By Dick Jerardi
John Fanelli grew up in South Philly (Sixth and Fitzwater and then 16th and Mifflin). He was introduced to gambling and the race track by his father who owned a nearby bar called Sidestreet.
“My dad took me to (Keystone) when I was 7 or 8 years old,” Fanelli said. “From there, Garden State. I just loved racing. It was in my blood even though I came from South Philly where there’s no farms, no horses.”
It was the gambling that got him into it. During high school in the mid to late 1980s, he was a regular at Garden State with his dad, even though the racing was at night and he had school the next day. It was his father’s passing in 2001 that got him involved in horse ownership.
“I wanted to do something for him so I decided to claim a couple of cheap horses,” Fanelli remembered. “At the time, I was playing poker professionally. I came here and claimed some horses with Lou Linder. Came back in three weeks. They were both running on the same day. One wins, the other finishes second and gets claimed. I made like $25,000 the first day and I’m walking around like this is the greatest thing in the world.
“I was hooked right then and there, beginner’s luck. Coincidentally, I didn’t win a race for another nine months. I learned my lessons. For the next three years, I got beat up pretty good with a lot of different things.
“I just started studying it. I spend about two hours per night looking at horses, studying video. It’s like anything else. You put the time in and you’re going to see results. And you need a little luck.”
Combine that study with some luck and you wake up on Jan. 31, 2019 with a list of horses at various tracks you want to look at. One of them was entered in a $25,000 claiming race at Gulfstream Park.
Math Wizard had broken his maiden impressively 25 days prior, winning a maiden $16,000 claimer by 6 3/4 lengths.
“I try to dabble in Gulfstream in the winter,” Fanelli said. “I try to claim two or three horses and bring them up here, figuring the class relief will help, even though sometimes these races are tougher.”
Joe Taylor, who has been in front of the Parx trainer standings all year, is Fanelli’s local trainer. Math Wizard was ticketed for Taylor if Fanelli decided to claim him.
He did put in a claim. So did five other owners.
When the horse won the 1-mile race by 18 1/2 lengths in a very fast time, Fanelli desperately wanted to win the six-way shake. He did.
When the colt’s Beyer Speed Figure improved by 19 points to an 87, Fanelli started to think big, maybe even the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. Math Wizard was good in sprints, but was much better in his first longer race. The colt, however, came down with a case of colic and they had to wait.
Math Wizard stayed in South Florida with trainer Saffie Joseph, first running second in an optional claimer, then a solid fourth in the Wood Memorial at 64-1. Math Wizard did not have enough points for the Kentucky Derby so Fanelli figured they would wait for the Preakness. It turned out that Math Wizard was not nominated to the Triple Crown, so the $150,000 to supplement would have been prohibitive.
So, Math Wizard was sent to Arkansas where he ran fourth in the Oaklawn Park Invitational as the favorite. From there, he ran a great second in the Ohio Derby and then a solid fourth in the Indiana Derby. His only bad race was when they admittedly brought the colt back too quickly in the Aug. 3 West Virginia Derby.
Math Wizard had been traveling all over so the plan was to get him back to South Florida and wait for the Sept. 29 Oklahoma Derby.
Then, fate intervened.
Parx’s director of racing David Osojnak informed Fanelli that the Sept. 21 Pennsylvania Derby was going to have a short field. The trainer Joseph, however, informed Fanelli that Math Wizard really was not ready, and was laying down a lot.
Fanelli decided he would put up the $2,000 to enter five days before the race and see if the horse got better. The day after entries were taken,
Maximum Security got a case of colic and was scratched. Math Wizard was feeling better and so was Fanelli.
“It was a short field for a million or probably a full field for $400,000 (in Oklahoma) and my own track,” Fanelli said.
Math Wizard got better all week and was flown to Newark, N. J. Airport two days before the Pa. Derby.
That Irad Ortiz just happened to be at Parx to ride the card and was without a mount added to the karma. He would ride Math Wizard.
“Obviously, the rest is history,” Fanelli said.
Sent off at 31-1, Math Wizard came from last in the six-horse field and caught Mr. Money in the final strides to win the $1 million Grade I Pa. Derby.
As Math Wizard began to rally, you could only hear the colt’s people, Fanelli foremost among them, yelling in the owners’ box seats.
“I lost my voice screaming,” Fanelli said. “I was screaming ‘Irad, Irad, Irad’! We were, like, in tears.”
Now, it’s on to the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita for the general manager of Turnersville (N.J.) Nissan who lives in nearby Williamstown.
Right after Fanelli claimed Math Wizard, he was getting a lot of offers to sell because the colt ran so fast. It was a bit dizzying and the offers kept changing.
“I told one guy, ‘you’re trying to negotiate against a poker player and a car salesman, you’re in a bad shape,’” Fanelli said.
Fanelli has sold percentages at different times in Math Wizard, but still has controlling interest. The plan for 2020 starts with the new $20 million Saudi Cup in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 29 and the $12 million Dubai World Cup on March 28. But first, the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
With a victory aboard Tambora in the fifth race at Parx Racing Sunday afternoon, jockey Roberto Rosado won the 1,000th race of his career. A native of Puerto Rico, Rosado has been riding professionally here in the United States for more than 20 years. In 1997, he and jockey Phil Teator shared the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top apprentice. His son Johan has followed in his father’s footsteps and has become one of the top apprentice riders in the area, beginning here at Parx before shifting his tack to Delaware this past summer.
Heading to the track for some fall racing? Listen in to Keith Jone’s Behind the Binoculars to get an edge on today’s race card!
By Dick Jerardi
Josiah (Joe) Hampshire’s distinguished riding career was nearing an end when Mychel Sanchez first began to ride at Parx in June 2013.
“I remember thinking, ‘why can’t this kid catch on, he’s the best bug boy here?’” Hampshire said.
Hampshire, who went “from a kid standing on the corner in South Philly with a quart of beer,” to winning 3,801 races over 33 years, understood what a good jockey looked like.
Hampshire retired in 2014. Almost immediately after he stopped riding, Sanchez asked him to become his agent.
“I wasn’t going to do it and (trainer) Ron Dandy told me that I should,” Hampshire said.
So, he took Sanchez’s book.
“That kid, he’s come a long way,” Hampshire said. “Nobody gave him anything. He worked hard. He would be out there every morning and he still is. He’s got a great attitude. When bad things happen, he handles it well. He doesn’t get mad, he doesn’t get angry. He’s the full package as far as I’m concerned.”
Sanchez won 16 races in 2013, 34 in 2014, 91 in 2015, 79 in 2016, 118 in 2017 and 137 in 2018.
Do you notice a pattern?
This year through October 20, Sanchez has already won 131 races and is making a strong run at ending Frankie Pennington’s record five-years-straight run atop the Parx jockeys’ standings. With 10 weeks to go, Pennington has 117 Parx wins, Sanchez 112.
“I think it means a lot for every jockey’s career,” Sanchez said. “I think it’s a big thing. I’ve still got to appreciate having an amazing year… Frankie’s a great guy, a great jockey. Hopefully, I can get it done. He needs some competition and I’m giving him some competition.”
Hampshire, who would know, thinks Sanchez is on the cusp of greatness.
“(Trainer) Kate DeMasi calls him an old soul,” Hampshire said. “He’s very mature.”
According to Hampshire, Sanchez emerged from the jockey’s school in Venezuela as “the top pupil”.
“He wants to go as far as he can in this game, I know that,” Hampshire said. “Not that I’m looking to lose him, but I think that kid can ride anywhere.”
And if they have their way, jockey and agent will stay very close to a Parx-based horse that may be able to compete anywhere.
Sanchez rode Spun to Run in his second start, but, due to a combination of circumstances, did not ride the colt again until Oct. 12 in the $100,000 M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile.
All Spun to Run and Sanchez did was deliver the performance of the year at Parx. The three-year-old colt took off on the far turn like the race had just begun and crushed a very good field of older horses by 6 3/4 lengths. The 110 Beyer Speed Figure was the best of 2019 by any three-year-old in America going two turns. The only two-turn figure as good at Parx in the last decade was when Bayern set the track record in the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby.
“I broke, I put him in the race; I thought he was the best horse in the race,” Sanchez said.
He was so right about that.
“I kind of just let (Carlos L.) go (to the lead),” Sanchez said. “I let him do the first half, the next half was mine.”
The feeling Spun to Run gave Sanchez “was awesome”.
Owned by Robert Donaldson and trained by Carlos Guerrero, Spun to Run looks like the kind of horse that can win big races at any track in the country.
When Sanchez heard about the 110 Beyer, he was not surprised.
“I think he has the ability to compete with the best horses in the United States,” Sanchez said.
Hampshire won 18 riding titles. He won 300 races in 2002. He knows what it is like to be on top. Now, he would love to help get his rider there at Parx.
“That’s our goal,” Hampshire said. “It would be a small miracle to beat Frankie just because of who he is. We’re still trying and I want to say it’s going to go down to the last couple of weeks.”
Sanchez also is the regular jockey for DeMasi’s excellent Pennsylvania-bred Word on a Wing, who like Spun to Run is one of the top three-year-olds at Parx. Word on a Wing is 0-for-2 with other riders, 4-for-4 with Sanchez.
So, jockey and agent will stay very close to those “big” horses while they try to stay close or perhaps pass Frankie Pennington.