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.