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.


JACK ARMSTRONG AND FELLOW PARX OWNERS CAN ONLY WAIT AND HOPE

BY Dick Jerardi

Jack Armstrong has been a horse owner for 20 years. According to Equibase, his horses have started 3,584 times, with 601 wins, 575 seconds, 538 thirds and nearly $12 million in earnings.

Since What About Tonight finished second in the second race at Parx on March 10, Armstrong has had no starters with no wins and no earnings.

Meanwhile, the expenses have continued unabated.

“My thinking with this is you can’t do much about it,’’ said Armstrong, a member of the Parx Hall of Fame.“Getting upset isn’t any good for my health and it’s not going to get us anywhere.’’

“This’’ of course is the coronavirus which has shut down much of the world. Some American race tracks have remained open, but Parx is not among them. That decision was first made by management and then made official by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf who has shut down much of the state.

Armstrong has 15 horses in training at the moment with trainers Scott Lake, Phil Aristone and Bobby Mosco.

“The bills are going to pile up pretty fast if they don’t come up with a plan,’’ Armstrong said.

Unfortunately, planning is impossible because nobody knows when the virus might abate enough so we can all get back to some form of normality.

Meanwhile, the horses have to be fed and trained, the trainers have to get their day rates and the stable help has to be paid.

“I use the number $2,600 a month, but that’s based on my day rate, what my guys charge me,’’ Armstrong said.

That’s $2,600 per month per horse. So that’s $39,000 per month for a 15-horse stable like Armstrong’s. If he’s winning 46 races and nearly $1.2 million in purses like he did in 2019, those numbers work nicely. If he’s winning no races and no money, those numbers don’t work so well.

That $2,600 per month is a bit less now because the horses are not getting treated for races. But Armstrong would happily pay the $2,600 if his horses had a chance to run.

Armstrong rarely ships so his van bills are minimal. His horses are stabled at Parx and run at Parx.

He did have two in at Laurel on March 20 and another on March 21. They looked to be in good spots until racing was shut down in Maryland on March 20.

Right before Maryland was shut down, it was announced Laurel would only let horses that were stabled there or at Pimlico run in their races. Armstrong had sent three horses to Pimlico to be stabled with Lake. They were about 30 minutes from Pimlico when the local ban was announced. The van returned to Parx with the horses. Turned out to be moot anyway when everything was shut down, but it exemplifies the uncertain times for horse owners.

“Other tracks run with no fans, no owners, then why we can’t we?’’ Armstrong wondered. “That’s the frustrating part.’’

Parx was among the very first tracks to shut down, as New York, Maryland and even Penn National remained open. Tracks in Florida, Arkansas and California have remained open. Penn National closed for racing when the governor gave his edict. Now, Laurel and Aqueduct, after a stable worker tested positive for Covid-19, have been closed for racing.

What Armstrong and other owners at Park found upsetting was when the track building was closed but the Parx casino remained open. That didn’t last long as casinos were closed as well by Gov. Wolf.

The casino’s closing obviously will affect purses once the track and casino reopen as the purses are so dependent on a slice of the slot revenues.

Trainers generally are not making money on their day rates. They make money when their horses run well and they get 10 percent of the owner’s share of the purse.

“They say the day rate gets sucked up with feed and shavings and hay and the workers, bandages, exercise riders every day,’’ Armstrong said.

So, owners, trainers and jockeys are all being affected by the shutdown.

“The biggest problem is there’s no date,’’ Armstrong said. “If you said it was June 1st, I would say okay, get my horses to the farm for a month, then I’ll bring them back in training and they’ll be ready to roll by June 1st.’’

But nobody knows how this is going to play out. So, we wait.

CHARLATAN EMULATING JUSTIFY

By Dick Jerardi

Even as the world is stuck in place, hoping this hideous virus can be contained in the coming weeks, the horse racing dreamers among us saw a young colt run so fast and win by so much on the second Saturday of March that our minds turned to the Kentucky Derby, even as we await the almost inevitable word that it will be moved back off its annual and iconic first Saturday in May date.

Charlatan won his first start on Feb. 16 by 5 3/4 lengths. He shaded 1:09 for 6 furlongs at Santa Anita, earning a 105 Beyer speed figure, a number good enough to win the Derby most years. Two years before, on Feb. 18, 2018, Justify won his first start by 9 1/2 lengths, shading 1:22 for 7 furlongs and getting a 104 Beyer.

Justify came back on March 11, 2018 to win a 1 mile race by 6 1/2 lengths, earning a 101 Beyer. Charlatan returned on March 15 to win a 1 mile race by 10 1/4 lengths, getting a 106 Beyer.

Justify, of course, went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, a 111-day tour de force unlike anything in horse racing history, ending as just the second unbeaten Triple Crown winner.

To this point, Charlatan has been even faster and more impressive than Justify. There is no guarantee, of course, that Charlatan will emulate Justify as he gets into the bigger races. In fact, there is no guarantee as to when the bigger races will even be run. It is a strange and disorienting time in horse racing and life, as sports and so much else in our society shuts down.

So as we who love horse racing grasp on to the hope that sustains us, it is comforting to think about what could be as legendary trainer Bob Baffert goes for his sixth Derby whenever it is run.

Yes, Baffert trains Charlatan, just like he trained Justify, American Pharoah, Point Given, Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem. Baffert has not only won the Triple Crown twice, he had four other horses that won two-thirds of the Crown.

Is Charlatan next? We shall see.

Even for him, Baffert holds an incredibly strong Derby hand this year. He trains two other unbeaten horses as well, Authentic and Nadal. Each is 3-for-3. Nadal won the San Vicente and Rebel Stakes, each by three-quarters of a length. Authentic won the Sham and San Felipe by a combined 10 lengths.

These days, three or four races qualifies as enough experience for the Derby. It is possible, if the Derby indeed is run later in the year, the Baffert horses may have a bit more race experience.

Experience is nice, but talent is nicer. Authentic and Nadal are very nice. Charlatan may be Justify II.

When I posed that exact question about Charlatan possibly being another Justify to Baffert after Charlatan’s dazzling debut, he texted back: “Not sure, but we’re going to find out.’’

Let’s hope we all get that chance.

MISCHEVIOUS ALEX WINS SECOND STRAIGHT GRADED STAKE

BY Dick Jerardi

Mischevious Alex cost $140,000 at an Ocala, Fla., 2-year-old sale in April 2019. After winning the Grade III Swale Stakes on Feb. 1 at Gulfstream Park and the Grade III Gotham Stakes on March 7 at Aqueduct, the 3-year-old colt, named for co-owner Chuck Zacney’s son Alex, has banked $344,230, with more on the horizon.

“He’s pretty good,’’ said trainer John Servis. “He’s got such a good mind. Nothing bothers him, He’s so laid back. I don’t know how good he is…It’s like Irad (Ortiz who rode him in the Swale) said, `it’s like driving a car he just waits for you to step on the gas.’’’

Mischevious Alex has been perfect in three starts with blinkers. The colt overwhelmed the field in the Nov. 5 Parx Juvenile before winning the Swale and Gotham.

It was quite the day at Aqueduct for Servis, co-owners Zacney and Glenn Bennett, as well as Parx Hall of Fame jockey Kendrick Carmouche. Eighty minutes before favored Mischevious Alex won his race by a comfortable 2 lengths, the group also teamed up as 4-1 Diamond King won the Stymie Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths, running the mile in 1:38.04, nearly four-fifths of a second faster than his two-year younger stablemate. Diamond King has now won $713,350 in his 42-race career.

“That’s the way it was supposed to go,’’ said Carmouche who has had two-stakes days before but never “big ones like that. We got what we set out to get.’’

This is a particularly strong year for 3-year-olds in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, with several horses from powerful stables already earning Beyer figures in the triple digits and near triple digits. In the Gotham, Mischevious Alex got a 90 Beyer, a nice number but not really good enough to compete in the Derby without significant improvement.

The colt’s schedule is in flux. Obviously, Zacney especially would love to win the Derby. It was 15 years ago when he and his partners ran the best 3-year-old of 2005 in the Derby, only to see Afleet Alex run third behind two longshots. The colt then dominated the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

The co-owners and Servis are nothing if not realistic. Zacney was talking maybe Wood Memorial and Preakness. Servis was not sure, thinking maybe Mischevious Alex would be best at a mile, but not discounting the possibility that he could be effective going longer. The Derby is a bit of a longshot, but not out of the question yet.

“He’s so tactical,’’ Carmouche said. “You get a horse that can break that fast and can do anything. He’s rateable. You don’t have to be on the lead…He sits good in your hand. If I wanted to wire the field I could have. That’s how much horse I had.’’

Carmouche gave Diamond King a similar ride with the same result.

“I was glad to get (Carmouche) on Diamond King because I want him to ride him at Charles Town,’’ Servis said,

That would be for the $1 million Charles Town Classic, a race Diamond King lost by a half-length in 2019.

That could be a cool victory for Servis, a West Virginia native.

“It’s huge for the horse too,’’ Servis said. “A million-dollar race, graded earnings, What’s he worth as a stallion?’

Diamond King, by the top stallion Quality Road, is a full brother to the excellent stakes-winning filly Bellanfina.
So Mischevious Alex and Diamond King, a strong exacta as we head into the spring and the prime racing season.

Carmouche especially loved the day because he got to do it “with my Parx people. You know how I feel about that. It’s good to see my people come to New York and be successful at it.’’

His “Parx people’’ took a quarter million in purses back home following a New York Saturday to remember.

JAMIE NESS GETS 3,000TH VICTORY

By Dick Jerardi

By the time Blue Rocket got into the starting gate at Canterbury Park in 1999, Jamie Ness had started 30 horses. None of them had won.

“I just remember saying I just want to win one,’’ Ness said. “It’s so hard to win races. Just give me one.’’

Blue Rocket won that race, Ness’s first. Fast forward two decades to Feb. 18, 2000, Race 6 on Feb. 18 at Parx. Late Breaking won that race for Ness. In between the first win and that win, Ness won 2,998 more races.

“I’ve always been a hard worker,’’ Ness said. “This is what I wanted to do so I didn’t want to give up. There was a point where I was like I don’t think I can do this. I’m young. I’ve got to do something else. I’ve got a college education, what am I doing? I had a feeling in my stomach that I wanted to make this work. And here we are 20 years later, kind of made it work.’’

So, from hoping to win just one race to winning 3,000 in just over 20 years as a trainer. It had been some run for the man from South Dakota.

“I don’t think it’s an achievement, but it’s a milestone,’’ Ness said at his Parx barn. “It came up kind of fast…I look a the company that I’m in with and it’s very humbling.’’

From 2007 to 2016, Ness won 2,353 races at tracks all around the country.

“You name (the track), I’ve probably been there ’’ Ness said.

There would include tracks in his native South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Arizona. He was the dominant trainer at Tampa Bay. He’s been in the mid-Atlantic for about 10 years.

Ness won 395 races in 2012. No. 1 in the country. He was second in wins with 330 in 2011. All that after going 2-for-43 in that first year as a trainer.

Ness does not have owners who go to sales to pay big money for yearlings. He is a claiming trainer.

He has made so many great claims, it’s hard to count that high. But none has been better than Ghost Hunter, claimed for $25,000 on June 4, 2014 at Belmont Park from fellow South Dakota native Bill Mott. The horse won that day, his second win in nine starts.

Since that day, Ghost Hunter has won 20 more times from 56 starts. The horse won the 2017 Arlington Handicap. All told, Ghost Hunter, recently turned 10, has won about $800,000 for Ness.

“I just put him back in training,’’ Ness said. “He’s taken me all over the country.’’

The horse that really got him on the map was Lookinforthesecret. Claimed for $12,500 on Jan. 5, 2007 at Tampa Bay Downs, Lookinforthesecret was 13-for-21 for Ness, running great and often winning sprint stakes on turf and dirt at tracks in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Kentucky and Canada.

“I scratched together $12,500 to get him claimed,’’ Ness said. “He went on and won a lot of stakes and was probably the fastest five-eighths turf horse in the country for like a year. I took him him everywhere Nobody really knew me until I had that horse.’’
Ness’s horses have won $50 million in purses the hard way. There are no $20 million Saudi Cups in his future that has already included more than 12,000 starters.

Ness has 30 horses at Parx, another 30 at Laurel and 15 at a training center in Delaware, not far from where he lives on his farm in Chesapeake City, Md., exactly 80 miles from Parx and 80 miles from Laurel. His toughest decision every day is whether to head north or south.

“I get on 95, I go left or right, I’m the same distance,’’ Ness said. “I like coming here a little more than going to Laurel, a little bit different racing, a lot more claiming horses, a lot of action going on.’’

And Jamie Ness is right in the middle of that action, looking to claim another horse, win another race.

GUSTAVO CHACON HOPING TO FIND BIG HORSE OF HIS OWN

By Dick Jerardi

Gustavo Chacon will never forget the feeling of the Kentucky Derby walkover. He was trainer Derek Ryan’s assistant on May 2, 2009 when he accompanied 19-1 shot Musket Man as the colt headed for the paddock.

“That’s one of the experiences everybody wants to have,’’ Chacon said at his Parx barn. “It was one of the dreams come true. It was like being in the Super Bowl. It’s the biggest thing you ever think when you are in the horse business…The horse ran amazing. I was so happy to be there.’’

Musket Man finished a solid third in the Derby behind Mine That Bird. The horse also finished third behind Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird in the Preakness.. Earlier, Musket Man had won Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby. In 2010, Musket Man finished second in the Met Mile and third in the Whitney.

Chacon, a native of Guatemala, has been training for a decade after coming to the United States in 1989. His first job in horse racing was at Santa Anita Park with trainer John Sadler. His horses have earned $1.5 million.

“I’m really happy to be around horses all the time,’’ Chacon said, “It makes you feel better.’’

He has a very good horse in training now, E. T’s Gypsy Woman, a 4-year-old Pennsylvania-bred filly with two wins in three starts and earnings of $67,790.

“We’re thinking about the open allowance race,’’ Chacon said about what’s next. “She just won the Pa. bred allowance…Then, we’re looking at the Pa bred races.’’

Chacon was also the trainer for Exotic Appeal during much of her career which ended after 53 races in 2019 and included $127,540 in earnings.

“She was an excellent filly, but she got really sick,’’ Chacon said. “One day, she was completely down. She was like a 104.5 temperature. I called the doctor. The doctor looked at her and said `I don’t think she’s going to make it.’’’

Chacon was having none of that. He was told it would cost a lot of money to save her. He said “that’s fine. I don’t care how much it costs.’’

He was also told, even if she survived what turned out to be an ulcer on her lung, she would not run again. Chacon wasn’t buying that either. Exotic Appeal was given 200 tablets of medication for 21 days.

“She started coming around.’’ Chacon said.

The owner decided he did not want Exotic Appeal anymore so he sold her to Chacon for $3,000.

She finished third in her first start back, then second and first.

“After they sold her to me, she made about $70,000,’’ Chacon said.

After being retired, she was adopted as part of the Turning for Home program.

“She was very special, a little filly,’’ Chacon said.

The trainer believed in her and was rewarded. Now, he has another nice filly in E. T’s Gypsy Woman. Perhaps, the really big horse will be next.

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.