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.


PROMISED STORM A GREAT START FOR JENNIFER TRUEHART

By Dick Jerardi

Jennifer Truehart grew up around horses in South Jersey, owned barrel horses and quarter horses, but never a thoroughbred. A few years back, her sister brought her to Parx and she decided to buy a yearling Pennsylvania bred filly by El Padrino that would be named Promised Storm.

“On a whim, a friend of a friend was selling her, we took her and took a chance,’’ Truehart said while pointing to Promised Storm in her Parx stall.

A now 5-year-old-mare, Promised Storm has made 21 lifetime starts with six wins, seven seconds and $292,684 in earnings.

“She gives 110 percent every time she goes out,’’ Truehart said. “She’s just been a blessing to me. My kids love her.’’

According to Truehart, the mare will eat anything  _ bananas, pizza, lifesavers.

And she can really run. Trained by Regina Brennan and ridden by either Mychel Sanchez or Luis Ocasio in 2019, she won $201,024 last year.

Truehart also has a newly turned 3-year-old that she likes. Rock on Luke, named after her 6-year-old son. She is also the mother of a 4-month-old.

Brennan does not have many horses, but she does very well with what she has.

“She’s been exceptionally great to me to help me through this,’’ Truehart said of her trainer. “It’s a lot different from our barrel horses.’’

Promised Storm was purchased from her breeder so with the Pa. breeder bonuses, everybody has been winning with the mare.

“She loves to be out,’’ Truehart said. “We’ll take her out of her stall at nightime. She loves to train.’’

And she clearly loves to run.

“She broke her maiden third time out at Penn National,’’ Truehart said. “After that, she just kept climbing.’’

The maiden win was against strictly Pennsylvania breds. The other five wins have come in open allowance and optional claiming races at Parx

Promised Storm will not be entering any races where she could actually be claimed. Truehart has a very small stable, but is considering whether to invest some of those Promised Storm winnings in more horses.

“This is probably going to be her last year racing,’’ Truehart said of Promised Storm “No tag for her. She’s going to go home. We’ll see if we can breed her and continue to keep going.’’

Truehart had always owned geldings until Promised Storm. She grew up in the Mount Holly, N.J. area, but now lives in Bensalem, near the track, near her horses, near her star horse, Promised Storm.

THE MISUNDERSTOOD HORSE OWNER

By Dick Jerardi

When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in his annual budget address, “let’s bet on kids, instead of bankrolling horse owners,’’ he demonstrated what has sadly become a familiar refrain: All horse owners are rich and are getting richer off horse racing purses.

The facts tell the real story. In 2018, according to the Jockey Club Fact Book, there were 46,144 starters in North America. They ran for $1.1 billion in purses.

The average starter made $24,223 that year. The average annual training bill is between $30,000 and $50,000 per horse, depending on the circuit.
The math clearly demonstrates the vast majority of horse owners lose money. And some quite small percentage are actually rich when they decide to get into the game. Owners buy and claim horses because they love the animals, love the competition, love the game, definitely not to get rich.

And without horse owners, there is no game. Thus, the governor not only missed the point with his implication about horse owners, he also missed the wider point that horse owners are the engine that drives the entire vast economic engine that is estimated to have a $1.6 billion impact in the commonwealth, once you consider the approximately 20,000 jobs that are related in one way or another to horse racing.

There are jobs away from the tracks in agriculture, manufacturing and construction. There are jobs directly related to the tracks _ jockeys, van drivers, blacksmiths and veterinarians. There are jobs that lead to the other jobs and people with seemingly unrelated jobs that absolutely trace to horse racing.

Nobody is against providing scholarships for 25,000 students in the 14 state system colleges as the governor is proposing. It is a worthwhile goal, but there are many other revenue sources beyond the $204 million in the Race Horse Development Fund.

Destroying an entire industry makes no economic sense. Beyond that, it is unfair and ignores the history behind the Fund.

In the early 2000s, the state’s horse racing industry was in serious trouble because Delaware and West Virginia were growing purses with money from gaming revenue. Getting slot machines at tracks to help with purses was the reason casinos came to Pennsylvania. Too many people seem to have forgotten that.

When slots were legalized in 2004, the industry underwent an almost immediate transformation. Horse owners were getting more money for their investment which meant thousands had a real chance to earn a decent living. New breeding farms were developed. Pennsylvania breds were desirable.
Those slots casinos have become goliaths, slots leading to table games leading to sports betting. It was anticipated that casino gambling on site would lead to less race track betting.

Thus, the assessment paid by casinos that would go to purses. The “Fund’’ comes directly from casino money, not from taxes paid by the citizens of the Commonwealth.

As casinos have expanded their menu of gambling options, the effect on race track handle has become more dramatic. There is no way handle can be the only driver of purses as it once was.

So the government decided as recently as 2017 that horse racing had such a state-wide economic benefit it was worth preserving, that it needed to give some certainty about the Fund to anybody who planned to make a long-term investment.

What happened between then and now is unclear, as Gov Wolf’s proposal came with no warning, as well as no understanding on what the Race Horse Development Fund actually does and why it came into existence in the first place.

Now that so many in horse racing have made their voices heard, hopefully facts will trump soundbites and reality will overcome a misunderstanding.

MISCHEVIOUS ALEX DOMINATES SWALE STAKES FOR JOHN SERVIS

BY Dick Jerardi

When last seen in a race prior to Feb. 2, Mischevious Alex overwhelmed the field in the Nov. 5 Parx Juvenile, winning by 9 3/4 lengths. When he appeared in the Swale Stakes 1,225 miles south at Gulfstream Park, Mischevious Alex was just as dominant, winning by 7 lengths and running his 7 furlongs in 1:22.83.

“I don’t know how far he’ll go,’’ trainer John Servis said from Florida the morning after the race. “On the pedigree and the way he’s built and everything, he doesn’t look like a horse that’s going to go real far. I don’t want to be one of those guys that put him on the (Kentucky Derby) trail trying to make him go that far and then have nothing at the end of the summer.’’

So how far is a question. How fast is not a question. The 3-year-old son of Into Mischief, owned by Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, got a 93 Beyer Figure in the Swale.

With any luck in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct which went off 15 minutes after the Swale ended, Zacney and Bennett could have had a stakes double. Based at Parx with trainer Butch Reid, Monday Morning Qb got off to a terrible start, made what was probably a premature move on the backstretch, then surged to near the front on the far turn and into the stretch before tiring very late to finish fourth.

Servis said the March 7 Gotham Stakes, a one-turn mile at Aqueduct, is likely next for Mischevious Alex. If the colt really runs well and the Derby begins to come into focus, Servis said he might consider the Lexington Stakes which is two weeks prior to the Derby.

Is the Derby possible after the Lexington?

“If he runs really well, but that’s way down the road,’’ Servis said.

Right now, Servis has a really good 3-year-old.

“If you throw out this horse’s turf race, he should be undefeated,’’ Servis said. “In his second race at Laurel, he got in a little tight and almost dropped himself and dropped back and came running and just got beat. In the Sapling, Trevor [McCarthy] came back and said, ‘John, this horse should have galloped. I’m just sitting. When I pulled the trigger I didn’t expect him to move like he did.’ He looped around everybody, opened up three and just pulled himself up.

“So we knew the talent was there. He’s always been a push-button horse but very green. When we decided to put the blinkers on him (before the Parx Juvenile), that’s when he started to mind his business. I really think, me personally, a one-turn mile is going to really hit him on the head. Is he a mile and a quarter horse? I don’t think so.”

Mischevious Alex is not the only talented 3-year-old in the Servis barn. He also has the very exciting Dreams Untold, a Pennsylvania bred son of Smarty Jones owned by Pat Chapman who broke his maiden by 14 1/4 lengths at Parx on Jan. 4. Servis is likely to run the horse next in the Feb. 15 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel.

Dreams Untold does not have nearly the experience of Mischevious Alex, but he has serious talent.

“If he shows he’s good enough, I might think about the Preakness with him,’’ Servis said.

Bricks and Mortar Voted 2019 Horse of the Year

By Dick Jerardi

There were 241 votes cast for Horse of the Year, Bricks and Mortar, unbeaten in 2019 with five Grade I wins and six wins overall, got 204 of the votes. Mitole, voted champion sprinter, got 19 H/Y votes. Maximum Security, voted champion 3-year-old, got 14 H/Y votes.

Hard to argue with a horse that started his year in January with a win in the January 26 Pegasus Turf Invitational, ended it with a win in the November 2 Breeders’ Cup Turf and earned $6,723,650.

I voted for Bricks and Mortar based on his perfect record and not just because I cashed a very nice exacta when he beat 51-1 United in the Breeders’ Cup.

My vote may have been very different if Mitole had not caught a dead rail and finished third in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga. It was his only loss in a year that included four Grade I wins in races from 6 furlongs to 1 mile. His wins in the Met Mile and Breeders’ Cup Sprint were among the best performances of the year.

If it’s close between a really good grass horse and a really good dirt horse, I go with the dirt horse. In the end, a perfect season is a perfect season. And Bricks and Mortar was perfect.

I actually voted Maximum Security second and Mitole third for Horse of the Year. I have to believe Maximum Security would have gotten way more than 14 votes if he had not been disqualified from first in the Kentucky Derby. Whatever one thought of the stewards’ decision, there is no argument that Maximum Security was brilliant in the slop and the gloaming at Churchill Downs. He battled for the lead the whole way and then ran away from the field in the final quarter mile. It was a powerhouse performance lost in the aftermath.

Maximum Security ran eight times in 2019 and finished first seven times. The only time he was actually beaten came in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park where he missed the break and finished second behind King for a Day, a horse he crushed five weeks later in the Haskell. Maximum Security also won the Florida Derby, Bold Ruler and Cigar Mile. He almost certainly would have won the Pennsylvania Derby if he had not been scratched due to a very serious bout of colic the week of the race.

Mucho Gusto, second in the Haskell, just won the $3 million Pegasus at Gulfstream Park. Parx hero Spun to Run, third in the Haskell, came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Smarty Jones, M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation and finish second to Maximum Security in the Cigar Mile.

In the end, the voters, including me, went with the perfection of Bricks and Mortar whose connections were all rewarded with Eclipse Awards as well _ trainer Chad Brown (20 Grade I wins, $30 million in earnings), jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. ($32 million in earnings) and owners Seth Klarman and William Lawrence. Parx Hall of Famer George Strawbridge Jr, who bred Bricks and Mortar, was honored as leading breeder, giving the Bricks and Mortar people a rare sweep of the individual awards.

 

 

Bill Prickett story

Dick Jerardi

In a golden era for sprinters at Keystone in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Al Battah was one of the best. He won the Allegheny Stakes as a 2-year-old in 1977, the Bensalem and Garrison Handicaps in 1979 and 1980 and the Gallant Bob Handicap in 1979. All told, the horse won 21 races from 57 starters and $370,539.

Al Battah’s trainer Bill Prickett was also one of the very best. A native of Vincentown, N.J., whose father was a dairy farmer, Prickett trained horses in the Delaware Valley from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.

He very likely won more than 1,000 races. Equibase statistics, which only go back to 1974, have him with 719 wins from 5,429 starters. He won 131 races in 1976. The Prickett-trained Return of a Native won the 1976 Ohio Derby. Keep Shining was the king of the starter handicaps at Delaware Park.

Prickett was one day shy of his 82nd birthday when he died of cardiac arrest at Delaware’s Christiana Hospital on Jan. 8.

Patience Gowan went to work for Prickett in 1975. She went out on her own for a few years before they reconnected in the early 1980s. They were together for nearly 40 years and had a son in 1985.

“I signed for him to get his first trainer’s license,’’ said Eddie Gager, the famed equine dentist who basically grew up with Prickett. “We travelled all over the country together, bought a lot of horses together. He was a good guy…His father was a dairy farmer. In fact, his father set a world-record with a Guernsey Cow with milk production. Billy grew up on a farm.’’

According to Gager, Prickett’s training career ended at a relatively young age because he had some medical issues. Prickett, however, was not unwilling to take on other challenges.

“When he was 60-years-old, he said to me: `I’m going to Alaska and do some prospecting,’’’ Gager remembered.

So he did.

“He gave $15,000 for a piece of equipment and it cost him $10,000 to get it there,’’ Gager said. “The best day he had up there was about $1,800 in gold. He said if the thing broke down, you were like two weeks getting the parts for it. When he left, he left the machine up there. For $10,000, he wasn’t going to bring it home. That was kind of a bust.’’

But Bill Prickett’s training career was anything but a bust. Anybody who went to Garden State Park, Atlantic City, Monmouth Park, Liberty Bell, Keystone and Delaware Park, among other tracks, during his years as a trainer, always knew he would not be hard to find. Just look to the winner’s circle.

ECLIPSE WINNERS BACK AT PARX

BY Dick Jerardi

Kyle Frey won 153 races and the Eclipse Award as leading apprentice jockey in 2011. Luis Ocasio won 110 races and the Eclipse Award as leading apprentice in 2016. Each was based at Parx during his championship season.

Both riders had been riding at Golden Gate Fields in Northern California until last fall. Proving you can go home again, Ocasio returned to Parx to ride in mid-October. Frey came back a month later.

When Frey came in 2011, he was not well known. That changed quickly.

“Originally, my agent Mark North who was at Golden Gate Fields, told me: “hey, kid, you’re a good rider, I’ve got some friends back east, I think if we go out there, we might not get the Eclipse Award, but they’ll know you’re there,”” Frey said.

They quickly knew he was there and he did get that Eclipse Award.

“I really liked it,” Frey said. “I’m a little more East Coast so it was cool.”

After he broke his femur, he went home to recover in Northern California. Then, he decided to stay and ride at Golden Gate.

“Being around family and friends, had a good little bit of money behind me,” Frey said.

He started riding at Golden Gate Fields. He did so well on some of trainer Doug O’Neill’s horses that O’Neill asked him to come ride for him in Southern California.

“That’s a really good guy,” Frey said of O’Neill.

That Southern California exposure helped Frey get mounts on better horses. He won the 2018 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on Blended Citizen, the 2017 El Camino Real at Golden Gate on Zakaroff and the 2017 Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows on Shane’s Girlfriend.

But he missed Parx.

“I love it,” he said, “It’s just like coming home.”

Frey did not have to introduce himself this time,

“I’ve got a lot of friends over here,” he said.

When he goes to Penn National to ride, everybody in the jocks’ room calls him Justin Bieber. There is a definite resemblance.

“It’s really heartwarming to get that kind of reaction,” Frey said, with a laugh.

He’s been riding for some top Parx trainers, including John Servis, Tyler Servis, Carlos Guerrero and Lou Linder.

Ocasio still remembers getting that Eclipse Award.

“That’s the best moment that happened in my career,” he said.

Ocasio went to jockeys’ school in his native Puerto Rico. He rode a few months there and then came to Parx. He tried Golden Gate, but like Frey, decided to “go home.”

His business has picked up little by little. Trainers definitely remembered his terrific 2016.

“The second week back, I won two races,” Ocasio said.

Frey’s mounts have more $15 million during his career; Ocasio’s $7.3 million. Frey has won more than 700 races. Ocasio is closing on 300.

FAMILY AFFAIR AT THE PENNY PEARCE BARN

BY Dick Jerardi

Penny Pearce and her husband Augustin Solis had been working for other trainers, with the occasional horse of their own when she decided “I didn’t want to work for other people anymore.’’

So, now in Barn 27 at the end of the Parx stable area nearest the seven-furlong chute, it is Pearce, her husband and their two sons, Philip and J.D., working with their 12 horses.

“My husband and I got a couple of our own and it kept growing and growing and growing,’’ Pearce said. “Pretty soon, he stopped working for somebody else and we just work together now.’’
It was 2012 when Pearce first took out her trainer’s license.

“We had a really good year that first year and we said: `This is easy,’’’ Pearce said. “This job will humble you. You might have a good year one year and the next year might not be so good.’’
That is, in essence, the world of the race tracker. Horses are unpredictable.

“You take the good with the bad and you just keep rolling with it,’’ Pearce said.

The good would include the mare Natalie La Rose who was in and out Pearce’s barn three times because she kept claiming her back after losing her.

“She’s just got a heart,’’ Pearce said. She just a race horse. She’s not very nice to work with, typical mare, but she just loves her job.’’

Natalie La Rose was claimed off Pearce again on Nov. 30 by owner John Fanelli and leading Parx trainer Joe Taylor.
It might be a business, but Penny Pearce is one trainer who gets and stays attached to her horses, even when she no longer has them.

“You can ask my husband,’’ she said. “Sometimes, I can’t even go the paddock when they claim them. Like I’m tearing up now. That’s my main problem. I fall in love…You have to because if you didn’t love the horses, you shouldn’t be in this business. And if you are in this business and you don’t love the horses, you have no business being in this business.’’

A visit to the Pearce barn makes it obvious they all love the horses.

“My son Philip does just about everything,’’ Pearce said. “He walks, he grooms, he ponies horses in the afternoon. Hopefully, after this winter, he’ll be galloping too. He works really hard. It’s just the four of us. It’s nice.’’

When they go home, there is no horse talk. That is left for the time they spend together each day at the barn.
Pearce said her husband is the backbone of the operation. He is at the barn from 4 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. every day.
The family owns 70 percent of the horses in their barn which means they get to call all the shots.

“I decided over the years I’m just going to train for the people I like,’’ Pearce said. “The owners that I do have are really good owners.’’
The racing math works much better for owner/trainers when they win.

“If you win a race for your owner, you only get 10 percent of the pie.’’ Pearce said. “If you do it for yourself, you get it all.’’
Like so many around the track, Pearce was born into it.

“I’m a race track brat,’’ she said. “My dad trained horses. He was a blacksmith. My brother’s still a blacksmith down in New Mexico. That’s where I’m from. So you’re just kind of born and raised into this business and it’s kind of what you just do. You love the horses, you love the business. It’s like the biggest adrenaline rush in the world. There’s nothing like getting a horse ready, getting them to the races and watching them do good.’’

PARX TAKEOUT REDUCED FOR 2020

By Dick Jerardi

It is no secret that big bettors have avoided Parx Racing trifecta and superfecta pools because the 30 percent takeout was simply too high, well above the industry standard of 25 percent for those bets.

That will change in 2020 when the tri and super takeout is lowered to 25 percent. Takeout on Pick 3 and pick 4 bets will be lowered from 26 percent to 25 percent. The 17 percent on win, place and show as well as the 20 percent on exactas and doubles will be unchanged, those two percentages much more in line with industry standards.

“We do a lot of things for the horsemen, but we also have other people who participate,” said Sal DeBunda, President of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA). “Besides selling programs and hot dogs and sodas and having a spectacle here, we sell bets. If we don’t sell enough bets, we’re not going to be able to pay for a lot of what we do here.

“Over the years, we’ve tried to find more and more ways to sell more bets. We’ve been working with the frontside and we’ve finally come to an agreement that we’re going to try something different. We’re going to lower the takeout on some of the bets that are made here in hopes that will attract more bettors to Parx races rather than other jurisdictions.”

It is also no secret that huge computer-generated bets are responsible for a significant percentage of the annual handle on North American race tracks. Lowering the takeout could attract more of that market. At the very least, it is going to put more money back in the pockets of the winners who then will have more money to bet into other pools and other races.

“We want to attract the major bettors,” DeBunda said. “Right now, there’s a lot of publicity that’s put out by the Horseplayers’ Association about what tracks have the largest takeout. We seem to be on the top of that Hit Parade and I think this step will signal we are willing to take less takeout and hopefully generate more bets.”

Serious studies have been done on the effect of lower takeouts. Circumstances change from track to track. How much the takeout is lowered and on what bets obviously matters. The bottom line for any racetrack and therefore its horsemen who depend on handle for purse revenue is: can enough handle be generated to offset what was a higher percentage of the bets retained?

Time will tell how it is going to work at Parx. The status quo was likely going to be unsustainable so this certainly seems a worthwhile experiment that came out of discussions between Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson and PTHA Executive Director Mike Ballezzi.

“It’s a fantastic move by Joe Wilson and Mike Ballezzi,” horse owner Bob Hutt said. “Anytime you lower takeout, less is more. I think you are going to see a lot more action from all over the country by lowering the takeout. I am a player and I am very happy about it.”

Joe Taylor, leading trainer at Parx in 2019, agrees.

“I think it’s a great idea, the new takeout,” he said. “You have a lot of gamblers across the country who are avoiding betting at Parx because of the big takeout. I think it’s going to induce a lot of play and raise our handle immensely. I think it’s a very big deal.”

It should especially help on Mondays and Tuesdays when Parx is competing with smaller tracks for handle, noted owner Victor Collazo.

“We’re really excited about the new year coming,” mutuel teller Debbie Reyes said. “When our customers are wagering they’re going to get paid more money so everyone is going to be much happier.”

It was also no secret that the Parx handle would go down when slot machines were introduced which is why, by law, the purses were supplemented by slots revenue. That has certainly helped make Parx one of the country’s true success stories for a decade.

The horsemen, however, do not get a share of casino table games or sports betting, so growing the betting handle is essential.

“We really need to get the word out (about the lower takeout),” DeBunda said. “If we don’t tell the bettors to look at this, it won’t make any difference.”

So the word will get out. Time and the bettors will tell how it affects the bottom line.

From Top Jockey to Top Agent

By Dick Jerardi

Josiah “Joe” Hampshire rode horses for 33 years. He was top 10 in wins from 2000-02. His 300 wins in 2002 were third best in the United States. His career began in 1982 and ended in 2014. In between, he rode 23,314 races, with 3,801 wins, 3,278 seconds, 3,139 thirds and mount earnings of $44,567,367.

So, why if he has not been riding for five years is the retired jockey seen just about every morning in the Parx racing office? He is now winning races “through” apprentice rider Felix Pinero and journeyman Mychel Sanchez, who has been in a year-long battle with Frankie Pennington for leading rider at Parx. Sanchez is a terrific talent, but he picked the right agent, a man who understands the game like someone who has lived it since he was 14.

“As a young kid, I was a good athlete in school,” Hampshire remembered. “Didn’t really care for school too much so I decided that I wanted to be a jockey.

“My father got a Lexington, Kentucky phone book and the next thing I know I was supposed to go to Bishop Neumann High school; instead I went to Keeneland Race Track.”

He grew up in South Philly where there obviously were no horse farms or racetracks. He just had this desire.

“Leaving my family at 14 was tough,” Hampshire said. “I remember I was really scared, but I was very fortunate to hook up with a guy named John Ward who kind of took me under his wing and made sure I was okay. After a little while, I was very comfortable there.”

Hampshire had a great mentor, as Ward, who trained 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, was a legendary horseman in Kentucky.

Hampshire’s first race was at Beulah Park in Ohio. He remembered being in “a panic” when he weighed 112 pounds that day. For his second race, he weighed 101.

He was an apprentice rider at what was then called Keystone in 1983. He rode at his home track until 1989 when he took off for Boston and Suffolk Downs.

“Things just snowballed for me,” Hampshire said. “I ended up winning 18 riding titles there. I came back here in 2004. I was successful until (2014). I had a real good career doing this and I wouldn’t change anything.”

When he decided to end his riding career, Hampshire did what was natural. He became an agent, showing young jockeys what he had learned for all those years.

“It’s pretty much the only thing I know how to do,” Hampshire said of his decision to become an agent.

Sanchez asked Hampshire to take his book right after he lost his apprentice allowance.

“We worked really hard, mostly to his credit,” Hampshire said. “Now, we’re one of the top guys.”

Hampshire’s favorite horse to ride was the great sprinter Fire Plug, one of the best ever stabled at Parx, winner of 28 races out of 54 starts from 1986 to 1991.

“I think I rode him eight times,” Hampshire said. “I think I had six stakes wins on him. He was my first real good horse and he just sticks in my heart.”

He actually rode Fire Plug 15 times and won eight stakes, but the point is the point. Fire Plug was a very cool horse who was trained by the late Bob Camac. Horse and trainer are both in the Parx Hall of Fame.

“Bobby was great with me,” Hampshire said. “He treated me like a son. Back in those days, I was kind of a wild kid. Bob stuck with me and put me on a lot of good horses. Bob was an excellent horseman. If I ever needed to go to a sale to buy a horse, that’s the guy I would want with me.”

And, if you ever needed a jockey to win a race or an agent who could put his rider on the right horse, Joe Hampshire was and is a great choice.

He has been around the track forever and is the perfect spokesperson for why it means so much to those who love it.

“We race here all year round, our purses are great, we’ve got a lot of benefits for the horsemen here,” Hampshire said. “Turning for Home is probably one of the greatest organizations in horse racing, the horses that they retire. It’s just a good place to be… I love Parx. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else and I’ll be here until I can’t be here anymore.”

Longtime Parx Steward John Hicks Grew Up in the Game

By Dick Jerardi

John Hicks grew up right near Rockingham Park in Salem, New Hampshire. There was no chance he was not going to be in horse racing. His father started as groom, became a trainer and then a steward at the “Rock” among other tracks.

“I was around the racetrack my whole life,” Hicks said. “I followed in his footsteps.”

There really was no doubt.

“This was it,” Hicks said.

Hicks has memories from a time when the New England circuit was thriving with racing at Rockingham, Suffolk Downs (Boston), Green Mountain (Vermont) and the Massachusetts fair circuit.

“It was a lot of fun,” Hicks said of his early days on the track. “You got to go to the barn as a young kid back then, play with the goats and the horses. Messing around the backside was a little different back then. We behaved ourselves. Summers up there (at Rockingham) were like Saratoga. Summertime in New Hampshire, it was a lot of fun.”

Hicks has been a Parx steward since 2001 after working as a racing official in South Florida for 20 years.

He got his start like his dad, working on the backstretch.

“I worked for Vinnie Blengs walking horses in the summer,” Hicks said. “Worked my way down to South Florida and then worked my way up here.”

Hicks is employed by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission after his long run in Florida.

“It was a little challenge being back in the northeast,” Hicks said. “You had to readjust to the weather, but the people are the same. You see the same people. Doesn’t matter where you are, Northeast, West Coast, South Florida. You always cross paths with somebody you know. It’s been a lot of fun being here, enjoyable.”

Being around the game as long as Hicks has, you have seen some really good horses. He specifically remembers Timely Writer, a New England star capable of winning big races anywhere and Royal Ski, owned by Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers.

He remembers not only the horses, but the feeling that was engendered just by hanging at the track.

“The summers were a blast, playing softball, hanging out at the lake,” Hicks said.

Sadly, the New England circuit is just a memory now.

Hicks not only worked at Gulfstream Park, Calder and Hialeah, he was also a state steward at Pompano Park, a harness track.
During his Florida run, Hicks saw all the great horses and trainers that would come down from New York every winter.

“All the big trainers, Woody Stephens, Billy Turner, all those guys were down there, you saw all those great horses all the time,” Hicks remembered. “We had a great time. Although you worked six days a week and you were there from 7 in the morning until 7 at night, but you had a blast.”

When Hicks’ dad became a state steward at Calder, John became a claims clerk in the office at 19-years-old. He’s been on the track ever since.

Stewards, like referees and umpires, generally don’t have fan clubs. Hicks understands.

“The public is the main thing for us,” Hicks said. “We want to make sure that the public gets a fair shake. We’re there to make sure of that. We do get some angry phone calls or letters from time to time.

“But we try to do what’s right and we try to do the best for the fan, for the owner, for the jock, for the trainer, for everybody involved.”

The most controversial recent decision the Parx stewards had to make was after the 2018 Grade I Cotillion Stakes when Mike Smith on runner-up Midnight Bisou claimed foul against winner Monomoy Girl and Florent Geroux. The stewards eventually decided to disqualify Monomoy Girl and place her second.

“When you always have big races like that, you want to make sure you can put (camera) shots together if there’s an incident in the race,” Hicks said. “You want to adjudicate the race just like you would any other race any other day. I mean a million dollars is a lot, but some of these people are running for $25,000-$30,000, and that’s a lot of money to them too. So we want to make sure we take the care for every single race.”