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.


2019 PARX STAKES SCHEDULE LOADED

By Dick Jerardi

When David Osojnak took over as Parx Director of Racing last year, he saw how good the stakes schedule had already become and thought he might even be able to improve upon it. He has.

He has added on to Pennsylvania Derby Day, which was already terrific with the Grade I $1 million Pa. Derby, Grade I $1 million Cotillion Stakes and $300,000 Grade II Gallant Bob. The big day, which will be Sept. 21 and marks the first time in the 45-year history of the track that any of its races will be nationally televised (NBC), will also include the $150,000 Parx Dirt Mile, the $150,000 Turf Amazon Stakes, the $100,000 Alphabet Soup Handicap and the $100,000 Plum Pretty, seven stakes in all.

“There was a Pa. Derby Champions Stakes before,” Osojnak said. “We re-invented it somewhat. We’re calling it the Parx Dirt Mile… We have a two-turn dirt mile and several of the race tracks that hold the Breeders’ Cup run two-turn dirt miles. I think it would be a perfect prep for the (Breeders’ Cup) Dirt Mile. It could become Grade III, we could promote it and it could be huge.”

Prior to coming to Parx, Osojnak worked in jobs all over the industry, most recently in the New York Racing Association (NYRA) racing office. So he knows all about Grade I races.

“I was never at this level at NYRA,” Osojnak said. “I kind of came up the ladder a little bit. This is my first time putting these big races together. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking. We’re going to do the best we can to make a nice, full card. We’re going to try to target the big guys at Saratoga and all over the country. And we have those other stakes races where they can bring more horses on vans or planes or whatever they want to do.”

Smarty Jones Day will be Sept. 2 (Labor Day). In addition to the $350,000 Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes, there will be six other stakes, including the $300,000 Turf Monster, the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia Stakes and four MATCH Series races, each worth $100,000: the Salvatore M. DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup, the Roamin Rachel Stakes, the Bensalem Stakes and the Neshaminy Stakes.

That gives the track a second Event Day, a concept that has become big in horse racing around the country.

“We have the Smarty Jones so we thought we’d have a similar race for the (three-year-old) fillies,” Osojnak said of the Cathryn Sophia. “Maybe, we’ll get the winners to come back in 19 days (for the Cotillion and Pa. Derby).”

The idea to bundle all the MATCH races is not just being done at Parx. It is also being done at Laurel Park, Delaware Park, Penn National and Monmouth Park, the other Mid-Atlantic tracks that participate in the series.

“Instead of being all over the place on different days, we’re doing more like an Event Day, have all four MATCH races at one track on one day just to make it more of an event,” Osojnak said. “It’s better for the horsemen to ship into one track if they have a couple of horses that would have been shipping in different directions. It’s going to be great, I think.”

The stakes schedule begins April 27 with the Foxy J G Stakes and the Lyman Handicap, each $100,000 for Pennsylvania-Breds. The $100,000 Crowd Pleaser and $100,000 Power By Far for PA-Breds will join the $75,000 Turning for Home Starter Handicap on June 22 to make the 6th Annual Turning for Home Day even more exciting. The $200,000 Grade III Dr. James Penny Memorial will be run July 2 and the $200,000 Grade III Parx Dash goes July 6.

Pennsylvania’s Day at the Races has been moved from September to Aug. 3 and will include five $100,000 stakes for PA-Breds, the Banjo Picker Sprint, Mrs. Penny Stakes, Marshall Jenney Handicap, Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial and Roanoke Stakes.

The $200,000 Grade III Greenwood Cup will be run Oct. 5 and the $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery ends the stakes season on Dec. 7.

JAYWALK THIRD IN ASHLAND

By Dick Jerardi

It is hard to give up on a champion. So John Servis is not giving up on Jaywalk after she ran third in the April 6 Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

“I thought she ran good,” Servis said the day after the race. “(Jockey) Javier (Castellano) and I were talking after the race, (we) probably (would have) been better off sitting off the pace a little bit. The one thing we did learn about her as far as being pressured and stuff like that, she’ll rate no problem. He said she doesn’t want to be inside. That horse was putting pressure on her outside and (Castellano) said, ‘I couldn’t get her to run. I didn’t think we were going to beat a horse.’”

Per the plan after she ran a poor fourth in the March 2 Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park, while rating behind a speed horse, Jaywalk was sent right to the lead in the Ashland. The fractions were quick and she was being hounded by 52-1 Out for a Spin.

Anybody who watched Jaywalk dominate the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on the lead was likely expecting her to pull away on the far turn. That did not happen.

“She just started backing out of there and then the horse that went by us started to drift a little bit in the lane, she jumped right back in the bridle and went to running again,” Castellano told Servis.

When she got passed by eventual winner Out for a Spin, it really did look like Jaywalk was going to finish way back. She ended up third, two lengths behind the winner and essentially the same margin behind the place horse, Restless Rider, a filly she beat by 5 1/2 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup.

So it is at least possible Jaywalk peaked that first Friday afternoon of November at Churchill Downs and will never run like that again. Servis, however, still believes in the filly and she will be heading back to Churchill from her Keeneland base on April 28 to get ready for the Grade I Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday of May.

“(Castellano) said hopefully in the Oaks we’ll get an outside post, we’ll sit off the pace, sit wherever we want and maybe get one of those Cathryn Sophia trips, you know,” Servis said.

That would be 2016 Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia, also trained by Servis, ridden by Castellano and third in the Ashland, her last race prior to the Oaks.

That Ashland, however, was just Cathryn Sophia’s first defeat and she was beaten just a half-length. Servis said after the race he may have undertrained her a bit.

Cathryn Sophia did not run in the major two-year-old races, but she did win her first four races by a combined 41 1/2 lengths. One defeat did not cause Servis to lose faith and he was rewarded when she crushed the Oaks field by 2 3/4 lengths in her next start.

So there is some precedent, even if Jaywalk’s two 2019 races remain puzzling.

“You know we made history before, we can do it again,” Castellano told Servis after the race.

So they will go on to the Kentucky Oaks with Jaywalk, six months after her dominating Breeders’ Cup win.

“This race was definitely better than her first race,” Servis said. “I did a little more with her going into this race.”

If Servis can get Jaywalk back to her two-year-old form, she will have a big chance to win the Kentucky Oaks again. We will know more in a month.

BIGGEST CROWD IN HISTORY OF AWARDS BANQUET

By Dick Jerardi

It was only fitting that, after the greatest year in the history of Parx Racing, 394 people—the biggest crowd in the history of the Horsemen’s Awards Banquet—filled the big room at Celebrations on the evening of March 27.

Many were there to be celebrated. And everybody else was there to celebrate with them.

Trainer Eddie Coletti was called to the front of the room three times with his owners to accept divisional championship awards, first with Tara’s Talent (Two-Year-Old Filly), followed by Dixie Serenade (Three-Year-Old Filly) and then Zipper’s Hero (Four-Year-Old and Up Filly or Mare). Trainer Butch Reid hit the front with Maximus Mischief (Two-Year-Old Colt or Gelding) and Navy Commander (Three-Year-Old Colt or Gelding).

Even though they were not eligible for Parx awards because they did not race enough at the track, the connections of Parx-based Jaywalk, Discreet Lover and Imperial Hint received Special Achievement awards after winning a combined five Grade I stakes in 2018.

John Servis won his first Parx training title. Frankie Pennington won his record fifth consecutive jockeys’ title.

Servis spends much of his winter training his horses in Florida, but always comes back for the Awards Banquet.

“I was really looking forward to this year with winning the Leading Trainer,” Servis said.
There was a party the night after the banquet in the track kitchen for his entire barn. Servis, a charter member of the Parx Racing Hall of Fame, has won so many awards, but never leading trainer at his home track—until now.
“You know how my operation works,” Servis said. “We concentrate on the young horses and try to come up with some good horses down the road. To be Leading Trainer at the end of the year, that just shows what a good crew I have and how much they work together as a team and how much my owners participate and want good horses.”

It was no surprise that Aztec Sense was named 2018 Parx Horse of the Year. The horse was a perfect 8-for-8 in 2018. The perfect year included four wins at Parx, three of them in stakes.

Owner Joe Besecker could not make the banquet because he was watching his son play in a high school basketball All Star game. Jeff Matty, who works closely with Besecker’s massive horse operation, was there to accept the award.

“Joe wishes he could have been here,” Matty said. “Joe found the horse, but since that day, (trainer) Jorge’s (Navarro) team did a phenomenal job. We found a couple spots throughout the year. Jorge just said be patient with the horse, he’ll run his race when we run him. We gave him the time and he just ran huge every single time we ran him.”

Aztec Sense was really good everywhere, but was great at Parx where he obviously loved the forgiving surface.

“For some reason, he floats over it,” Matty said. “When we brought him to Parx, we had the utmost confidence. It’s been a dream.”

Aztec Sense Named 2018 Parx Racing Horse of the Year

It’s difficult to get much better than perfect. Racing eight times last year, Joseph Besecker’s Aztec Sense won all eight races, including five stakes, and at the annual horsemen’s awards banquet Wednesday evening, he was honored as the top thoroughbred in Pennsylvania for 2018.

Claimed by trainer Jorge Navarro from a start here at Parx in August of 2017 for $12,500, Aztec Sense, a six-year-old gelded son of Street Sense would become unbeatable. Opening his 2018 season at Gulfstream Park, he won a starter race by 9 ½ lengths. His closest margin of victory over the next six wins was 2 lengths. He won three stakes at Parx, the $100K Turning for Home (by 3 ½), the $100K PTHA President’s Cup (by 3 ½) and the $150K PA Derby Champion Stakes (by 4). He banked over $408,000 during the year, finishing his year with a win in the Claiming Crown Jewel in December at Gulfstream.

Other highlights from the evening included jockey Frankie Pennington, winning his fifth consecutive riding title and now sixth of his career. In doing so, he became the first jockey in the history of the racetrack to win five in a row. Trainer John Servis has won some of America’s biggest races, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Kentucky Oaks, the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies, but despite all his national success, had never won a training title at his home track. That void was filled when he was honored as the track’s top trainer, winning 71 races at an amazing clip of 27.8%.

Three awards were given for Special Achievement: trainer Uriah St. Lewis and Discreet Lover for their amazing upset win in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Luis Carvajal and Imperial Hint for G1 wins in the Alfred Vanderbilt and Vosburgh Stakes, and John Servis and Jaywalk for winning the G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies and an Eclipse Award as champion two-year-old filly.

Click here to see photos of the event.

Following is a list of all other divisional and individual award winners:

2YO Colt or Gelding – Cash is King & LC Racing’s Maximus Mischief (Butch Reid)
2YO Filly – Stony Brook Stables’ Tara’s Talent (Ed Coletti)
3YO Colt or Gelding – Swilcan Stable’s Navy Commander (Butch Reid)
3YO Filly – Uptowncharlybrown Stud’s Dixie Serenade (Ed Coletti)
Older Male – Joseph Besecker’s Aztec Sense (Jorge Navarro)
Older Female – Mario Mangini’s Zipper’s Hero (Ed Coletti)
Claiming Horse of the Year – Twinkling Star Stable’s Champagne Chuck (Patricia Farro)
Outstanding Claim of the Year – Smart Angle’s Wonderfully Tuned (Mike Pino)
Winningest Horse – Twinkling Star Stable’s Champagne Chuck (Patricia Farro)
Apprentice Jockey – Jann Hernandez
Leading Jockey – Frankie Pennington
Leading Owner – Jagger, Inc. & Top Notch Racing (Tie)
Leading Trainer – John Servis
“B” Division Trainer (top percentage with 50-150 starts and 15 or less stalls) – Howard Brown, Jr.
“B” Division Owner – Michael Cox

CELEBRATION AT CELEBRATIONS

By Dick Jerardi
It was such a legendary year on the national scene for Parx-based horses that the accomplishments of all the other horses at Parx may have been slightly overlooked. That will change on Wednesday, March 27, during the annual Horsemen’s Awards Banquet at Celebrations.

Horses in various categories will be honored for what they did in 2018 at Parx Racing. Some honorees will be fairly obvious before they are announced. Some categories will be very close calls.

Nobody is going to be surprised if Maximus Mischief’s name is called as the Champion Two-Year-old Colt or Gelding. All Max did in 2018 was dominate two races at Parx before winning the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct.

Trainer Eddie Coletti had a career year in 2018. He has the solid Tara’s Talent nominated in the Two-Year-old Filly category. Two of his very best are nominees for best Three-Year-Old Filly. Dixie Serenade and Smokinpaddylassie combined to win six races and nearly $400,000 last year.

Dixie Serenade gave the trainer his first graded stakes win when she took the Grade III Victory Ride Stakes at Belmont Park on July 8. She was also second in the

Jose Flores Memorial on Aug. 4 at Parx and third in the New Start Stakes at Penn National on June 2.

Bred in Pennsylvania like Dixie Serenade, Smokinpaddylassie won the first three starts of her career, including a win in the Beyond the Wire Stakes at Laurel Park. And she started off 2019 as if she is going to have another great year by winning a March 16 allowance at Parx.

Navy Commander won five of 11 starts and $126,303 in 2018 for Butch Reid who also trained Maximus Mischief. The horse, who won the July 7 Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park, is a contender for best Three-Year-Old Colt or Gelding.

The Four-Year-Old and Up Colt or Gelding category was especially strong in 2018 with nominees that won a combined 40 races and $1.5 million. Standing out in the category is Aztec Sense, who did not lose anywhere, at any racetrack, in 2018. He was a perfect 4-for-4 at Parx, including wins in three stakes, each in dominating fashion.

The Four-Year-Old and Up Filly or Mare category looks wide open with so many horses that had terrific years, including the Lou Linder-trained Viva Forever. She won eight times from 13 starts and earned nearly $200,000 in 2018. She won her final race of the year on New Year’s Eve.

The Claiming Horse of the Year category includes horses that have won 55 career races, 30 of them in 2018. The voters had a very difficult decision because so many of the nominees had such great years.

The same goes for Outstanding Claim of the Year. Champagne Chuck, who raced 19 times in 2018 with seven wins, three seconds and two thirds, was nominated in both claiming categories. He also captured the title for Winningest Horse at Parx in 2018 with those seven victories

Aztec Sense Perfect in 2018

-By Dick Jerardi

Aztec Sense lost the first 12 races of his career, won a race and then lost the next 10 before winning his second race and then losing by 32 1/4 lengths at Saratoga on July 23, 2017. Exactly 15 days later at Parx, owner Joe Besecker decided he wanted to claim the horse for $12,500. It was the claim of a lifetime.

“(Trainer Jorge) Navarro and I were there together which is rare,” Besecker said. “I don’t get to go very often. I had told him I really liked this horse. He didn’t see it (on the past performances).”

Navarro agreed to look at Aztec Sense. He then agreed that the claim made some sense. Aztec Sense won the race and then went to his new home with Navarro.

“Three days later, he texted me and said we might have a monster here.” Besecker remembered. “I don’t know how he knew it, but he did.”

Turned out they did have a monster. Aztec Sense won big right off the claim and then was a very good fourth after a very difficult trip in one of the 2017 Claiming Crown races at Gulfstream Park. And that was just the prelude.

Aztec Sense ran eight times in 2018 and won them all, including four straight at Parx from June to September. He won the $100,000 Turning for Home Stakes, a starter allowance, the $100,000 Salvatore M. DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup and the $150,000 Pa. Derby Champions Stakes. None was close.

“There is no doubt his favorite track is Parx,” Besecker said.

Because of his perfect season, including those four Parx wins, Aztec Sense has been nominated for best 4-year-old and up colt or gelding at Parx in 2018. Winners in various categories will be announced at the annual Horsemen’s Awards Banquet to be held at Celebrations on Wednesday, March 27. Aztec Sense is probably the favorite in his category and also figures to be a strong contender for Parx Horse of the Year.

“It would be really cool (to win),” Besecker said. “We took him there. It’s his favorite track by far. He’s done well other places, but (Parx is) his home. I’m confident with him running on that track against damn near anybody. At Parx, he acts like King Kong and he performs like King Kong.”

Aztec Sense finished off his 2018 season with a win in the $196,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream Park. In his first 2019 start he didn’t miss a beat, capturing the $150,000 Fred W. Hooper Stakes on January 26. Unfortunately, he pulled up badly after the race. Turned out he had a small chip at the bottom of the sesamoid.

“It was removed,” Besecker said. “The surgery was excellent. The prognosis is pretty good, but you never really know.”

The plan had been for Aztec Sense to go to Dubai to run in the Mile race at the end of March. Plans are on hold for now.

Regardless of what happens next, it has been some ride for Besecker’s stable. Aztec Sense has won over $500,000 since the claim. Besecker looks like he is going to be leading owner at the Gulfstream championship meet. He has 19 wins, compared to 10 for the next closest owner. He is also leading the standings at Laurel Park. He has 36 wins in 2019, the most in the country.

You make enough moves in the game, you may hit a home run every once in a while. Aztec Sense was a grand slam; one the owner never imagined hitting.

“Absolutely not,” Besecker said when asked if he expected anything like what happened. “We had some conditions that we could go through.”

They blew through a first-level allowance condition and then just bypassed most of the rest of them. Now, they are just hoping they can get the six-year-old gelding back to the races.

“The likelihood of him continuing on and being something like he was is about 65 percent,” Besecker said.

ANOTHER FAN CREATED BY SMARTY JONES

By Dick Jerardi

Smarty Jones created thousands of racing fans in 2004. Pasquale Dangelantonio, Jr., is definitely one of them.

“Smarty Jones is the best for me,” Dangelantonio said. “People always ask, did I grow up in the business, how did I get in? Right away, I drop Smarty Jones. That was the thrill of a lifetime watching that.

“I’ve met all of his connections since then, even Dr. Patty Hogan (who famously operated on Smarty for that nasty eye injury he suffered as a two-year-old).”

A union construction worker with Local 14 in Philadelphia, Dangelantonio grew up Darby, Pa. and now lives in Sewell, N.J.

“I’m just a neighborhood guy who happens to be in the hot seat right now,” Dangelantonio said.

A hot seat, but a good seat.

Dangelantonio is part of Bourbon Lane Stable which is a racing syndicate and has a pinhooking partnership. In fact, he was part of the group that originally purchased Kentucky Derby prospect Bourbon War for $410,000 at the Conquest Stable dispersal in November 2016, with the intention of reselling him.

A bad X-Ray kept him from being sold as a yearling. A bad breeze kept him from being sold as a two-year-old. An X-Ray that looked like a chip, but turned out to be a double exposure also kept buyers away.
So they had to race the son of Tapit. Dangelantonio stayed in for a 1% share of Bourbon War’s racing career. After a fast-closing second in the March 2 Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Bourbon War likely will run next in the March 30 Grade I Florida Derby.

When Bourbon War came running late in the Fountain of Youth, “I’ll be honest, we didn’t know what happened at the wire,” Dangelantonio said. “Everyone was screaming. We were so confused; wait did we win, did we not win? I knew we didn’t win, why are we yelling? We were so excited that happened and it played out the way it did. Wow. I’m still on a high from that.”

A fan first and foremost, Dangelantonio places flowers at the Barbaro statue every time one of the Bourbon Lane Stable horses runs at Churchill Downs. And he would love to be back at Churchill in May to see Bourbon War wear some roses.

Dangelantonio’s enthusiasm shines through whenever he talks about horse racing.

“It’s so much fun and exciting,” Dangelantonio said. “Someone told me there’s nothing like your first win. My first win just happened to be at Saratoga. You’re going to ask me if we win the Derby, what’s my favorite thing in horse racing, it’s always going to be that first win at Saratoga and the people and the back stories.”

He won’t be able to make the Florida Derby because he already had plans to go to the Dubai World Cup.

“It’s going to be 3 o’clock in the morning there, but hopefully Skeikh Mo don’t get too mad and hear us screaming,” Dangelantonio said. “Hopefully, he’s sitting next to us screaming along.”

JAYWALK FOURTH IN THREE-YEAR-OLD DEBUT

By Dick Jerardi

When a filly has not run in four months, you can never be certain that she will reproduce her best form. The bettors at Gulfstream Park and around the country, however, were not concerned on March 2 when that filly was Jaywalk, the 2018 Champion Two-Year-Old Filly. She was the 1-5 favorite in the Grade II Davona Dale Stakes. She had won three open stakes, including the Grade I Frizette and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Her six rivals had won none.

In a result as inexplicable as those posted by Maximus Mischief and Imperial Hint in Florida this winter, the champ stalked 13-1 pacesetter Cookie Dough through moderate fractions in the one-turn, one-mile race and came up completely empty in the stretch, eventually finishing fourth behind 51-1 winner Jeltrin, Cookie Dough and Champagne Anyone. They are all decent fillies, but none with anything close to the accomplishments of Jaywalk.

“I’m not real sure,” Jaywalk’s trainer John Servis said the day after the race when asked what happened. “The only thing I can think of, maybe she just wants to be on the lead.”

Jaywalk’s two Grade I wins were wire-to-wire blowouts. She broke her maiden at Parx last July while on the lead the whole way. The only race she won without the lead was the White Clay Creek Stakes at Delaware Park last August when she was fourth early and closed late to win going away. That race was at 5 1/2 furlongs.

“I remember when she won at Delaware and she came from off the pace to win, Josh (Navarro) rode her and he said ‘John, I’m riding her and I got nothing. I turned for home, I wheeled her out in the middle of the race track, once I got her away from those horses, she just exploded,’” Servis said.

That makes some sense. So does this.

“I think she came up a little short too,” Servis said. “But I didn’t think she’d be that short. She’s had plenty of miles in her. She should have run better than that, but she’s fine this morning, acting good, ate up. I’m just going to throw it out.”

There were no specific instructions for jockey Joel Rosario to make the lead so when Cookie Dough got the front, the jockey just let her go and put Jaywalk in a perfect position just behind and outside of the leader.

“The one thing I probably did wrong was I said to Joel, I haven’t tightened the screws on her so if she gets tired on you, don’t beat her up,” Servis said. “He kind of took that to heart which is fine. It’s not the end of the world.”

But it was a setback. The Kentucky Oaks goal remains the same.

“If he rides her away from there, she’s in front,” Servis said of the Davona Dale.

For her next race, either the Gulfstream Park Oaks or Ashland at Keeneland, they will be going farther, so Servis figures she will be in front then.

“The fractions she ran in the Frizette and then the Breeders’ Cup, I can’t imagine too many horses trying to run with her,” Servis said.

Maximus Mischief, Imperial Hint and Jaywalk all trained on the forgiving, safe surface at Parx last summer and fall. When they went to New York tracks to run, they all ran great. Jaywalk was great when she won at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup. Imperial Hint went early to Churchill Downs and did not run his best in the Breeders’ Cup, but there could have been other issues with him. When asked if not training at Parx this winter could have negatively impacted the three horses, Servis said, “I wouldn’t think so but…”

Like so much in horse racing, there is no way to know for sure why Jaywalk ran like she did, only that it’s obvious she is way better than what she showed in her first race as a three-year-old.

MAXIMUS MISCHIEF OFF THE DERBY TRAIL

By Dick Jerardi

When unbeaten Maximus Mischief left the Parx stable area in December for the long van ride to Gulfstream Park, the colt took with him the hopes of trainer Butch Reid and wife Ginny as well as owners Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett, not to mention the Parx backstretch which had not seen a young horse of this quality since Smarty Jones fifteen years before.

There was justifiable talk of a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Maximus Mischief had been so impressive in all his workouts and his three races, two at Parx and one in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. Really, nobody knew just how good this colt might become.

Now, sadly, it is likely we will never know. The colt’s final workout before a scheduled start in the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream did not go well. It was obvious something was wrong. It turns out, according to Butch Reid, it was a soft tissue injury involving ligaments and tendons. The only solution to the problem, if there is one, is time and treatment.

Maximus Mischief will be headed to an Ocala, Fla. farm to recuperate. He won’t be in training for some time, if ever.

Reports out of Florida were great after Max first got there. His daily gallops were strong and true. His breezes prior to the Feb. 2 Holy Bull Stakes were not perfect, but gave no indication he would not win a race where he really looked like a cinch.

But Max did not look like himself that day, not before the race when he acted up on the way to paddock, was sweating in the post parade and was reluctant to enter the starting gate. And not during the race when he tracked the pacesetter, but did not cruise by with that smooth, powerful stride he had always shown. Passed by two longshots in the stretch, Max had to settle for third. It was, in every way, a shocking result.

The Fountain of Youth was going to show if the Holy Bull result was a fluke. Then, the workout happened and, just that fast, the Derby dream was over.

Is it possible the surface at Gulfstream Park, much harder than the surface at Parx, was the culprit? Was this massive, super fast young horse just too hard on himself? Did something happen in the Holy Bull that would only manifest itself during the pressure of a subsequent workout?

All good questions with no obvious answers.

Horse racing is this mysterious, wonderful, heartbreaking, exhilarating combination of the human experience.

We will never know for certain why the injuries happened, just that they did. What might have been is now what never will be. And that is so hard for an owner with a Derby prospect.

Zacney knows that better than most. He had the country’s best three-year-old in 2005. Afleet Alex dominated the Preakness and Belmont Stakes after finishing third in the Derby to giant longshots. This horse, Maximus Mischief, was going to win the Derby that Alex should have won.

“We had a lot of hopes and dreams tied to the horse,” Zacney said. “It’s the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in horse racing. Right now, I’m experiencing the lows unfortunately.”

And that is why horse racing celebrations are unlike any others. It is just so hard to get a really good horse and win a really big race. So when it happens, it is pure joy.

“This is tough because my son was so attached to this horse,” Zacney said.

Alex Zacney actually spotted the colt at the Timonium sale last May. His dad gives him great credit for the subsequent purchase.

“Unfortunately, he got a dose of reality too,” Zacney said.

Bennett had not owned a horse like Afleet Alex so this was his first foray into the big time.

“Ultimate highs, ultimate lows, but I’m not giving up on it, though,” Bennett said. “I’m getting back in.”

Bennett owns 26 horses at the moment.

“I told the guys I’d never have more than 10,” he said. “That was a lie. The worst part is once you get to this level, that’s all you want.”

When he got the news on Maximus, Bennett said it was a “stunned, numb kind of feeling, like how can it be. Wasn’t expecting it all.”

In a game where hope is the operative word, you always want to look forward, thinking you finally have the “one”. Well, Zacney and Bennett had the “one”. Maximus Mischief was no mirage. He really was that talented. That was never an issue. But you can never account for bad luck and injury. Now, they wait to see if the horse can recover and maybe race again. That is a longshot, but so was getting a horse like Maximus Mischief in the first place.