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.