circle in years. He would take horses that hadn’t seen better than sixth in months and win with them in the same class. You threw out one of his horses, who were almost always odds-on, at your own risk.

While it is always nice to reminisce about the past, the real reason for this column is for the first time in nearly a generation I think we are seeing that special driver that can “move horses up”. His name is Yannick Gingras.

We all watched as Gingras dominated the sport in 2014. He won a Case-like 25% of his races and his horses earned more than $5 million more than the next closest driver. Some people will say that driving for top barns like Ron Burke and Jimmy Takter have simply catapulted Gingras to his current lofty status. But that is only half true. Gingras makes horses better!

   Walter Case Jr.

Just look at Brookroaddonnie. The 5-year-old won on Thursday (1-15) at the Meadowlands for the first time since September 2013. He lost all of his 16 starts in 2014 and hadn’t raced since December 12 at the Meadowlands. Enter Gingras. He sent the Bruce Borden trainee down the road to the tune of a new lifetime mark of 1:54 1/5, two seconds faster than his previous mark.

One week prior, Gingras steered a similarly dull Chocoholic down the road to score his first win at the Meadowlands since 2013. Let’s keep in mind that he wasn’t doing this for a top-10 barn. Chocoholic is conditioned by Donald Maiorano.

From the handicapper’s perspective, probably the best thing about Gingras is that he always seems to give your horse a chance. Whether you wagered on a favorite (somewhat likely if you are playing Gingras) or a longshot, Gingras typically puts the horse in play at some point in the mile.

At only 35 years of age, Gingras is at the top of his game. And we are talking about a sport where some of the top drivers (Ron Pierce, David Miller, Brian Sears) are in their late 40s or 50s. So there is still plenty to look forward to.

Case is still one of the best drivers I’ve ever seen and certainly my top choice on a smaller oval. His prowess on the track may be far in the rearview mirror, but Gingras is stirring those memories once again.   

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