By Dick Jerardi
When Jack Armstrong arrived at Parx on July 30, he knew he had a strong hand with seven horses in the 12 races. He has also owned horses for 20 years, so he knows how hard the game can be.
“I was talking to a couple of buddies and I got seven (entries) in, which is hard to do anyway,” Armstrong said. “I’m like, ‘I hate to be greedy, but I think three or four of these have a pretty good shot.’
“The first one, I said to (trainer) Scott (Lake) ‘I’ve got six in after this, if we can win this race, I can’t go 0-for-7,’” Armstrong said.
Now, that is spoken like a horse owner who knows what can go wrong. Well, on that day, just about everything went right.
Armstrong won that first race. And the second. And the third. He had horses finish third in the fourth race, then fourth in the fifth race and fifth in the seventh race.
Armstrong had won three races in a day before, but his memory is that they were at different tracks.
Could he win four, and all at his home track? He could, and he did when To The Flag won the 10th race.
“It was pretty cool,” said Armstrong, a member of the Parx Racing Hall of Fame. “My phone was blowing up. Keith Jones said it was Jack Armstrong Day at the Races… It was fun. I’ve been in the game for a long time. I’ve got to say that was pretty cool.”
Iwish Irish, who was 8-5, won the first, going 1 mile. The winner’s purse was $12,000. Iwish Irish was claimed for $5,000.
Star Sign, a first-time starter at 4-1, won the second, a maiden $20,000 claimer going 7 furlongs. The horse is trained by Bobby Mosco, one of three trainers Armstrong uses along with fellow Parx Hall of Famers Phil Aristone and Lake. First place was worth $14,000.
Lendar, trained by Lake, went wire-to-wire in the third to win by 6 1/2 lengths at 4-5 going 7 furlongs. The winning purse was worth $12,600. Lendnar was claimed for $7,500.
Chelios finished third in the fourth at 3-1 for Aristone and was promptly claimed for $5,000. Raggy Rocks finished fourth in the fifth race, a maiden $20,000 claimer. Cousin Pete finished fifth in the seventh, a maiden special weight.
Lake was back with To The Flag in the 10th. The horse won the 7-furlong race by two lengths at 5-2. The winner’s purse was $18,000 and, yes, To The Flag was claimed for $12,500.
For the day, the seven horses earned $61,590 in purses and brought back another $30,000 for the claims. Armstrong used three trainers and six jockeys.
Armstrong was delivering pizzas two decades ago when he went to the track one day with a co-worker who just happened to own horses.
“I had been to the races as a bettor and as a fan,” Armstrong said. “I come to the races, watch his horse run and I’m like ‘that was kind of exciting and that was his horse. Imagine if this was my horse’. One thing leads to another. I get in. I get a horse. Pretty much, I’m addicted at that point. It was such a thrill.”
His first horse wasn’t very talented, but his second horse was.
“One became two, then became four, and now I have 22 as of today (Aug. 18),” Armstrong said. “I’m a claiming guy. I’ve never won a stakes race. I’ve been in a couple, had a couple seconds. But to me the fun is one gets claimed off me; alright good, I’ll go look for another one.
“I was talking to Bobby Mosco. It’s not even all the money, it’s about when you claim a horse thinking: ‘Hey, we can stretch this horse out and she might like it. We can shorten this one up and he might like it.’”
Armstrong has been around long enough to remember “the beaten fours ($4,000 claimers with conditions) when the pot was $7,500, (with) $4,500 to the winner. After the 10 percent for the trainer and the jock, we came out with $3,600”.
The slot machine revenue that led to dramatically increased purses changed the economics for Parx owners. Before slots, they were just trying to survive. Now, done correctly, it is possible for stables at Parx to show a decent profit.
Without owners, there is no game. Owners with passion make the game. Jack Armstrong is a perfect example of how it can be done. He has been savvy enough in how he runs his operation that he is capable of having days like July 30—seven starters, four winners, and more than $90,000 coming into the stable in one afternoon.