Live Racing Begins Again on Saturday
Live racing resumes this Saturday the 31st at Parx as the track kicks off a tremendous Labor Day weekend of racing highlighted by the return of Smarty Jones. The 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion will make his first appearance at the track in 15 years, set to be paraded through the stretch, in the walking ring and the winner’s circle shortly after 5PM. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness trophies will also be on display and fans will have an opportunity to get their pictures taken with the prestigious hardware.
The Labor Day racing program will offer 12 races including seven stakes, highlighted by the $300,000 G3 Turf Monster Handicap on the grass at five furlongs and the $300,000 G3 Smarty Jones Stakes for three year-olds at one mile and seventy yards on the main track. PHL 17 will present a two hour live telecast from 4-6PM, covering four of the seven stakes. Neil Hartman will host the broadcast with analysis from Dick Jerardi and Caton Bredar. Post time for the Labor Day card is 12:25PM.
With racing returning to the Bensalem track, Parx will also add Sundays to its live schedule, now offering live racing Saturday through Tuesday until the first week of December. With the exception of Labor Day, post time will be 12:55PM.
By Dick Jerardi
It was sunny. It was ominous. It was pleasant. It was pouring.
In the end, Smarty Jones Day at Parx was glorious, a day-long celebration, an event 15 years in the making, a series of snapshots that surely will turn into lifetime memories.
Smarty Jones, the horse of Pat and Roy Chapman’s lifetime, the horse they insisted on sharing with everybody during the horse racing feast that was the spring of 2004, returned to the track where his remarkable saga began in 2003.
There were seven stakes races on the brilliant card put together by the track’s racing office. Those were attractions for the casual fan and the serious bettor alike, so much so that the $4 million handle was believed to be the track’s highest ever on Labor Day. It was absolutely twice as much as 2018.
But “the” attraction was the return of Smarty Jones. The 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner came back to Parx from Equistar Farm in Annville, Pa., where he stands at stud. Farm owner Rodney Eckenrode drove the van, arriving about five hours prior to Smarty’s scheduled appearance.
Smarty emerged from the area around trainer John Servis’s barn just after 5 p.m. The now-18-year-old horse walked toward the quarter-pole gap where he came on to the racing surface for the first time since he walked off at the same spot Aug. 14, 2004 after a “farewell” celebration.
Flanked by Eckenrode and Mario Arriaga, his groom from his racing days, Smarty walked toward the winner’s circle as the fans lined up along the rail started to cheer. And never really stopped.
The plan was to take Smarty past the winner’s circle to the walking ring for a few turns and then stop in the winner’s circle for a brief ceremony before heading back to the stable area.
“When he got close to the winner’s circle,” Pat Chapman said, “and I saw Mario, I said, ‘I’ve got to go say hi to Mario’. I said, ‘the heck with this, I’ve got to take that walk with him.’”
Which is exactly what she did. On an emotional day, that was the most emotional moment. Pat walked with her horse to the walking ring and then back to the winner’s circle.
Pat Chapman had wanted a day like it to happen for years, but was always a little hesitant. She finally said go.
“I had no idea what to hope for,” Pat said. “It really met anything I could hope for. I thought it was a great day, a great turnout. Loved the fans, loved seeing them, loved hearing them yell ‘Smarty, Smarty’! It was so thrilling.”
It was definitely that.
“It was great to see the crowd and how much they enjoyed it,” Smarty Jones’s former trainer John Servis said. “It was pretty sweet. It was fun; great to see him here.”
Smarty Jones has not forgotten Servis either. When he heard his voice in the barn area, he “called out” for his trainer.
As great as Smarty Jones was as a race horse—and his 47 1/2-length combined winning margins in his eight wins tells part of that story—the horse’s real magic was how he made people feel. If you saw Smarty run or said his name or just thought about him, you had to smile.
Without question, there were people there on Labor Day who were there 15 years ago for the “farewell”. There are very few horses in history that would inspire that kind of devotion. But Smarty Jones did then and does now. May it always be so.
By Dick Jerardi
When Jack Armstrong arrived at Parx on July 30, he knew he had a strong hand with seven horses in the 12 races. He has also owned horses for 20 years, so he knows how hard the game can be.
“I was talking to a couple of buddies and I got seven (entries) in, which is hard to do anyway,” Armstrong said. “I’m like, ‘I hate to be greedy, but I think three or four of these have a pretty good shot.’
“The first one, I said to (trainer) Scott (Lake) ‘I’ve got six in after this, if we can win this race, I can’t go 0-for-7,’” Armstrong said.
Now, that is spoken like a horse owner who knows what can go wrong. Well, on that day, just about everything went right.
Armstrong won that first race. And the second. And the third. He had horses finish third in the fourth race, then fourth in the fifth race and fifth in the seventh race.
Armstrong had won three races in a day before, but his memory is that they were at different tracks.
Could he win four, and all at his home track? He could, and he did when To The Flag won the 10th race.
“It was pretty cool,” said Armstrong, a member of the Parx Racing Hall of Fame. “My phone was blowing up. Keith Jones said it was Jack Armstrong Day at the Races… It was fun. I’ve been in the game for a long time. I’ve got to say that was pretty cool.”
Iwish Irish, who was 8-5, won the first, going 1 mile. The winner’s purse was $12,000. Iwish Irish was claimed for $5,000.
Star Sign, a first-time starter at 4-1, won the second, a maiden $20,000 claimer going 7 furlongs. The horse is trained by Bobby Mosco, one of three trainers Armstrong uses along with fellow Parx Hall of Famers Phil Aristone and Lake. First place was worth $14,000.
Lendar, trained by Lake, went wire-to-wire in the third to win by 6 1/2 lengths at 4-5 going 7 furlongs. The winning purse was worth $12,600. Lendnar was claimed for $7,500.
Chelios finished third in the fourth at 3-1 for Aristone and was promptly claimed for $5,000. Raggy Rocks finished fourth in the fifth race, a maiden $20,000 claimer. Cousin Pete finished fifth in the seventh, a maiden special weight.
Lake was back with To The Flag in the 10th. The horse won the 7-furlong race by two lengths at 5-2. The winner’s purse was $18,000 and, yes, To The Flag was claimed for $12,500.
For the day, the seven horses earned $61,590 in purses and brought back another $30,000 for the claims. Armstrong used three trainers and six jockeys.
Armstrong was delivering pizzas two decades ago when he went to the track one day with a co-worker who just happened to own horses.
“I had been to the races as a bettor and as a fan,” Armstrong said. “I come to the races, watch his horse run and I’m like ‘that was kind of exciting and that was his horse. Imagine if this was my horse’. One thing leads to another. I get in. I get a horse. Pretty much, I’m addicted at that point. It was such a thrill.”
His first horse wasn’t very talented, but his second horse was.
“One became two, then became four, and now I have 22 as of today (Aug. 18),” Armstrong said. “I’m a claiming guy. I’ve never won a stakes race. I’ve been in a couple, had a couple seconds. But to me the fun is one gets claimed off me; alright good, I’ll go look for another one.
“I was talking to Bobby Mosco. It’s not even all the money, it’s about when you claim a horse thinking: ‘Hey, we can stretch this horse out and she might like it. We can shorten this one up and he might like it.’”
Armstrong has been around long enough to remember “the beaten fours ($4,000 claimers with conditions) when the pot was $7,500, (with) $4,500 to the winner. After the 10 percent for the trainer and the jock, we came out with $3,600”.
The slot machine revenue that led to dramatically increased purses changed the economics for Parx owners. Before slots, they were just trying to survive. Now, done correctly, it is possible for stables at Parx to show a decent profit.
Without owners, there is no game. Owners with passion make the game. Jack Armstrong is a perfect example of how it can be done. He has been savvy enough in how he runs his operation that he is capable of having days like July 30—seven starters, four winners, and more than $90,000 coming into the stable in one afternoon.
By Dick Jerardi
They knew in late 2009 and early 2010 that Uptowncharlybrown might be special when he won the first two starts of his career by a combined 15 lengths.
But just as he was headed for the Triple Crown trail, the colt’s trainer Alan Seewald died. Uptowncharlybrown eventually ran a solid third in the Lexington Stakes just after Seewald’s death. Then, the colt was a respectable fifth in the Belmont Stakes for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin before being disqualified because a lead weight had fallen out of the lead pad under the saddle.
Uptowncharlybrown never won another race after those first two starts, but his story is still evolving, now in fast forward. The horse stands stud at Glenn and Becky Brok’s Diamond B Farm in Mohrsville, Pa., not far from Reading. He is the hottest stallion in the state. And one can make a case that, in relation to the quality of mares he’s being bred to, one of the hottest in the country.
Those were two of Uptowncharlybrown’s sons, full brothers Midtowncharlybrown and Midnightcharly, finishing one-two in the $100,000 Banjo Picker Stakes at Parx on Aug. 3. The pair, out of the unraced Speightstown mare Torchwood, have combined to earn $755,278, with 15 wins in 31 starts.
“Just a great credit to our trainer Ed Coletti, Jr., and the late Alan Seewald who said Uptowncharlybrown was the best horse I ever owned,” said Bob Hutt, managing partner of Uptowncharlybrown Stud LLC. “Turns out he was right, but as a stallion and we’re just thrilled.”
Hutt’s partnerships started years ago as Fantasy Lane Stable with about 10 people who put up a few hundred dollars each. Uptowncharlybrown Stud is the successor to Fantasy Lane and a bit more expensive ($1,125 for a fractional share of a horse), but as Hutt said, “we’ve been winning at 30 percent for the last three years, in the top 1 percent in the nation… It’s basically for the everyday fan who wants to become involved in racing.”
Hutt described everything as a “whirlwind” after Seewald’s death.
“I didn’t know where to turn,” Hutt said.
Uptowncharlybrown suffered an injury after the Belmont and did not race for more than a year. He ran some decent races upon his return, but never had the explosion he showed early in his career.
“Foolishly, I decided to make him a stud, probably for all the wrong reasons, but mainly to keep Alan’s memory alive,” Hutt said. “We’ve been blessed.”
The top two stallions in America, Curlin and Tapit, have an Average Earning Index (AEI) of 2.3 and 2.27, respectively. Third is Uptowncharlybrown with 2.24.
The mares that are bred to those big-name stallions are some of the best in America. Uptowncharlybrown is not getting anything like that quality of mares. Despite that, Uptowncharlybrown is averaging $88,000 per foal. He’s tied with the recently deceased Pennsylvania stallion Jump Start with three 2019 stakes wins. Jump Start has 141 runners to just 18 for Uptowncharlybrown.
Uptowncharlybrown was bred to 48 mares in 2018, 82 in 2019. So, with even more chances to get a good horse there is really no telling how many stakes winners Uptowncharlybrown might eventually produce.
Hutt calls the full brothers who ran 1-2 in the Banjo Picker the “Smash Brothers”. Their full sister, Charly’s Charm, has earned $75,760 in seven starts. The partnership just bought into Charly’s Assassin, the 2-year-old full brother. He will be training at Parx with Coletti.
Torchwood is owned by Coletti’s stepmother, Irene, whose registered ownership name is Godric LLC. She is partners with Hutt’s group on all four siblings. It has been a rather good partnership so far. Those breeders’ awards have also been nice for Irene. And who knows what’s on the horizon?