By Dick Jerardi
Not the remnants of Hurricane Henri that took all the races off the grass nor the postponement by a week of the $2000,000 Grade III Parx Dash could undercut the enthusiasm at the track when Parx returned after a 19-day break with a two-day extravaganza that included 23 races, $2 million in purses, eight stakes and total handle of $6.16 million
First, it was Pennsylvania Day at the Races with its all Pa.-bred card on Monday, Aug. 23, followed by Smarty Jones Day Tuesday, with three open stakes, all preps for Pennsylvania Derby Day on Sept. 25.
The five $100,000 stakes on Pa. Day featured winners that included a filly returning to where her career began to upset another filly that looked like she might never lose, a filly that got a brilliant ride from a Parx legend, a 3-year-old colt that had raced just three times against seven horses which had a combined 178 starts, a gelding that is one of the great claims in Parx history and another gelding that cost $50,000 to claim but keeps paying dividends.
Chub Wagon was 2-5 in the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial and why not. All she had done for trainer Lupe Preciado and owners Danny Lopez and George Chestnut was start eight times and win them all. The 4-year-old filly, ridden by Jomar Torres, ran another brilliant race in the Garofalo, but Don’t Call Me Mary ran the race of her life and edged by Chub Wagon in the stretch to win by 1 ¼ lengths. She had to run 6 furlongs in 1:09.57 on a sloppy, sealed surface to do it.
The two fillies hooked up at the start and ran around the track together. Chub Wagon was ahead most of the way and it really looked like she was going to getaway. But Don’t Call Me Mary, trained in New York by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Paco Lopez, just kept coming and ran her down in the final 100 yards.
Vault, who won the Grade II Ruffian at Belmont Park in April, was 3-5 in Mrs. Penny. She is trained by Brad Cox and was ridden by Florent Geroux. But her Beyer figures were no better than those of Precious. And Precious had a huge tactical edge. In a two-turn race with no speed, she had just raced in sprints and jockey Frankie Pennington understood the race dynamics perfectly.
The Parx Hall of Famer put the John Servis-trained Precious on the lead. They went the first quarter in 25:11, made the favorite chase, and just kept running all the way into the winner’s circle.
“She broke on the lead and I just tried to walk her all the way through it,’’ Pennington said.
He certainly did that and when Vault threatened on the far turn and in the stretch, Pennington just let Precious drift a path or two outside to discourage the favorite. It worked perfectly.
“We figured out with this filly early on, if you hustle her early, mentally she couldn’t handle that, she just couldn’t settle,’’ Servis said.
No need to hustle her when she was the only speed. She settled and she was gone.
Precious is owned by Greg Newell, who just happens to be the president of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. He was rather excited by the victory.
“I am going crazy,’’ Newell said. “I was screaming and shouting. People are laughing at me. I am so into it. Today was really special because we are taking that chance of running her long. What a brilliant training job and riding job between John and Frankie.’’
I Am Redeemed, with just those three races, gave up all that experience to those seven horses with the 178 starts in The Storm Cat. Neither his trainer Penny Pearce nor his jockey Abner Adorno had ever won a stakes race.
No matter. I Am Redeemed ran away from the field in the stretch and won the race by 3 ½ lengths for owner Larry Rebbecchi.
So what was Adorno feeling when he crossed the finish line?
“I wanted to scream,’’ he said. “It’s been a long run, but we’re here.’’
What I Am Redeemed lacked in experience, he made up in talent.
“I can’t even talk or breathe,’’ said Pearce, tears forming in her eyes. “It was fantastic. It was worth the wait.’’
Admiral Abe was claimed for $25,000 on Jan. 6, 2020 by trainer Bobby Mosco for StefCon Racing LLC, a partnership of Ed Stefanski and Bill Conlin. It was their first horse with Mosco. After going wire-to-wire under regular rider Silvestre Gonzalez to win The Marshall Jenny Handicap, Admiral Abe has won seven races and $353,012 for his owners. Not a bad return on investment.
“He’s just so fast,’’ Gonzalez said of Admiral Abe. “Today, 5 furlongs, it was going to be hard to catch him. He just breaks out of there with so much power. I’m just there for the ride.’’
And it has been some ride for the 5-year-old.
“I was just hoping to get a good horse for a first-time owner,’’ Mosco said. “Never expected this.’’
Like Pearce, this was Mosco’s first stakes win.
“I’ve been in racing a long time,’’ said Stefanski, the longtime NBA executive and one time Sixers general manager. “For a $25,000 horse to run in a $100,000 stake at 2-5, it was beyond comprehension.’’
Stefanski was a partner in several of Bob Levy’s good horses, including Hall of Famer Housebuster and 1987 Belmont Stakes winner Bet Twice.
“This was right up there, but I guess Bet Twice winning the Belmont by 14 was the biggest thrill I’ve ever had,’’ Stefanski said.
Trainer Mike Pino went to Churchill Downs on May 29, 2020 looking to claim a Pa. Bred for $50,000. Turned out John Servis was interested in Fortheluvofbourbon as well. They each put in claims and Pino won the shake for owner Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle, LLP.
After winning The Banjo Picker Sprint as the favorite, Fortheluvofbourbon has won four races and more than $160,000 since the claim.
“He was a Pa. Bred,’’ Pino said. “I knew he won here first time out impressively. He’d run against some tough horses at Oaklawn and it looked like he was worth the money. We go there every year and try to claim some horses at Keeneland and Churchill. He fit the bill, we got him and it turned out great.’’
Lopez won the first of the Pa.Day stakes and then the last of them. He was aggressive, as always, and the horse responded.
The Smarty Jones Stakes was the highlight of Smarty Jones Day. After chasing and not catching Parx-based winners all weekend, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux waited for the end and got the biggest prize of the all in the $300,000 Grade III Smarty.
Fulsome, last early at 3-5, circled the field and won easily by 2 lengths. A hot pace up top helped, but it also helped that Fulsome was just the best horse.
“My horse is a closer, but I loved the setup with a decent amount of speed in the race,’’ Geroux said, “I knew I was going to be last or second to last (early).’’
In the end, Fulsome was first. And Geroux would love to come back in the Pennsylvania Derby with Fulsome.
It was hoped that the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia would mark the return of champion Vequist, but she had another physical setback and was scratched. Her racing future is questionable at best and she is likely to be offered at the Night of the Stars sale in November.
So it was up to another local horse, Monmouth Oaks winner Leader of the Band, to try to win the race as the 9-5 favorite for Will Schwartz’s SMD Limited and trainer John Servis. She was up against it the whole way, running from far back into a slow pace. Then, she lost momentum when a horse came out in front of her on the far turn. Still, she kept running all the way to the wire, ultimately losing by a half-length to Lovely Ride.
Lovely Ride looked beaten several times, but never stopped trying and somehow just kept going. Her trainer Bret Calhoun is no stranger to Parx where he brought the wonderful Chamberlain Bridge to take down the Turf Monster. He is now thinking about the Cotillion with the filly after being “very concerned the middle of the turn.’’ But she kept running so why not run her back at Parx?
Trainer Butch Reid obviously was disappointed with the Vequist situation, but he was thrilled with Beren in the $100,000 Parx Summer Sprint. Sent off at 2-5, Beren, with Pennington, immediately got to the lead and was never in any danger. The colt, winning for the sixth time in his last eight races, crossed the wire 6 1/2 lengths in front. The performance was enough to convince Reid to look hard at the Gallant Bob Stakes on Sept. 25, Pa. Derby Day.
“He loves the home cooking,’’ Reid said of Beren. “He got a little unnerved at Saratoga (when far back in the Curlin). Anybody who saw him pre-race would see he was calm and collected (today).’’
So the two days of racing, which offered so much promise, definitely delivered. Now, there is much to look forward to with the $1 million Pa. Derby and $1 million Cotillion coming more clearly into focus.