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.


SMARTY JONES RETURNS HOME TO PENNSYLVANIA

By Dick Jerardi

Smarty Jones began his stallion career during the winter of 2005 at Three Chimneys Farm in Versailles, Ky. A few years later, he came home to Pennsylvania to stand at Ghost Ridge Farm outside York. Then, he was moved to Northview Farm in Peach Blossom (Lancaster County). More recently, legendary Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky. was Smarty’s home. The Parx Racing legend also shuttled to South America for several Southern Hemisphere breeding seasons.

Last year, Smarty’s owner Pat Chapman made the decision to bring her beloved horse home one final time. On Jan. 19, Pat was at an open house for Smarty at Rodney Eckenrode’s Equistar Farm near Annville (Lebanon County), not far from Penn National. This will almost certainly be Smarty’s final stop before he is retired from stallion duty.

“It’s a big thrill (to have Smarty back in Pennsylvania),” Pat said. “It’s really exciting. They’ve been asking for a couple of years to get him back. I thought, well, maybe it’s time now. We’ll see what happens.”

There is no question Smarty Jones is the best horse ever bred in Pennsylvania. The 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is also the most popular by a wide margin.

“I hated to take him from Pennsylvania (back to Kentucky) but the breeders had lost interest in breeding to him,” Pat said. “So for the syndicate and me, we couldn’t afford to leave him here. So I thought let’s give him a chance in Kentucky one more time and that worked for a couple of years, but that last year there, the same thing happened. Interest fell off. I had so many questions about getting him back here so I said let’s give it a try. We’ll see if the breeders come out this time.”

Believe it not, Smarty Jones is now 18 years old. He has been a solid sire, with more than 1,500 winners, but has not been able to sire a horse with anything like the incredible race record he had. And that is fairly typical in the hit-or-miss stallion business.

Whatever happens next, the Smarty saga will be replayed forever in Pennsylvania and beyond.

“What a ride, what a thrill; who would have ever dreamed that we would ever end up with a horse like that with the memories that I had,” Pat said. “I think about it so often and relive a lot of the good times that Chappy (her late husband Roy Chapman) and I had.”

Smarty Jones was the Chapmans’ horse, but, really, he was everybody’s horse.

“That’s a big thrill,” Pat said of Smarty’s popularity. “I still hear from fans occasionally and then I go on (his) Facebook page and see all the nice comments about Smarty. It’s wonderful to know that he hasn’t been forgotten. I just hope that someday he’s going to get a good runner that’s going to help even more keep his name in the limelight.”

Eckenrode is as excited to have Smarty at his farm as Pat Chapman is to have her horse back in Pennsylvania.

“It’s just amazing,” Eckenrode said. “It’s a terrific opportunity not only for the state of Pennsylvania, but the whole Mid-Atlantic region. We just feel extremely blessed to have a horse of his quality.”

Even though Smarty is closing on 20, he is still quite lively.

“He acts like a 3-year-old,” Eckenrode said. “He’s just frisky and spunky and just a really neat horse.”

And Smarty Jones is, of course, a star on the farm and for the farm.

“There’s nothing like it,” Eckenrode said. “I never dreamt that we would have a horse like this at our place. It’s just amazing.”

The breeding shed opens at Equistar on Feb. 15 and, according to Eckenrode, “we have a lot of contracts out right now so I think he’s going to be extremely busy this year”.

MAXIMUS MISCHIEF THIRD IN THREE-YEAR-OLD DEBUT

By Dick Jerardi

Grade I wins, Eclipse Awards, runaway races. Parx horses have been on a four-month run of out-of-town stakes success that was unprecedented in the history of the racetrack. It was almost as if the results were preordained.

On paper, it looked like that streak would continue when unbeaten Maximus Mischief, stabled in Barn 4 at Parx during the summer and fall, was set to make his three-year-old debut in the Feb. 2 Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After all, each of Maximus Mischief’s three Beyer speed figures was better than any figure his eight rivals had earned in 35 combined races.

Maximus Mischief had won his races with ease. Two were against overmatched rivals at Parx. One was in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct against a field that included third-place Tax, who would win the Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct 45 minutes prior to the Holy Bull, and fourth-place Bourbon War who won a Jan. 18 allowance race at Gulfstream.

It all appeared so perfect; too perfect it turned out.

Maximus Mischief got his usual great position in the Holy Bull, tracking the early leader from a few lengths behind on the run down the backstretch. When jockey Jose Ortiz, who replaced Parx champion rider Frankie Pennington for the race, gave the signal, the assumption was that Max would cruise on by and would quickly move on to the next hurdle on the way to the Kentucky Derby.

Except, Ortiz gave the signal and Max was inching up to the leader, not rolling right by. When Maximus Mischief finally got by Epic Dreamer in the final 100 yards, there were two fresh challengers. Harvey Wallbanger, a 29-1 shot, passed Max on the inside and then, just before the wire, 128-1 Everfast, passed him on the outside. The winner was one length ahead of Everfast who finished a neck in front of Maximus Mischief.

Maximus Mischief had run far from his great two-year-old form and the result left a lot more questions than answers.

“Jose said he had to use him a little more than he thought he would which I agreed with,” trainer Butch Reid said.

Maximus Mischief’s three Gulfstream workouts prior to the race did not go exactly as planned. He switched leads several times in the stretch of the first work. He went fast early and slow late in his second work. His third work had to be postponed for two days because of weather and came five days before the race instead of the planned seven.

So was the Holy Bull an aberration? Or is something else going on? Only time will tell.

The time of the Holy Bull, a very slow 1:43.69 for the mile and a sixteenth, told one story.

Maximus Mischief’s next race will tell the next part of the story.

The original plan was to wait for the March 30 Florida Derby as a final prep for the Kentucky Derby. That could change, with the March 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes now under consideration.

“He was walking sound after the race,” Reid said. “He came back blowing a little harder after the race, but we just got done scoping him and he scoped clean. His airway looks great so…”

In his early races at Parx, Max had been very excitable on the way to paddock and in the paddock. He was perfectly fine, however, prior to the Remsen.

He was not fine before the Holy Bull, as he reverted back to the bad habits of rearing up and sweating profusely.

“He looked unsettled coming into the paddock,” Reid said. “He had a little flank sweat, a little shoulder sweat going to the gate. I’m not sure what it was, but something kind of put him off his game a little bit today. Fortunately, we still have a good, strong, sound horse and we’ll give him a little bit of a mulligan for today and go on about our business… He hasn’t dropped any in my eyes.”

That pre-race nervousness obviously has to be addressed. Unsettled horses rarely run to their true ability.

“Those are things we are going to have to work on in the next few days to see if we can discover what was really on his mind,” Reid said. “Soundness-wise, health-wise, all that kind of stuff, he looks fantastic.”

JAYWALK WINS ECLIPSE AS TOP 2-YEAR-OLD FILLY

By Dick Jerardi

Jaywalk’s owners were concerned as the envelope was about to be opened for the Eclipse Award for Champion Juvenile Filly. They need not have worried. Jaywalk dominated her Eclipse Award rivals the same way she dominated her rivals on the track in 2018. She was named Champion Two-Year-Old Filly near the start of the Eclipse Awards ceremony at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24, getting 214 first-place votes to runner-up Newspaperofrecord’s 31.

Thus, Jaywalk, co-owned by the D. J. Stable LLC and Cash Is King LLC, became the second Parx-based horse to win an Eclipse Award this century. Not coincidentally, both horses were trained by John Servis, the man who gave the world Smarty Jones in 2003 and 2004.

“It was sweet,” said Servis, who is two-for-two when he appears at the Eclipse Awards. “When they’re opening that envelope, you always second guess. When they called her name, it was great. We started high fiving.”

It was the first Eclipse for the Green family’s D.J. Stable LLC, which has run horses at Parx for 40 years. And it is the second for Cash Is King’s Chuck Zacney, whose Afleet Alex won in 2005 as Champion Three-Year-Old.

“It was surreal,” said Jon Green, who accepted the award at the ceremony. “You think about the horse and what the filly has accomplished, but you also think about the 40 years of being in the business and all the claiming races you went to and all the ups and downs of the business. I think that’s why we appreciate the people so much that we have surrounding us right now. They’re great individuals and really good at what they do, but they’re genuine people and you can trust them. That’s so hard in this business. I think that’s why it made it such an enjoyable night because it was just fun to celebrate with people you enjoy spending time with.”

Jon Green knew the history of the award: that it typically goes to the best dirt horse and especially the filly that won on Breeders’ Cup Day. Well, Newspaperofrecord also dominated on Breeders’ Cup Day, but she has only run on grass. So, history was served again.

Jaywalk finished second in her first start and then won her next four by a combined 20 1/4 lengths. She won the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park by 5 3/4 lengths and returned 26 days later to crush the field in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs by 5 1/2 lengths.

Jaywalk is gearing up for her 2019 campaign at Palm Beach Downs in South Florida. Her likely first start is the March 2 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream, with the Ashland at Keeneland and the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on the agenda.

The Parx Quarantine

By Dick Jerardi

It is unfortunately becoming a near-annual and seemingly unavoidable rite of winter at Parx, a 21-day quarantine due to the Equine Herpes Virus, EHV-1.

“We’ve been down this road before with quarantine,” said Dr. Craig Goldblatt, the Veterinary Medical Field Officer (VMFO) at Parx for the Pennsylvania State Racing Commission. “However, the last instances were state-issued quarantines.”

Parx management made the decision on this quarantine after a horse from trainer Ramon Martin’s stable tested positive for the virus.
“There are basically two forms of the virus, a respiratory form and a neurologic form,” Dr. Goldblatt said. “The quarantines we’ve had in the past, it’s a horse that has developed neurologic signs and tested positive for the virus. And then the state gets involved and issues a quarantine. In this particular instance, there was a horse in Barn 27 of Ramon Martin’s that got sick and went to Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center in New Jersey and was subsequently diagnosed with EHV-1, but the non-neurologic form, the respiratory form.”

Track management did not want to take any chances that the virus would spread, so the quarantine was put into place. The effect is that, until the quarantine is lifted (likely on Jan. 30 if no other horses test positive for the virus), no horses can leave the Parx barn area and run at another track. Horses that ship in to race have to stay in the barn area until the quarantine ends. The biggest effect is on the horses in Barn 27 which, in addition to Martin’s horses, also include those trained by Penny Pearce and Mario Dominguez. Those horses can’t leave their barn to race or train.

The only horses allowed to leave Parx during the quarantine must receive special permission if they have to go for a medical necessity like a surgical procedure.

“The virus is very strange in the way it behaves,” Dr. Goldblatt said. “Sometimes, the horses with the respiratory (version) can develop neurologic signs. If that were the case, the state would get involved. There wasn’t in this case, but everybody wanted to err on the side of being cautious because when you have horses that are shedding the virus you don’t know. There’s always a possibility that the neurologic form may rear its ugly head.”

The horse with the virus left the stable area Jan. 8, so 21 days gets us to Jan. 30 when the quarantine hopefully will be lifted.

“It’s the race track’s decision,” Dr. Goldblatt said. “If they decided they wanted to extend it or change it in any way, it’s really up to them.”

According to Dr. Goldblatt, the horse with the virus is getting better and, if the horse eventually tests negative for the virus, would be allowed back in the barn area.

During the quarantine, if vets have to treat a horse in Barn 27, they make that their last visit of the day so there is less chance for the virus to spread.

“The virus can be spread by direct contact, but also indirect contact like getting the virus on somebody’s hand and then passing it to another horse,” Dr. Goldblatt said.

So everybody is being ultra-cautions until the all-clear sign is given.

2018 HORSE OF THE YEAR A TWO-HORSE RACE

By Dick Jerardi

When I left Belmont Park on the evening on June 9, 2018 after seeing and writing about the 13th Triple Crown winner, I was also certain I had seen the 2018 Horse of the Year.

What Justify had just done was unprecedented. Exactly 111 days after the first start of his career on Feb. 18, Justify had finished off the Triple Crown with a dominating wire-to-wire performance. Maiden win, allowance win, Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes.

What horse could do that? What horse would even be given the chance to try? The answer on both counts was Justify.

What I did not know that evening was that we would never see Justify run again. It was announced two months later that the horse was to be retired to stud.

I felt a little cheated. If Justify could do all that with such a demanding schedule, what could he do with more time between races? I felt certain we would have seen something even more spectacular, but, alas, we will never know.

What I also did not know the night of the Belmont was that another horse was in the midst of a campaign that, in almost any other year, would guarantee Horse of the Year.

When Accelerate arrived in the starting gate for the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, the horse had swept the three major Southern California Grade I stakes for older horses — the Santa Anita Handicap, the Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes and Pacific Classic. He had also won the Grade I Awesome Again and the Grade II San Pasqual. His lone loss was a second (by a neck) in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap to City of Light, a horse that had dominated the Dirt Mile earlier on the Breeders’ Cup card.

Accelerate’s season had begun Feb. 3 and ended Nov. 3. It was a classic Horse of the Year campaign. If he could win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, there would be a legitimate Horse of the Year debate. Accelerate won it by one length. And the debate was on.

It will be settled on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 24, at Gulfstream Park as the Eclipse Awards are handed out in a ceremony that will honor horses and humans in various categories before the Horse of the Year announcement.

There are 271 votes among the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB), Daily Racing Form (DRF) and National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). A total of 249 ballots were turned in. One of those, as a NTWAB member, was mine.

I voted for Justify.
If somebody voted for Accelerate, I can’t really argue. When a horse can hold his form from February to November and ends the season by beating the strongest field of horses assembled all year; that is a powerful statement.
I understand that Justify only raced against three-year-olds. I also know now that this was not a particularly strong group of three-year-olds. For me, it came down to this: if you said to anybody in the sport when 2018 began, could you imagine a horse is going to be 111 days between his first start and a successfully-completed Triple Crown run, everybody would have said it was impossible. I would not have argued. Then, I saw it happen, the impossible becoming possible.

And that is why Justify was my 2018 Horse of the Year.

2018 PARX STAR HORSES

By Dick Jerardi

Now that we are into 2019 and there is time to reflect on what happened in 2018 with star Parx horses, the year was every bit as amazing as it seemed.

Jaywalk, Discreet Lover, Imperial Hint, and Maximus Mischief were all stabled at Parx. Aztec Sense was not stabled at the track, but ran at Parx four times. What a group. Consider that they won a combined 21 races, including 15 stakes—five Grade I, two Grade II and one Grade III, with combined earnings of $3,656,065.

Two-year-old Jaywalk won the most money ($1,384,200) and the biggest race, the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs. She also won the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park and the White Clay Creek Stakes at Delaware Park after breaking her maiden at Parx on July 24. She ran five times at five different tracks (she finished second in her debut at Monmouth Park). Jaywalk did not just win her races; she blew away her rivals, winning the two Grade I stakes by a combined 11 1/4 lengths. She is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as two-year-old filly champion.

The amazing sprinter Imperial Hint won the Grade I Alfred Vanderbilt at Saratoga and the Grade I Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont Park, as well as the Grade II True North, also at Belmont. He was at less than his best when third in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Imperial Hint, who won $767,500 in 2018, is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.

When 2018 began, Discreet Lover had run 45 times. The horse had run in many stakes, but had not won any of them. That changed when he won the Grade III Excelsior at Aqueduct, a prelude to what was arguably the most exciting win by any Parx horse in 2018. Discreet Lover was 45-1 in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. He was way back early, but when the leaders began to tire in the stretch, there was Discreet Lover rolling down the center of the track to get up by a neck. The horse won $903,825 in 2018, not bad for a $10,000 purchase.

Aztec Sense won all eight of his starts and $408,540 in 2018. He won four times at Parx, three times at Gulfstream Park and once at Monmouth. His five stakes wins included the Turning For Home Stakes, the PTHA President’s Cup and the PA Derby Championship, all at Parx. The horse capped off his year by winning the Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream. Perfect seasons are quite rare in horse racing, especially for horses whose first win was in January and last win was in December. Even though he was not stabled at Parx, the horse has Parx connections as owner Joseph Besecker runs horses at Parx regularly.

The horse on the list that raced the least has the most promise of all. Maximus Mischief may have been the most impressive first-time winning two-year-old in the history of Parx when he ran like the wind on Sept. 29, co-incidentally the same day Imperial Hint won the Vosburgh and Discreet Lover won the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He backed that maiden win up with a dominating allowance win against two overmatched opponents and then finished his short season on Dec. 1 with a visually impressive win in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. The colt is now at Gulfstream Park getting ready for his first start as a three-year-old, likely the Feb. 2 Holy Bull Stakes.

So there you have it—Jaywalk, Imperial Hint, Discreet Lover, Aztec Sense and Maximus Mischief. Who knows what 2019 may bring, maybe even Maximus in the Pennsylvania Derby and Jaywalk in the Cotillion, with a Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks on their resumes.

SERVIS WINS FIRST PARX TRAINING TITLE

By Dick Jerardi

“How did that happen?”

That was John Servis’s answer when asked for his reaction to winning the 2018 Parx Racing training title.

He was not showing false humility. He was just being realistic. He typically does not have enough horses making enough starts during the year to win the title. This year really wasn’t that much different in that respect. It is just that when the horses did run, they won at a high percentage from January to December.

Servis finished with 71 winners at Parx to 68 for runner-up Patricia Farro. He started 255 horses; she started 423. He won with 28 percent of his Parx starters and his stable won $2.5 million.

Servis was part of several Parx training titles when he was Mark Reid’s top assistant before his training career officially began in 1984. But his only other personal title was in 1989 at Garden State Park.

“Joe Orseno and I were going back and forth,” Servis remembered. “I think I was one win up going into the last day. Joe had five in and I had two in. Joe won three races and took a two-win lead. Then, both my horses won and one was in the last race. So we ended up in a tie.”

This title kind of snuck up on Servis.

“A month ago, my assistant (Jennifer Hamm) came up to me and said ‘you know, you’re leading trainer,’” Servis said. “I go, ‘really, I didn’t even know.’ She said, ‘we got a shot to win this.’ I said, ‘we’re not going to win this.’”

They won it.

“The fact that we did, I’m so happy for my help,” Servis said. “I have such a good crew. They’re team players. I’m so happy for the owners too, not that the owners get anything out of it other than having a good year, but they can blow their horn a little bit.”

Overall, Servis won 111 races with nearly $6 million in earnings in 2018. It was, in many respects, the second-best year of his career. It will be hard to top 2004 with Smarty Jones, but Servis is poised to have a great 2019.

Servis won the Grade I Frizette and the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with Jaywalk. She is at Palm Meadows in Florida gearing up for a 2019 campaign that may begin in March at Gulfstream Park and Servis hopes will take him back to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks, a race he won in 2016 with Cathryn Sophia.

He also has a very talented colt named Lucky Lee who won twice at Parx and is being pointed to the Feb. 2 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. Servis is really high on Lucky Lee; so high that he is thinking he could be good enough to get on the Kentucky Derby trail and stay there.

Servis will be spending much of his time this winter at Palm Meadows with a stable of horses he has there. The Parx horses are being overseen by his very capable assistants Hamm and Jesus Santiago.

Servis just went over 10,000 starters for his career. He has won 1,755 races. His horses have earned $57.4 million. He has won eight Grade I races and 28 graded stakes.

And now John Servis has his first Parx training title.

PENNINGTON WINS RECORD FIFTH STRAIGHT TITLE; GETS FIRST BIG HORSE

Dick Jerardi

Frankie Pennington arrived at what was then called Philadelphia Park in 2004, just in time to get a front-row seat as the track’s then-dominant jockey Stewart Elliott was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime with Smarty Jones.

Now, Pennington, who has just become the first jockey in Parx Racing history to win the rider’s title for five consecutive years, is about to embark on his first journey into horse racing’s high society as his mount Maximus Mischief is preparing at Gulfstream Park for a run at the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

Pennington, 31, rode his first race on Sept. 8, 2003 at Thistledown in Ohio. After a month, he moved east to Penn National and then came to Parx. He has never left and has no plans on leaving. He will, however, be more than happy to take a day off here and there to be wherever Maximus Mischief might be running.
That he was around Elliott and watched “Smarty Mania” unfold can only help, as he gets a similar chance to what Elliott experienced with wins in the Derby and Preakness and to within a heartbreaking length of the Triple Crown.

“Stewie was the man,” Pennington remembered. “I looked up to Stewie a lot. He was winning a lot of races. I remember thinking that coming from Philly Park, it was just a dream for me, being a horse from here, a trainer (John Servis) from here. I remember being amazed.”

Now, it could be Pennington, Maximus Mischief and trainer Butch Reid, another Parx trifecta.

So, how hard is it to concentrate on the usual daily work when he knows that in five weeks or so, Maximus Mischief likely will make his three-year-old debut, with the Derby looming just over four months down the road?

“To actually be in that situation, having one of the top horses going towards the Derby trail, I still get excited,” Pennington said. “Sometimes, I got to think, is it really true?

“I’ll go through a normal day and then I (suddenly) think Maximus is over there. It gets me excited. That’s what we all work for, to get a horse like that.”

Maximus Mischief left Barn 4 for the long van ride to South Florida on Dec. 16, so Pennington isn’t so close to the unbeaten colt anymore.

“That’s what I told Butch, I’m like ‘Butch, you want me to take a ride on the van with him?’” Pennington said. “He was laughing. I also told him ‘look, if he ever goes to work and you want me to come down, I’d be more than happy to come down and work him.’”

Their time is coming. Meanwhile, Pennington just keeps winning races at Parx.

He will be about 40 wins clear at the end of the year for that fifth straight title. He will finish 2018 winning with 23 percent of his mounts, his best-ever percentage. He will also finish with a career-best $8,000 per start. He is closing in on 13,000 career mounts and 2,350 wins. His mounts have earned almost $65 million. And he may not have not ridden in any of the nationally-televised races, but neither had Elliott until 2004.

It is called horse racing, not jockey racing. Give a really good jockey the best horse and that horse is usually going to win. Pennington has been a really good jockey for a really long time. He gave Maximus Mischief a picture-perfect ride in the Dec. 1 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. That was Pennington’s first Grade II win. If Maximus Mischief is good enough, a Grade I win is coming soon for horse and rider.

Reid called Pennington this summer to ask him to work a two-year-old he really liked. The first time he worked Maximus Mischief, “my feet were by his ears trying to slow him down,” Pennington said.

Pennington knew instantly that Reid was not engaging in hyperbole. The big colt could run. He showed it in the morning. He has now shown it three times in the afternoon.

Now, Pennington finds himself watching some of the other top two-year-olds because it’s never too early to check out the competition.

“Maximus is a special horse,” Pennington said. “He’s the kind of horse, (if) you give him a task, he’s going to do everything to do it, which makes me ride with a lot of confidence when I’m on him.”

Whenever he could, Pennington watched all the big national races through the years, hoping—naturally—that one day everybody would be watching him on a horse with a chance. That time has come.

SIGN OF THE TIMES

By Dick Jerardi

The sign in front of the wire fence reads: “No houses here thanks to Pennsylvania Horse Breeders’ Fund.”

courtesy of Kate DeMasi

Richard Simoff put the sign in front of a recently-acquired 10 acres at his Twin Ponds Farm, which is south of Oxford, Pa., not far from the Maryland border.

“I have 35 acres; I’ve been here for 30 years,” Simoff said. “About five years ago, a real estate agent called me and said, ‘there’s 10 acres bordering your fence and they are going to put three houses there.’ I cashed in the IRA, and put the down payment on the land.”

So, he now has 45 acres and he saved some of Pennsylvania’s disappearing open space.
“This is preserving land,” Simoff said. “It’s doing a lot of good so I put the sign out.”

Simoff, like so many in the commonwealth’s horse business, is frustrated by the numerous false misconceptions that are making the rounds in the state legislature. He notes that the Pennsylvania horse racing industry is anything but rich Arab sheiks coming to Pennsylvania to take all of the money from the Pennsylvania Derby while everybody else is left behind. It is actually quite a huge business with money flowing through it that creates thousands of jobs.

“I have a half-mile track,” Simoff said. “I used to run horses off the farm… Now I mostly break horses, maybe 100 yearlings a year, 2-year-olds. And then I had some broodmares that I left turned out. I leave them out 24 hours a day and bring them in when they foal. If you have the land, it doesn’t cost as much. You just feed them twice a day.”

Simoff thinks he is going to get almost $100,000 in breeder’s awards this year.

“It’s not my bread and butter, but it helps,” he said.

He had one filly win in September at Parx when the purse was $70,000. She was PA-sired “so it was 40 percent to me, so my check from one race was like $23,000.”

He is not touting himself as a breeding genius. He knows better.

“A lot of this is just plain, dumb luck,” he said.

You just hope the horse you breed gets with the right people who know what they are doing and you can get some of that breeding bonus money on the back end. Simoff will not sell to just anybody. He really wants to sell to smart people who plan to race in Pennsylvania.

“There’s a big difference in trainers,” Simoff said.

Simoff bred the good three-year-old filly Smokinpaddylassie, who is trained at Parx by Eddie Coletti, Jr., and owned by newcomer Ed Bruzek.

He bought Smokinpaddylassie’s dam in foal at Keeneland for $6,200. He ended up selling another foal before Smokinpaddylassie won a stake at Laurel in March. And then the mare sadly died not long after.

“That’s what happens,” Simoff said, “It was a triple whammy. At least I got some breeder’s awards. I only get 20 percent because they were sired out-of-state.”

Regardless of the individual success or failures, it’s people like Richard Simoff who make the business “go” in Pennsylvania. He promotes open space with his farm. He helps young horses get ready for training. He breeds horses. He sells horses. And he proudly placed a sign on his fence that should serve as a reminder for everybody.

FROM LONG-HAUL RIGS TO GREAT SAMARITAN TO BARN WIFE

By Dick Jerardi

Jackie Gordon was a cross-country tractor-trailer driver for 38 years. When she “retired”, she found a way to help anybody that needed help with anything. And she kept hearing about jobs at the racetrack. Finally, she heeded the call, and went to the Parx Racing backstretch where she began working for Michael Pino. She quickly became the trainer’s “barn wife”.

So how did she get from there to here?

Read on.

She drove for more than a million miles. She owned five trucks. She taught people how to drive the rigs. She knew what she wanted to do from the time she was nine years old.

“I have nine uncles,” she said. “Eight of them were tractor-trailer drivers.”

She used to cry because she was too small to get up in the trucks. They got her a step ladder to get in as well as some phone books on the seat so she could reach the string to pull the horn.

And she did, over and over and over until she became old enough to drive one. And then she drove and drove and drove until it was time to “retire” to her calling.

Earlier this year, Jackie was nominated for the Godolphin Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards’ Community Award. No wonder.

She opened a seasonal water ice stand nine years ago in her Northeast Philly neighborhood of Parkwood to “keep the little children safe”. She started it by purchasing a freezer for $240. She sells chips, pretzels, funnel cake, soda and candy. The kids don’t have to cross busy roads to get to the 7-11 or Wawa.

“I have anything a child could want to keep them from running out in the street, getting hurt,” Jackie said. “I’m a mother away from the mothers while they are at work.”

When it’s time for the kids to go back to school, she takes all the proceeds, “buys backpacks, fills them up with water ice and gives them to the children”. On Thanksgiving, she “goes into the leasing office, (and) asks for three less-fortunate families that are struggling to pay their rent. I will present them with a Thanksgiving basket.”

There are 522 apartments and 112 townhomes in her complex. She knocks on every door and gives every child a toy from Miss Jackie’s water ice stand.

When the nomination letter arrived in her mailbox, the most selfless person around said, “I was stunned. When I opened up the letter, my eyes got big as 50-cent pieces. I was like ‘no, are you serious?’”

They were serious.

“Tears started rolling down my face,” Jackie said.

If somebody from another country is new to the neighborhood, they are sent to Miss Jackie so she can help them. If somebody needs clothes, she finds them. If she needs to give the clothes off her back, she will.

Even with all that, she was looking for a part time job. Somebody suggested the racetrack. The application sat on her table for three weeks.

“I was sitting at the water ice stand one day and I heard God tell me ‘them people need you on that race track, fill out that application,’” Jackie said.

They did. And she did.

“I was on the track at 3 o’clock every morning in the cold waiting for somebody to hire me,” Jackie said.

She got hired in 2012. She was told to arrive at 5. She got there at 4:30. She’s been there ever since, working for the same man, Mike Pino.

So what does she do?

Everything, it turns out.

“If Michael Pino was to take two Tylenols a day, I am his glass of water,” Jackie said, summing up her role as only she can. “If Michael Pino needed ketchup on his cheesesteak sandwich, I am there to squeeze it.”

It was Pino who termed Jackie “his barn wife”. His family has become her second family.

Jackie started as a hotwalker. She graduated quickly to barn paperwork. She picks up checks, deposits checks and writes checks. If something needs to be done around the barn, she does it.

Then, she goes home and does whatever she can to help her community. Which is, basically, whatever is needed by anybody who needs it.