LONGEST DERBY PREP SEASON FINALLY OVER

By Dick Jerardi

When the Belmont Stakes, Haskell, Travers and Ellis Park Derby are major Derby preps, it is by definition a very strange year.

But when the last of the major preps were run for the September Kentucky Derby, we were left with two horses that have separated from the pack _ one that would have been among the favorites in May and another that had not even started in 2020 when the Derby was originally supposed to be run.

Tiz the Law could not have not have been any more impressive winning Saturday’s Travers Stakes at Saratoga. He went by the highly-touted and very talented, but quite inexperienced, Uncle Chuck on the far turn, and it was very quickly over, the New York bred running his final quarter mile in :24.53 seconds while being geared down.

It was quite the performance for a colt that is one unlucky trip last fall at Churchill Downs from heading back to Kentucky a perfect 7-for-7. He will go there as the first horse ever to win the Champagne, Florida Derby, Belmont Stakes and Travers. Now, Tiz the Law is the only horse with a chance to win the backward and very bizarre 2020 Triple Crown.

Art Collector made his seasonal debut on May 17. The colt won easily. He came back a month later and won easily again. A month later in the Blue Grass, it was another blowout win. Sunday in the Ellis Park Derby, Art Collector led all the way and was never threatened, winning with minimal urging again.

Tiz the Law’s trainer Barclay Tagg won the Derby and Preakness 17 years ago with New York bred Funny Cide. Now, he is back with an even more accomplished horse, a colt whose six wins have come by a combined 26 3/4 lengths.

Art Collector’s trainer Thomas Drury, Jr. had never won a graded stakes race prior to the Blue Grass. Now, he’s won two in a month and will be able to train Art Collector at Churchill where the colt has been all summer and where he won twice in May and June.

Tiz the Law and Art Collector are a combined 8-for-8 in 2020. None of their races has been close.

Tiz the Law will be favored because he got a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 109 in the Travers. It wasn’t just how fast the colt ran; it was how he ran fast. He has that speed to get great position and that instant acceleration that leaves opponents helpless.

Art Collector, who got a 100 Beyer in the Ellis Park Derby, has won from well back. He has won on the lead. He has won from just off the lead. In a sport where multidimensional horses are a rare breed, Art Collector appears able to adjust to any situation.

Now, it’s on to the Kentucky Derby for those two and other accomplished horses like Authentic, Honor A.P and Ny Traffic, the horse with all the Parx connections. Given the time of year and how many horses have already shown they are not good enough (many of which would have run in May), it is likely to be fewer than 20 this year, ironically the first year when Churchill has a new 20-stall starting gate.

But the Big Two, Tiz the Law and Art Collector, are fascinating. And so, of course, is the Kentucky Derby whether it’s run on the first Saturday in May or first Saturday in September.

PARX HORSES AND PEOPLE

By Dick Jerardi

The top 3-year-old filly and 3-year-old colt in the Parx stable area were both out of town Saturday, with mixed results.

The filly Project Whiskey, who won the July 4 Delaware Oaks at 38-1, ran another terrific race in the Grade III Monmouth Oaks. But, after running 7-5 favorite Lucrezia out of the race with her speed and stamina, she had to settle for second behind Hopeful Growth from Vinny Viola’s powerful St. Elias Stable.

Frankie Pennington has ridden Project Whiskey in each of her three wins, but he was unable to ride as many jurisdictions are only letting local jockeys ride at their meets because of Covid-19. Jorge Vargas rode the filly well enough, but Frankie knows her best.

Trained by Butch Reid and owned by Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing and Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King, Project Whiskey had an amazing four weeks, winning and then placing in two Grade III stakes. The filly, who cost just $35,000 at the 2018 Timonium Yearling Sale, has now earned $362,580.

Mischievous Alex, also owned by Zacney and Bennett and trained by John Servis, tried the Grade I Allen Jerkens at Saratoga. The colt, winner of the Grade III Swale and Grade III Gotham this winter, was put right into the 7-furlong race by top jockey Irad Ortiz, sitting third early behind frontrunner and Grade I Woody Stephens winner No Parole and the Bob Baffert-trained Eight Rings. Those two backed out at the top of the stretch. Mischievous Alex was still in the race at the eighth pole, but could not keep up in the final 200 yards, eventually finishing sixth behind runaway winner Echo Town.

Mischievous Alex, a $75,000 purchase at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, has earned $360,730.

Servis was looking for ninth Grade I stakes win and 33rd graded stakes win overall. It would have been his first in a Grade I sprint stake which are hard to come by because there are so few.

MARSHALL GRAMM ON A ROLL

Prominent Parx owner Marshall Gramm, whose Ten Strike silks are so familiar at the track, is one of the country’s best handicapping contest players.

Gramm really liked Echo Town in the Jerkens and parlayed that opinion into a second-place finish in a NYRABETS contest. That got him $14,000 in cash and an entry into the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (a $10,000 value). In addition to the BCBC, Gramm has already qualified for the 2021 Pegasus Contest and has two entries for the 2021 NHC in Las Vegas. Those three are the highest-value contests in the country.

SANCHEZ AND NESS HARD TO CATCH

As we hit August in this bizarre year where we missed four months of racing, Mychel Sanchez and Jamie Ness have huge leads in the Parx jockey and trainer races respectively.

Sanchez leads Pennington 61 to 37. Last year, they tied with 146 wins each.

Ness leads last year’s winner Joe Taylor, 40-23.

LUPE PRECIADO CLOSING ON 2,000 WINS

By Dick Jerardi

In the history of Parx racing, only one trainer has ever won 2,000 races while spending most of his career with the track as his home base. That would be Scott Lake. (Ron Dandy and Ned Allard have won 2,817 and 2,715 races respectively, but the vast majority of those wins came in New England before they came to Parx).

Well, Scott is going to have some company sometime in the near future. Lupe Preciado, one of very best ever to train a horse at Parx and a Parx Hall of Famer, has 1,987 winners.

“It’s very hard to win 2,000 races,’’ Preciado said. “I’ve got 13 more races. It seems like it takes forever to get to 2,000.’’

It has only taken him since 1989. And, if you could count some of the races his wife Wendy Mutnick won while Lupe was working with her in the years before he took out his license, the family would already be there.

When they started to have children, Lupe took over as the trainer. He has been winning races ever since, including three in a row on Tuesday July 21.

“When the owner is happy, it makes you feel good,’’ Preciado said.

Preciado, who has been making owners happy for three decades, does not have as many horses as he used to, just 18 now. He used to have between 40 and 50. But give the man a good horse and he will find his way to the winner’s circle.

The stable has been in the top 100 for wins eight times. Preciado won 118 races in 2004. His horses have won 12 graded stakes and earned $44 million. He is closing on 12,000 starters.

His best horse was the wonderful sprinter Favorite Tale. He also had two-time stakes winner Caught in the Rain.

Favorite Tale finished third in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint behind the great Runhappy. And who knows what might have happened if all the plans owner Paul Conaway and Preciado had laid out for a year had not blown up in the final weeks before the race at Keeneland.

Just after Favorite Tale’s final prep race at Parx, the track was quarantined when a 2-year-old filly tested positive for Equine Herpesvirus. Favorite Tale was given special permission to leave. He trained for a time at a private farm and then at Delaware Park before a van ride to Kentucky. Naturally, the van broke down on the way and the horse got the 14 post.

Raceday itself, however, was memorable. Favorite Tale, ran brilliantly, nearly overcame everything, a tribute to his trainer.

“I wanted to win the race because I wanted to make a movie,’’ Preciado said.

Favorite Tale raced 24 times, with nine wins, five seconds, four thirds and earnings of $1,026,300.

After returning from the winter in Florida with most of his horses, the recent three-win day at Parx was nice for Preciado. The trainer remembers winning five in one day. It is quite a long way from going to the races in Mexico City with his brothers as an 11-year-old.

When he first came to the United States in 1974, Preciado went to Monmouth Park and worked as a groom for trainer J. Bowes Bond who told him: “the way you take care of your horse is the way the horse will take care of you.’’

Preciado also worked as a groom for Stanley Hough. He “rubbed some nice horses.’’ The stable had Proud Appeal, the favorite in the 1981 Kentucky Derby and Reinvested who finished third in the 1982 Derby. They also had a really good 3-year-old in 1980 named Irish Tower.

It was a great training ground for a man who has been winning races for three decades now, a special milestone not that far away.

NY Traffic a serious Kentucky Derby contender

By Dick Jerardi

The two horses that had been acquired for a combined $47,000 in 2019 raced 5 hours apart at Parx last September 21.

It was Pennsylvania Derby Day. Ny Traffic, making the first start of his career, was 47-1 in Race 2. Math Wizard was 31-1 in Race 11, the Pa. Derby.

Fast forward 10 months. After finishing third in that debut, Ny Traffic is now a serious Kentucky Derby contender. Math Wizard, of course, won that Pennsylvania Derby and appears to be back to his very best form.

Last Saturday at Monmouth Park, the horses raced just one hour apart _ Math Wizard finishing second in the Monmouth Cup and Ny Traffic, making an incredible run in the final 100 yards of the Haskell, beaten just a nose by 3-5 frontrunner Authentic.

It was Parx owner John Fanelli who claimed Math Wizard for $25,000 on Jan. 31, 2019 and then went partners on Ny Traffic in a private sale after the colt did not meet his reserve at the May 2019 Timonium sale. The partners bought the New York bred for $22,000.

Math Wizard has won $1,102,740. Ny Traffic has won $565,470.

The Pa. Derby was incredible. The Ky. Derby?

“It’s obviously a dream come true,’’ Fanelli said. “I could have never said this would happen, especially after last year, for this to happen so quickly, back-to-back success in less than a year.’’

It has happened. And who knows what might still be possible?

Rather than go back to Gulfstream Park where they had been stabled, Ny Traffic and Math Wizard were shipped to Saratoga with trainer Saffie Joseph to take advantage of the cooler weather. There are races at Saratoga for Math Wizard. And there is that race on the first Saturday in Kentucky for Ny Traffic.

Last year, Ny Traffic was a nice 2-year-old at Parx for trainer Harry Wyner who recognized the colt’s potential quickly. The horse ran a few races perhaps too close together later in the year and then had some minor physical issues.

Since Ny Traffic was sent to Florida to train with Joseph and started running in longer races, the colt has been a revelation, each race better than the one before it. His Beyer speed figures demonstrate the upward trajectory.

Ny Traffic got a 77 on Jan. 11, followed by an 82 when third in the Risen Star, an 89 when second in the Louisiana Derby, a 95 when second in the Matt Winn and a 100 when just missing in the Haskell.

As patterns go for the Derby, they don’t get much better. Ny Traffic has 110 Derby points, fourth on the list behind Tiz the Law, Authentic and Honor A. P. Art Collector is fifth, King Guillermo sixth. The points list is also the right list at this moment. Ny Traffic is somewhere among the top six Derby contenders.

Fanelli bought out Lenny Liberto, his original partner in Ny Traffic. After selling 20 percent interests in the colt to fellow Parx owners Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett, Fanelli then sold 10 percent to Florida owner Paul Braverman.

So Fanelli still owns 50 percent of Ny Traffic and Parx owners are responsible for a 90 percent interest in the horse. In the final weeks before the Derby, this is the most Parx-centric major contender since Smarty Jones in 2004.

“It’s super exciting,’’ said Fanelli. “I just can’t believe it’s happening to me again.’’