By Dick Jerardi
I have been in the prediction business pretty much my entire adult life. My process has been altered through the years, but a few basics are unchanged: try to compile as much information as possible before arriving at a conclusion.
Trying to predict anything during this pandemic, much less when racing will return at Parx, has required me to alter even those basics. Hard to come to a conclusion when the information consists of so many moving parts.
After being on a call last week with several representatives from Gov. Wolf’s office as well as three representatives of the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania, I can say that the governor’s office clearly understands that horse racing can return safely in the state.
My role, as somebody who has covered racing on the national scene for 35 years and has visited every major race track in the country, was to explain how safely racing was conducted in Florida and Arkansas all winter and spring, how racing is now being conducted safely in Maryland, Kentucky, Texas and California among other states and how racing will be conducted safely during the first week of June in New York and Ohio.
I was also able to explain how the race track world works, that there are actually far more people working on the backstretch in the morning than will be needed to conduct racing in the afternoon, that since everything will be outside, it will be quite easy to comply with protocols that have worked so well at all the other tracks.
When I got off the call, I felt the governor’s representatives had a much better understanding of how and why live racing should return as soon as possible.
When Bucks County goes to yellow on June 5, I got every sense that the governor’s office would approve having live racing return to Parx without fans.
From the start of the pandemic, PTHA president Sal DeBunda and executive director Mike Ballezzi have been working long hours behind the scenes with the horsemen and for the horsemen. That remains true now during the final stages before reopening, with Sal and Mike trying to get live racing back as soon as possible while talking regularly to their members, officials from the governor’s office, the Pennsylvania Racing Commission and Parx administrators, all of whom are playing a part in the restart.
If I am right about what the governor’s office is going to do and I think I am, once the racing commission officially approves the track reopening, it would then be up to Parx management when live racing would actually begin.
The Parx racing office needs to be re-assembled, a condition book must be written and distributed so entries can be taken and racing can resume.
My guess is live racing returns on a Monday. Could it be as soon as June 8? Probably a longshot because there are so many moving parts.
The 15th is more feasible, with June 22 being about the latest opening I could envision.
So we are talking somewhere around 100 days from the time the track closed for live racing to when it is going to reopen, a time that must seem like an eternity to everybody who has mounting expenses and no revenue. I wish I could make the time go faster or be able to say with certainty the exact date when there will be racing again at Parx. I can’t do that, but I can say we are much closer to the end than the beginning.
By Dick Jerardi
It was not quite an invasion over Memorial Day weekend, but the Parx stable gate was quite busy as the first of what will be hundreds of horses that had been stabled elsewhere were permitted into the barn area to join the horses that have remained in training at the track during the shutdown.
It is not quite a return to racing, but it is a start, with more stalls filling up. When racing will return remains unclear. Bucks County moves into the state’s yellow zone in early June so it is getting closer. New York racing returns June 3 at Belmont Park. Live racing returns to Delaware Park June 17, pending state approval. Looks like they are close at Laurel Park in Maryland, but nothing definite yet. Racing returns to Belterra Park in Cincinnati June 4.
Gotham Stakes winner Mischevious Alex will be returning from South Florida to Parx for trainer John Servis to get ready to run in the 7-furlong, Grade I Woody Stephens June 20 at Belmont Park. If all goes well there, Servis may look at the Indiana Derby. Depending on that result, Servis may also look at the Kentucky Derby in September.
Yes, the Triple Crown has been reconfigured with the longest race now the shortest and the last race now the first, but an actual schedule gives us all hope that something approaching normal is closer.
In addition to Mischevious Alex, owned locally by Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett, there is a chance for a second horse with Parx connections to be a player in the Triple Crown races.
Ny Traffic, owned by John Fanelli, Zacney and Bennett, just keeps getting better. The horse, who made the first three starts of his career at Parx, finished third in the Risen Star Stakes, second in the Louisiana Derby and, last Saturday, second to unbeaten and highly-touted Maxfield in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs. His Beyer figures have gone from an 82 to an 89 and now to a 95.
Was nice to see 2018 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Discreet Lover back to the races for owner/trainer Uriah St. Lewis. The horse, who had not raced in 13 months, ran 11th of 12 at 102-1 in the Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs. Hopefully, now that Discreet Lover has had a race, there will be better days ahead.
AN ADDITION TO THE BEST AT PARX LIST
I knew I was going to miss a few on my list of the best horses to run at Parx since the track opened in 1974.
I forgot the 2016 Pennsylvania Derby that featured the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Nyquist and Exaggerator.
The horses did not run well at Parx, with Nyquist sixth and Exaggerator seventh. But they both had wonderful careers. Nyquist, the 2015 2-year-old champion, earned $5.1 million and won five Grade I races, including the Derby, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Florida Derby. Exaggerator earned $3.5 million and won three Grade I races – the Preakness, Santa Anita Derby and Haskell. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby.
By Dick Jerardi
So, what exactly is going on? That is the question everybody on the Parx backstretch is asking themselves and anybody who will listen.
Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs and Oaklawn Park never closed. Gulfstream and Oaklawn have casinos that closed, but they kept on racing without fans.
Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, Charles Town and Golden Gate Fields opened last week. Laurel Park is scheduled to open this week. Belmont Park will open in two weeks. The Ohio tracks have been given the green light to open. No fans, but betting and a chance for the stakeholders to earn a living.
It has been proved that it is safe to conduct racing without fans. It is quite understandable why some of the tracks in areas hit hardest by Covid-19 waited the longest. But if they can run at Belmont Park, next to the hardest hit area of the country, there is no reason they can’t run in Pennsylvania.
For some reason, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who is trying to do a very difficult job under unprecedented circumstances and has always erred on the side of safety, has lumped race tracks in with concert halls and casinos, unable to open until the all clear is given everywhere. Racing, of course, is conducted outside in a huge area. It is a very different setting from casinos and concert halls and the successful models are there for how it can be done safely.
Parx has some specific issues that other tracks with casinos do not have. The purse structure is incredibly dependent on slot machine revenue as mandated by state law. Slot revenue accounts for 85 percent of the purse money at Parx while pari-mutuel handle accounts for 15 percent.
That said, there is money in the purse account from when racing stopped in mid-March. So, even without the Parx casino open, racing could begin again around June 1.
It is unclear when casinos will reopen and the slot machine revenue turned back on. Given social distancing, it is likely even when the Parx casino does open that there will be considerably less slot play. The purses may have to be cut until all the slot play that was there before returns. Trying to predict when that might happen is risky, just like trying to predict anything with Covid-19.
One thing is not debatable: racing can be conducted safely at Parx and the other tracks in the state. Owners, trainers, jockeys and so many other race track workers have been affected negatively by the shutdown. It was a national shared sacrifice that most rational people understood.
But where there is a business that can be safely reopened, there really is no reason not to reopen that business. Horse racing in Pennsylvania is one of those businesses. Hopefully, the powers that be in state government can see what is happening in surrounding states and make it happen here, the sooner the better.
By Dick Jerardi
With so much time to think, I was thinking about the best horses ever to run at Parx since 1974 when the track opened as Keystone. My criteria was subjective, but included national impact, divisional championships, Grade I wins, graded stakes wins, Hall of Fame induction, overall talent and longevity. Five Horses of the Year and three Hall of Famers have run at the track. I came up with 40 horses and three Also Eligibles (one as an entry). May have missed a few and left off a few that had great racing records, but did not have graded stakes wins. Here is my top 10, followed by the best of the rest in no particular order.
1. Spectacular Bid. Finished off his 2-year-old season with a win in the Heritage Stakes on Nov. 11, 1978 at Keystone. It was his ninth race that year. Think about that and how differently the top horses were campaigned then. Bid won five stakes and three Grade I races as a 2-year-old. Won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before somehow losing the Belmont Stakes. Perfect season in 1980 when he was Horse of the Year, going 9-for-9 with five Grade I wins while setting track records in California, winning in Illinois on his way back east and capping his career with a walkover in the Woodward because nobody wanted to run their horse against the great Bid. Was 2-year-old and 3-year-old champion, as well as champion older horse. Won 26 of 30 starts and is in the Hall of Fame.
2. California Chrome. Ran one of the worst races of his life when sixth in the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby. That was an anomaly for the two-time Horse of the Year (2014, 2016) who won the Derby, Preakness, Dubai World Cup and Santa Anita Derby. A lock Hall of Famer as soon as he is a finalist, Chrome won $14.7 million. Was named 3-year-old champion and champion older horse.
3. Smarty Jones. Only reason Smarty is not No. 2 on this list is longevity, but those nine races from November 2003 (first two races came at Philadelphia Park) to June 2004 will live with all of us forever. The Rebel, Arkansas Derby, Kentucky Derby sweep and the $5 million bonus, the biggest margin in Preakness history, the incredible effort in the Belmont Stakes, 3-year-old champion. I thought Smarty was a better horse than Chrome and I know he would have been a Triple Crown winner had the jockeys let him cruise on the Belmont lead like they did American Pharoah and Justify.
4. My Juliet. Won 24 of 36 races. Champion sprinter in 1976, the great filly ran Kentucky Derby winner Bold Forbes off his feet in that year’s Vosburgh. Was 4-for-4 at Keystone, her home track, including a win in the 1975 Cotillion. Won at tracks from California to New York. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.
5. Gun Runner. Finished second in the 2016 Pa. Derby. Had an incredible 4-year-old season, including wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Woodward, Whitney and Stephen Foster. Was 2017 Horse of the Year and champion older horse. Finished off his career with a win in the Pegasus Invitational and earned almost $16 million.
6. Black Tie Affair. Started his career at Keystone on Sept. 28, 1988 for trainer Walter Reese. Raced seven times at Keystone. Was later sold and raced all over before a tremendous finish to his career in 1991 which culminated with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. Won 18 of 45 races and was named 1991 Horse of the Year and champion older horse.
7. Ashado. Won the 2004 Cotillion. Finished her 20-race career with seven Grade I wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Was 3-year-old filly champion. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
8. Dave’s Friend. A little personal privilege. My all-time favorite horse was 3-for-3 at Keystone. If he had been better managed, he would be known as one of the great sprinters in history. Won 35 of 76 starts with 16 seconds and 8 thirds racing from 1978 to 1986. Ran at an incredible 21 different race tracks _ Pimlico, Keystone, Monmouth, Belmont, Bowie, Laurel, Meadowlands, Aqueduct, Suffolk, Churchill, Louisiana Downs, Ak-Sar-Ben, Detroit, Thistledown, Hawthorne, Hollywood, Santa Anita, Oaklawn, Turf Paradise, Darby Downs and Fairgrounds.
9. Broad Brush. Won the legendary 1986 Pennsylvania Derby, going from first at the top of the stretch to last after bolting to the outside fence and then back to first. Won four Grade I stakes, including the Santa Anita Handicap and Wood Memorial. Won $2.6 million and nine graded stakes.
10. Havre de Grace. Won the 2010 Cotillion, holding off her great rival Blind Luck in the stretch. Beat the boys in the 2011 Woodward at Saratoga and was named 2011 Horse of the Year.
Here are 30 more in no particular order with comments. It’s a fascinating list and tells you how many wonderful horses have run at the track in its 46 years.
11. Songbird (Won 2016 Cotillion and lost by an inch in the BC Distaff, the first loss of her career. Named 2-year-old and 3-year-old filly champion).
12. Untapable (Won 2014 Cotillion before winning BC Distaff. Was 3-year-old filly champion).
13. Gallant Bob (Champion sprinter won 23 races and nearly $500,000 when that was a big number).
14. Bayern (set track record in 2014 Pa. Derby before winning BC Classic).
15. Revidere (won 1976 Cotillion, three Grade I stakes and was 3-year-old filly champion).
16. Smarten (won first Pa. Derby in 1979 and three other Derbies).
17. Sacahuista (DQ’d from first in the 1987 Cotillion before winning Ruffian, Spinster and BC Distaff. Was champion 3-year-old filly).
18. Will Take Charge (Won 2013 Pa. Derby after winning Travers. Named 3-year-old champion).
19. Temperence Hill (Finished fifth in 1980 Pa. Derby. Won Arkansas Derby, Belmont, Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Super Derby. Was 3-year-old champion).
20. Wayward Lass (won the 1980 Schuylkill Stakes at Keystone. Won the Mother Goose and placed in four other Grade I stakes). Champion 3-year-old filly.
21. Jaywalk (won 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Named 2-year-old filly champion).
22. Cathryn Sophia (won 2016 Kentucky Oaks).
23. Discreet Lover (won 2018 Jockey Club Gold Cup).
24. Imperial Hint (won four Grade I sprint stakes in New York).
25. Formal Gold (finished second in 1996 Pa. Derby. Won four graded stakes in 1997 and compiled the highest Beyer speed figures of the 1990s).
26. Macho Uno (won 2001 Pa. Derby. Named 2-year-old champion in 2000).
27. Roamin Rachel (Won seven stakes, including one Grade I, one Grade II and one Grade III).
28. Xtra Heat (Ran once at Philadelphia Park in 2000. Won 26 races, including 25 stakes).
29. Plum Pretty (Won 2011 Cotillion and Ky. Oaks).
30. Jostle (won 2000 Cotillion, Alabama and CCA Oaks).
31. Lost Code (second in 1987 Pa. Derby. Won Derbies in four states. Also won Oaklawn Handicap and Massachusetts Handicap).
32. Summer Squall (won 1990 Pa. Derby after winning the Preakness, Blue Grass and Hopeful).
33. Frosted (won 2015 Pa. Derby. Also won the Wood Memorial, Whitney and Met Mile).
34. McKinzie (won 2018 Pa. Derby and three other Grade I stakes).
35. Dainty Dotsie (won 20 of 24 races, including 10 stakes).
36. Monomoy Girl (Perfect season ended when DQ’d in 2018 Cotillion. Won BC Distaff and 3-year-old filly championship).
37. Midnight Bisou (Placed first in 2018 Cotillion. Perfect season ended with a second in 2019 BC Distaff. Named older filly and mare champion).
38. Close Hatches (Won 2013 Cotillion and four other Grade I stakes).
39. Blind Luck (Finished second in 2010 Cotillion. Won six Grade I stakes, including Kentucky Oaks and Alabama, Named 3-year-old filly champion).
40. Abel Tasman (Finished second in the 2017 Cotillion. Won six Graded stakes, including the Kentucky Oaks. Was 3-year-old filly champion.
AE Ben’s Cat, Pure Sensation (tie). You could set your clocks for Labor Day every year for the last decade, wake up, go the track and watch either Ben’s Cat or Pure Sensation win the Turf Monster.
AE Flatter (the great Pa. bred steeplechase champion began his career with five flat races at Keystone in 1982).