SENIOR INVESTMENT ON A ROLL FOR SCOTT LAKE

By Dick Jerardi

Scott Lake-trained horses have started 28,813 times. Lake, who began training in 1987, has won more races at Parx than any trainer and was a member of the inaugural Parx Hall of Fame class, has sent out 6,104 winners and those horses have earned $118.6 million in purses.

But, like most of his compatriots in the mid-Atlantic, Lake has been stuck on those numbers for several weeks as nearly everything in society has come to a halt. Whenever racing returns, Lake will have a serious star in his Parx barn ready to win stakes.

Lake claimed Senior Investment for $50,000 on Sept. 9, 2019 at Delaware Park for owner Richard Malouf. The horse was 2-1 that day, the only time in a 31-race career he has been favored.

“We were just hoping he was a solid 50 horse and we ended up winning a shake on him that day,’’ Lake said. “He turned out really good.’’

On March 14, Lake sent Senior Investment to Laurel Park for the $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial. The 6-year-old went right to the front and blew the field away, winning by 5 lengths and getting a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

Before he claimed Senior Investment, Lake called the horse’s original trainer, Kenny McPeek. It was McPeek who was training the horse in 2017 when he won the Lexington Stakes and was third in the Preakness.

“Kenny told me the horse never had any issues whatsoever,’’ Lake said.

The Johnson Memorial was Senior Investment’s third consecutive win and fourth straight big speed figure, numbers the horse had not hit since he was a 3-year-old.

“I’ll tell you what really moved him up,’’ Lake said. “Two things. The groom (Hermenio Guevara) that I have who rubs on him is fantastic and Josue Arce gallops him and he’s a tough, tough horse and Arce’s got him going beautifully.’’

Senior Investment has already won $120,590 in 2020. The horse won the majority of his $702,367 in 2017 and now has 7 wins, along with 4 seconds and 4 thirds.

Senior Investment was the final horse Lake started before the last of the mid-Atlantic tracks closed. Now, like everybody else, he waits.

“As of right now, we’re just training and keeping our fingers crossed hoping for the best,’’ Lake said. “I’m trying not to get the horses too geared up, like they’re totally coming out of their skin and then not being able to run. So we’re spacing our works a little bit, just keeping them going until we have some kind of an idea of when we are going to start running. I’ve sent probably five or six horses out to the farm.’’

When horses go to farms, it’s a bit cheaper for the owners, but the trainers get fewer day rates and the help has less to do. No racing affects everybody and everything.

“It cuts into everybody,’’ Lake said.

Horse owners have only expenses and no income from purses while their trainers are trying to figure out how to keep their operations going.

“I’m still paying the help and trying not to cut their pay,’’ Lake said.

The only long-term answer is get racing back, but when that happens is as unpredictable as how and where the Covid-19 virus will spread. There remain many more questions than answers.

Lake has 16 employees at Parx and another six at Pimlico.

“Every day, I go to the barn and watch them train, go home and binge watch Netflix,’’ Lake said. “The highlight of my day the other day was washing the linens off my bed.’’

Lake should be scouring condition books, entering horses and watching races. Instead, he’s watching South Park.

This is difficult for a trainer with just a few horses. For a trainer like Lake who thrives on the action and won an incredible 528 races in 2006, this has to be disorienting.

“It’s culture shock,’’ Lake said. “It’s only been two weeks and it feels like months and months and months.’’

The days, which flew by, now seem endless. Life in fast forward has been paused.

“My cats think I’m out of my mind because I’m chasing them all around the house,’’ Lake said.

He is not out of his mind. He is just out of his comfort zone, like most everybody these days.

REALITY TRUMPS FANELLI’S PLANS

By Dick Jerardi

When 2020 began, John Fanelli was thinking he was in position for the best few months of his horse racing life. And that’s saying something for the South Philly native who claimed 2019 Pennsylvania Derby winner Math Wizard for $25,000.

Math Wizard was being geared up for an appearance in the new $20 million Saudi Cup and then a run at the $12 million Dubai World Cup. Ny Traffic, who made his debut at Parx on the day Math Wizard won the Pa. Derby was beginning to train like a potential Kentucky Derby contender.

Fast forward to the end of March. Math Wizard is in a quarantine facility near Newark (N.J.) Airport, after no invitation to the Saudi Cup and a flight from Dubai after the World Cup was cancelled. Ny Traffic was third in the Risen Star Stakes and second in the Louisiana Derby, accumulating more than enough points to earn a spot in the Derby starting gate if the race was on the first Saturday in May instead of the first Saturday in September.

Now, Fanelli is awaiting word on how Math Wizard is doing and when the horse might be released from quarantine. Planning for the Derby is just about impossible because nobody knows the spring and summer 3-year-old schedule if and when racing resumes nationally.

“I can’t understand it because they had no spectators,’’ Fanelli said of the World Cup. “The trainers, the help and the jockeys, they were all there. Might as well run it. Just move it up a couple of days, run it and then send the horses back.’’

Did not happen that way so Fanelli awaits the release of his horse and the return of his $126,000 entry fee.

Not to mention an updated Derby schedule which awaits decisions by management at Pimlico and Belmont Park about when or if the Preakness and Belmont Stakes will be run.

“It’s such a frustrating thing for me,’’ Fanelli said. “I hate to be selfish about it, but this could have been the best six months of my life. I’ve got a Derby horse. I’ve got a horse running for $12 million. Instead, everything’s up in the air.’’

It’s hard enough to miss out on chances that may never materialize again, about as hard not to know what is next. Horse owners are like so much of society, just waiting on the pandemic to slow down or end, but having nothing even close to a target date.

At some point, Churchill Downs is going to add some Derby points races. That, of course, won’t be fair to connections whose horses have already qualified, but there really is no perfect way to deal with America’s most prestigious race in a year marked by so much uncertainty. Late-developing Derby contenders will have an edge in September they would not have had in May.

Whenever normality returns. Fanelli will have two horses that cost a little and have won a lot. Math Wizard has won the vast majority of his $1,042,290 since that $25,000 claim. After Ny Traffic failed to meet his reserve at $27,000, Fanelli went to the seller and bought the horse with Lenny Liberto for $22,000. Ny Traffic has won $336,970.

Fanelli has owned horses that race at Parx for years. He has become friendly with Parx owners Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett who bought into Math Wizard and then Ny Traffic.

Ny Traffic is back at Gulfstream Park with trainer Saffie Joseph who took over for Parx trainer Harold Wyner when the colt was shipped to South Florida before the 2020 racing season began. Math Wizard will eventually go back to Gulfstream and Joseph as well.

And someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, Fanelli, his partners and his trainers, can make some plans for their horses.

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.