Keith Jones

Dick Jerardi is an award winning sports writer as well as a radio/television host and commentator, and is arguably best known for covering the sport of Horse Racing.

Though his work as a journalist at The Philadelphia Daily News, Dick has covered every Triple Crown race since 1987 (he is a five-time winner of theRed Smith Award for Kentucky Derby coverage). Dick Jerardi famously chronicled the remarkable Smarty Jones during the Triple Crown chase of 2004 s the Thoroughbred won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes for trainer John Servis.

Since 2011 Jerardi has been an on-air analyst for the live television broadcasts of The Pennsylvania Derby from Parx Racing, most recently for NBC Spots Philadelphia.

Many fans know of Dick Jerardi’s work from the long running Let’s Go Racing TV program where he works alongside fellow Parx Hall of Fame members Keith Jones and producer Bruce Casella.

Dick also continues to provide color commentary for the live broadcasts of Penn State basketball.


JUNE RETURN AT PARX

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.

HORSES RETURNING TO PARX

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.

TRACKS OPENING AGAIN. WHY IS PENNSYLVANIA DIFFERENT?

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.

BEST HORSES TO RUN AT KEYSTONE/PHILADELPHIA PARK/PARX

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).

CLOSEST THING TO DERBY DAY

By Dick Jerardi

There were no spectators. No roses. No “My Old Kentucky Home.’’

But, for one glorious afternoon and early evening, on this first Saturday of May, Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. became America’s track, racing fans, serious and casual, gathering around their televisions to celebrate Derby Day.

The record handle for Arkansas Derby Day, with 60,000 fans, was $19 million. This year, with no fans, but with bettors staring at computer screens and punching in bets around the country, the handle was $40 million. The players were ready to fire on Derby Day, even without “the’’ Derby.

It was not like being at Churchill Downs in Louisville, but there was still a connection. I’ve been to the Derby 33 times, once as a fan and 32 times to cover it. The day and the race never disappoint. Don’t know what it will be like in September, if huge crowds are a thing by then. We can hope.

Meanwhile, I was dazzled watching the races at the track Smarty Jones put on the national map. I was especially dazzled by what the man who has won more Triple Crown races than any trainer put on the track as afternoon was turning to evening.

There had been so few major 3-year-old preps that 22 horses were entered for the Arkansas Derby so the race was split into divisions for the first time since 1960. And that man, Bob Baffert, had the favorite in each division. Both entered the gate unbeaten. Each remains unbeaten. It was the Baffert-Baffert sweep with Charlatan and Nadal and neither race was ever in doubt.

Charlatan is just raw speed. In three starts, he has not been behind a horse at any stage. After blowing away the Arkansas Derby by 6 lengths, Charlatan has now won his races by a combined 22 lengths. That is domination.

It is true Charlatan was slowing down in the final eighth, but it really didn’t matter as he had already run the competition into a state of exhaustion.

Baffert has been trying to teach Charlatan to relax in his morning workouts. The lessons are not taking yet. The colt just desires to go so Baffert instructed jockey Martin Garcia to ride him like he was on Bayern, the colt that set the Parx 9-furlong record when he won the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby on the lead.

Nadal was just as impressive as Charlatan. His second division win came against a much stronger field that included the winners of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Tampa Bay Derby and Louisiana Derby.

Unlike Charlatan, Nadal, who is certainly fast, is not speed crazy. Baffert has been teaching him to rate in his workouts. Nadal clearly has learned his lessons. The colt stayed just off a solid pace, took a real challenge from King Guillermo in the stretch and stormed home a 3-length winner.

So that’s 7-for-7 for Charlatan and Nadal, but a 4-month wait for the Derby. Baffert would have liked to run the Derby on Saturday. Clearly, his horses were ready and so were we.
But he will have to wait as will we. Meanwhile, the good feelings from Arkansas Derby Day remain.

KENDRICK CARMOUCHE CAN’T WAIT TO RIDE AGAIN

By Dick Jerardi

Kendrick Carmouche is a born storyteller. After 3,257 wins from 19,385 rides over 20 years, the Parx Hall of Fame jockey has some stories to tell.

He has not ridden since March 15 at Aqueduct. He runs and then bikes a few miles near his Delaware home most days, but misses the action of the track.

“I miss it because this is what I do,’’ Carmouche said. “It’s good to spend time with the wife and kids, enjoy their presence while we can because this is a critical situation right now. But I love riding. I could go ride any day. I miss it so much.’’

He misses his time at Aqueduct. He also misses his Mondays and Tuesdays riding at Parx, the track that will always be his favorite.

This weekend, the first weekend in May when we all should be watching the Kentucky Derby, Carmouche will be in Hot Springs, Arkansas., 388 miles from where he grew up in Arnaudville, Louisiana (population, 1,000).

He will be riding Ice Princess for trainer Danny Gargan in a stakes race Friday at Oaklawn Park. He will stay around Saturday to ride Tax for Gargan in the Oaklawn Handicap and longshot Mo Mosa for trainer Mike Maker in the first division of the Arkansas Derby, the closing day of the meet.

It will also bring Carmouche full circle to 2006 when he rode the entire Oaklawn meet, the last time he was at the track.

“I love Arkansas,’’ he said. “It’s like home for me. It’s close to Louisiana, feels like home. The people treat you good. It’s the feeling of being in the country.’’

He is driving to Arkansas, leaving Tuesday, with a planned Thursday arrival. Just the thought of being back in Arkansas brought back wonderful memories from his first year riding in Louisiana at Delta Downs and Evangeline Downs as a 17-year-old, 10-pound apprentice.

Carmouche took 21 rides to win his first race at Delta and then another 40 to win his second at Evangeline in Lafayette, 23 miles from his hometown. He will never forget that second win.

“Let me tell you a story,’’ Carmouche insisted. “I had been getting on this horse, galloping this horse, working this horse, Just Super. I’ll never forget his name.

“I tell my brother, `please, bet this horse.’ I was the 7 horse, I’ll never forget that. This horse went off at 75-1. I told my oldest brother, please bet this horse. I had another buddy that always looked out for me (and always bets on my horses).’’

The brother got to the track too late. The buddy did not. Just Super was, in fact, the 7 horse and just as Carmouche remembered, a chestnut. It was May, 29, 2000, closing on 20 years now. The horse may have been 75-1 when Carmouche came onto the track. After his friend was finished betting, the horse was 57-1.

Just Super won by a nose, 4 1/2 furlongs in 53.80. The friend shared some of the loot.

“Before I left Louisiana to go to Texas to ride, my teddy bear was full of money,’’ Carmouche said.

KIDD BREEDEN WAITING AT HOME, HOPING TO RETURN TO ACTION

By Dick Jerardi

Kyle Frey’s last ride was on March 10 at Parx. Angel Arroyo’s last ride was four days later at Laurel Park.

Those are the two riders that jockey agent John “Kidd’’ Breeden represents at Parx.

“Kidd’’ is now at home in Newark, Delaware “doing stuff at the house that’s been pushed to the side for the last 15 or 20 years, some painting inside, yard work, stuff like that.’’

When a jockey wins a race, he gets 10 percent of the owner’s 60 percent of the total purse. An agent typically gets 25 percent of the jockey’s earnings, but the percentage is negotiable.

Right now, Breeden is getting 25 percent of nothing. He has applied for a government small-business grant. He has also been told that a self-employed worker like him will soon be able to “file for some form of unemployment.’’ Being a jock’s agent is like being a contractor. You are your own boss so it takes time for the safety net to reach you.

Frey is galloping horses at Parx for trainer John Servis. Arroyo is galloping for Trevor Gallimore. So they are in some action, but it’s not afternoon action.

“They’re getting paid a salary I think to work for those guys,’’ Breeden said. “They’re not making the money they could be making, that’s for sure.’’

It’s that way for just about everybody at Parx. It is a very much a community where all the members rely on each other.

The horses are still getting the daily care they require from all the dedicated backstretch workers, but it’s so hard without the rewards that come from racing itself.

So we all wait, try to remember the good times and hope there are more good times coming soon.

It was 15 years ago when Breeden was right there with his jockey Jeremy Rose during Afleet Alex’s great run through the winter and spring of 2005.

“A lot of good memories that’s for sure,’’ Breeden said.

Rose, who bought a pizza shop near where he grew up in Central Pennsylvania, has not ridden since Dec. 7, 2019 at Parx and may be retired. If so, he left behind some lasting accomplishments that included the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, 2,664 wins and mount earnings of nearly $80 million.

Breeden and Rose were an inseparable exacta in 2005. It was a months-long feast that began in Arkansas, moved through Kentucky, Maryland and ended in New York.

It was a time never to be forgotten. Now, as we all wait, we hope for more great times and unforgettable memories. But, at this very moment, we would all just settle for something in the vicinity of normal.

MISSING THE DERBY PREP RACES

By Dick Jerardi

I miss the Santa Anita Derby. And the Blue Grass Stakes. And the Wood Memorial. Thankfully, we had the Florida Derby and we will have the Arkansas Derby.

But everything is just off, not just for the Kentucky Derby prep season, but everywhere.

Still, in our little world, it is those annual Derby prep races that are the sign that the Triple Crown races are on the horizon. Each race gets scrutinized for the clues that will determine the winners of the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

I love watching the preps almost as much as I love watching the Triple Crown races themselves. I watch the prep race videos over and over, looking for the touted horses that may have already peaked and the horses that may peak on Derby Day. It is a fascinating exercise that is my bridge from the end of the college basketball season to the heart of the big-time horse racing season.

This year, there was no end to college basketball season which was disorienting enough because it ended just as the most important part of the season was about to commence. That was especially meaningful to me as, in one of my other lives, I spent the winter months as the radio analyst for Penn State men’s basketball. And this season’s team was ranked as high as No.9 and was in the top 25 almost all of 2020. And then, just like that, it was over.

At least, horse racing season is not over. And it’s fun to be able to watch the races from Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn Park. Horse racing is the one sport that is actually positioned to have some opportunity as more than 90 percent of the money has been bet away from the tracks for years now. So, horse racing is a sport that can still be operated safely and, in some cases, profitably, without fans at the track.

Still, that doesn’t help all the owners who can’t run their horses at Parx and almost all of the country’s other tracks.

The Derby is not going to be run without fans. Nor is the Preakness or the Belmont. We are talking a quarter million fans spending millions and millions of dollars at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day and Derby Day. The Preakness and Belmont are very much dependent on patron dollars for tickets and amenities.

We know the Derby has been moved to the first Saturday of September. We just have to hope it will be run then. Anybody who says they know anything for certain is just making it up. We don’t have dates for the Preakness and Belmont because it is so hard for the track operators to make plans when it is so hard for the scientists to make any definitive pronouncements about the Covid-19 virus.

What of the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby? Again, hard to make plans when the dates for the Preakness and Belmont have not been announced. If those races are moved to September and October so the traditional two-week, three-week spacing can be maintained, it would make most sense for the Travers and Pa. Derby to be moved up to early August and become Ky. Derby preps for a year.

But I don’t get the sense that Pimlico or Belmont officials have great interest in running their races during the NFL season, again if there is a football season. So, as we hit mid-April, nobody knows anything. And we wait, hoping for some positive news from the scientists and doctors, telling us when it is safe to resume our normal lives.

SENIOR INVESTMENT ON A ROLL FOR SCOTT LAKE

By Dick Jerardi

Scott Lake-trained horses have started 28,813 times. Lake, who began training in 1987, has won more races at Parx than any trainer and was a member of the inaugural Parx Hall of Fame class, has sent out 6,104 winners and those horses have earned $118.6 million in purses.

But, like most of his compatriots in the mid-Atlantic, Lake has been stuck on those numbers for several weeks as nearly everything in society has come to a halt. Whenever racing returns, Lake will have a serious star in his Parx barn ready to win stakes.

Lake claimed Senior Investment for $50,000 on Sept. 9, 2019 at Delaware Park for owner Richard Malouf. The horse was 2-1 that day, the only time in a 31-race career he has been favored.

“We were just hoping he was a solid 50 horse and we ended up winning a shake on him that day,’’ Lake said. “He turned out really good.’’

On March 14, Lake sent Senior Investment to Laurel Park for the $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial. The 6-year-old went right to the front and blew the field away, winning by 5 lengths and getting a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

Before he claimed Senior Investment, Lake called the horse’s original trainer, Kenny McPeek. It was McPeek who was training the horse in 2017 when he won the Lexington Stakes and was third in the Preakness.

“Kenny told me the horse never had any issues whatsoever,’’ Lake said.

The Johnson Memorial was Senior Investment’s third consecutive win and fourth straight big speed figure, numbers the horse had not hit since he was a 3-year-old.

“I’ll tell you what really moved him up,’’ Lake said. “Two things. The groom (Hermenio Guevara) that I have who rubs on him is fantastic and Josue Arce gallops him and he’s a tough, tough horse and Arce’s got him going beautifully.’’

Senior Investment has already won $120,590 in 2020. The horse won the majority of his $702,367 in 2017 and now has 7 wins, along with 4 seconds and 4 thirds.

Senior Investment was the final horse Lake started before the last of the mid-Atlantic tracks closed. Now, like everybody else, he waits.

“As of right now, we’re just training and keeping our fingers crossed hoping for the best,’’ Lake said. “I’m trying not to get the horses too geared up, like they’re totally coming out of their skin and then not being able to run. So we’re spacing our works a little bit, just keeping them going until we have some kind of an idea of when we are going to start running. I’ve sent probably five or six horses out to the farm.’’

When horses go to farms, it’s a bit cheaper for the owners, but the trainers get fewer day rates and the help has less to do. No racing affects everybody and everything.

“It cuts into everybody,’’ Lake said.

Horse owners have only expenses and no income from purses while their trainers are trying to figure out how to keep their operations going.

“I’m still paying the help and trying not to cut their pay,’’ Lake said.

The only long-term answer is get racing back, but when that happens is as unpredictable as how and where the Covid-19 virus will spread. There remain many more questions than answers.

Lake has 16 employees at Parx and another six at Pimlico.

“Every day, I go to the barn and watch them train, go home and binge watch Netflix,’’ Lake said. “The highlight of my day the other day was washing the linens off my bed.’’

Lake should be scouring condition books, entering horses and watching races. Instead, he’s watching South Park.

This is difficult for a trainer with just a few horses. For a trainer like Lake who thrives on the action and won an incredible 528 races in 2006, this has to be disorienting.

“It’s culture shock,’’ Lake said. “It’s only been two weeks and it feels like months and months and months.’’

The days, which flew by, now seem endless. Life in fast forward has been paused.

“My cats think I’m out of my mind because I’m chasing them all around the house,’’ Lake said.

He is not out of his mind. He is just out of his comfort zone, like most everybody these days.

REALITY TRUMPS FANELLI’S PLANS

By Dick Jerardi

When 2020 began, John Fanelli was thinking he was in position for the best few months of his horse racing life. And that’s saying something for the South Philly native who claimed 2019 Pennsylvania Derby winner Math Wizard for $25,000.

Math Wizard was being geared up for an appearance in the new $20 million Saudi Cup and then a run at the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Ny Traffic, who made his debut at Parx on the day Math Wizard won the Pa. Derby was beginning to train like a potential Kentucky Derby contender.

Fast forward to the end of March. Math Wizard is in a quarantine facility near Newark (N.J.) Airport, after no invitation to the Saudi Cup and a flight from Dubai after the World Cup was cancelled. Ny Traffic was third in the Risen Star Stakes and second in the Louisiana Derby, accumulating more than enough points to earn a spot in the Derby starting gate if the race was on the first Saturday in May instead of the first Saturday in September.

Now, Fanelli is awaiting word on how Math Wizard is doing and when the horse might be released from quarantine. Planning for the Derby is just about impossible because nobody knows the spring and summer 3-year-old schedule if and when racing resumes nationally.

“I can’t understand it because they had no spectators,’’ Fanelli said of the World Cup. “The trainers, the help and the jockeys, they were all there. Might as well run it. Just move it up a couple of days, run it and then send the horses back.’’

Did not happen that way so Fanelli awaits the release of his horse and the return of his $126,000 entry fee.

Not to mention an updated Derby schedule which awaits decisions by management at Pimlico and Belmont Park about when or if the Preakness and Belmont Stakes will be run.

“It’s such a frustrating thing for me,’’ Fanelli said. “I hate to be selfish about it, but this could have been the best six months of my life. I’ve got a Derby horse. I’ve got a horse running for $12 million. Instead, everything’s up in the air.’’

It’s hard enough to miss out on chances that may never materialize again, about as hard not to know what is next. Horse owners are like so much of society, just waiting on the pandemic to slow down or end, but having nothing even close to a target date.

At some point, Churchill Downs is going to add some Derby points races. That, of course, won’t be fair to connections whose horses have already qualified, but there really is no perfect way to deal with America’s most prestigious race in a year marked by so much uncertainty. Late-developing Derby contenders will have an edge in September they would not have had in May.

Whenever normality returns. Fanelli will have two horses that cost a little and have won a lot. Math Wizard has won the vast majority of his $1,042,290 since that $25,000 claim. After Ny Traffic failed to meet his reserve at $27,000, Fanelli went to the seller and bought the horse with Lenny Liberto for $22,000. Ny Traffic has won $336,970.

Fanelli has owned horses that race at Parx for years. He has become friendly with Parx owners Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett who bought into Math Wizard and then Ny Traffic.

Ny Traffic is back at Gulfstream Park with trainer Saffie Joseph who took over for Parx trainer Harold Wyner when the colt was shipped to South Florida before the 2020 racing season began. Math Wizard will eventually go back to Gulfstream and Joseph as well.

And someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, Fanelli, his partners and his trainers, can make some plans for their horses.