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.


BY Dick Jerardi

Jack Armstrong has been a horse owner for 20 years. According to Equibase, his horses have started 3,584 times, with 601 wins, 575 seconds, 538 thirds and nearly $12 million in earnings.

Since What About Tonight finished second in the second race at Parx on March 10, Armstrong has had no starters with no wins and no earnings.

Meanwhile, the expenses have continued unabated.

“My thinking with this is you can’t do much about it,’’ said Armstrong, a member of the Parx Hall of Fame.“Getting upset isn’t any good for my health and it’s not going to get us anywhere.’’

“This’’ of course is the coronavirus which has shut down much of the world. Some American race tracks have remained open, but Parx is not among them. That decision was first made by management and then made official by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf who has shut down much of the state.

Armstrong has 15 horses in training at the moment with trainers Scott Lake, Phil Aristone and Bobby Mosco.

“The bills are going to pile up pretty fast if they don’t come up with a plan,’’ Armstrong said.

Unfortunately, planning is impossible because nobody knows when the virus might abate enough so we can all get back to some form of normality.

Meanwhile, the horses have to be fed and trained, the trainers have to get their day rates and the stable help has to be paid.

“I use the number $2,600 a month, but that’s based on my day rate, what my guys charge me,’’ Armstrong said.

That’s $2,600 per month per horse. So that’s $39,000 per month for a 15-horse stable like Armstrong’s. If he’s winning 46 races and nearly $1.2 million in purses like he did in 2019, those numbers work nicely. If he’s winning no races and no money, those numbers don’t work so well.

That $2,600 per month is a bit less now because the horses are not getting treated for races. But Armstrong would happily pay the $2,600 if his horses had a chance to run.

Armstrong rarely ships so his van bills are minimal. His horses are stabled at Parx and run at Parx.

He did have two in at Laurel on March 20 and another on March 21. They looked to be in good spots until racing was shut down in Maryland on March 20.

Right before Maryland was shut down, it was announced Laurel would only let horses that were stabled there or at Pimlico run in their races. Armstrong had sent three horses to Pimlico to be stabled with Lake. They were about 30 minutes from Pimlico when the local ban was announced. The van returned to Parx with the horses. Turned out to be moot anyway when everything was shut down, but it exemplifies the uncertain times for horse owners.

“Other tracks run with no fans, no owners, then why we can’t we?’’ Armstrong wondered. “That’s the frustrating part.’’

Parx was among the very first tracks to shut down, as New York, Maryland and even Penn National remained open. Tracks in Florida, Arkansas and California have remained open. Penn National closed for racing when the governor gave his edict. Now, Laurel and Aqueduct, after a stable worker tested positive for Covid-19, have been closed for racing.

What Armstrong and other owners at Park found upsetting was when the track building was closed but the Parx casino remained open. That didn’t last long as casinos were closed as well by Gov. Wolf.

The casino’s closing obviously will affect purses once the track and casino reopen as the purses are so dependent on a slice of the slot revenues.

Trainers generally are not making money on their day rates. They make money when their horses run well and they get 10 percent of the owner’s share of the purse.

“They say the day rate gets sucked up with feed and shavings and hay and the workers, bandages, exercise riders every day,’’ Armstrong said.

So, owners, trainers and jockeys are all being affected by the shutdown.

“The biggest problem is there’s no date,’’ Armstrong said. “If you said it was June 1st, I would say okay, get my horses to the farm for a month, then I’ll bring them back in training and they’ll be ready to roll by June 1st.’’

But nobody knows how this is going to play out. So, we wait.


By Dick Jerardi

Even as the world is stuck in place, hoping this hideous virus can be contained in the coming weeks, the horse racing dreamers among us saw a young colt run so fast and win by so much on the second Saturday of March that our minds turned to the Kentucky Derby, even as we await the almost inevitable word that it will be moved back off its annual and iconic first Saturday in May date.

Charlatan won his first start on Feb. 16 by 5 3/4 lengths. He shaded 1:09 for 6 furlongs at Santa Anita, earning a 105 Beyer speed figure, a number good enough to win the Derby most years. Two years before, on Feb. 18, 2018, Justify won his first start by 9 1/2 lengths, shading 1:22 for 7 furlongs and getting a 104 Beyer.

Justify came back on March 11, 2018 to win a 1 mile race by 6 1/2 lengths, earning a 101 Beyer. Charlatan returned on March 15 to win a 1 mile race by 10 1/4 lengths, getting a 106 Beyer.

Justify, of course, went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, a 111-day tour de force unlike anything in horse racing history, ending as just the second unbeaten Triple Crown winner.

To this point, Charlatan has been even faster and more impressive than Justify. There is no guarantee, of course, that Charlatan will emulate Justify as he gets into the bigger races. In fact, there is no guarantee as to when the bigger races will even be run. It is a strange and disorienting time in horse racing and life, as sports and so much else in our society shuts down.

So as we who love horse racing grasp on to the hope that sustains us, it is comforting to think about what could be as legendary trainer Bob Baffert goes for his sixth Derby whenever it is run.

Yes, Baffert trains Charlatan, just like he trained Justify, American Pharoah, Point Given, Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem. Baffert has not only won the Triple Crown twice, he had four other horses that won two-thirds of the Crown.

Is Charlatan next? We shall see.

Even for him, Baffert holds an incredibly strong Derby hand this year. He trains two other unbeaten horses as well, Authentic and Nadal. Each is 3-for-3. Nadal won the San Vicente and Rebel Stakes, each by three-quarters of a length. Authentic won the Sham and San Felipe by a combined 10 lengths.

These days, three or four races qualifies as enough experience for the Derby. It is possible, if the Derby indeed is run later in the year, the Baffert horses may have a bit more race experience.

Experience is nice, but talent is nicer. Authentic and Nadal are very nice. Charlatan may be Justify II.

When I posed that exact question about Charlatan possibly being another Justify to Baffert after Charlatan’s dazzling debut, he texted back: “Not sure, but we’re going to find out.’’

Let’s hope we all get that chance.


BY Dick Jerardi

Mischevious Alex cost $140,000 at an Ocala, Fla., 2-year-old sale in April 2019. After winning the Grade III Swale Stakes on Feb. 1 at Gulfstream Park and the Grade III Gotham Stakes on March 7 at Aqueduct, the 3-year-old colt, named for co-owner Chuck Zacney’s son Alex, has banked $344,230, with more on the horizon.

“He’s pretty good,’’ said trainer John Servis. “He’s got such a good mind. Nothing bothers him, He’s so laid back. I don’t know how good he is…It’s like Irad (Ortiz who rode him in the Swale) said, `it’s like driving a car he just waits for you to step on the gas.’’’

Mischevious Alex has been perfect in three starts with blinkers. The colt overwhelmed the field in the Nov. 5 Parx Juvenile before winning the Swale and Gotham.

It was quite the day at Aqueduct for Servis, co-owners Zacney and Glenn Bennett, as well as Parx Hall of Fame jockey Kendrick Carmouche. Eighty minutes before favored Mischevious Alex won his race by a comfortable 2 lengths, the group also teamed up as 4-1 Diamond King won the Stymie Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths, running the mile in 1:38.04, nearly four-fifths of a second faster than his two-year younger stablemate. Diamond King has now won $713,350 in his 42-race career.

“That’s the way it was supposed to go,’’ said Carmouche who has had two-stakes days before but never “big ones like that. We got what we set out to get.’’

This is a particularly strong year for 3-year-olds in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, with several horses from powerful stables already earning Beyer figures in the triple digits and near triple digits. In the Gotham, Mischevious Alex got a 90 Beyer, a nice number but not really good enough to compete in the Derby without significant improvement.

The colt’s schedule is in flux. Obviously, Zacney especially would love to win the Derby. It was 15 years ago when he and his partners ran the best 3-year-old of 2005 in the Derby, only to see Afleet Alex run third behind two longshots. The colt then dominated the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

The co-owners and Servis are nothing if not realistic. Zacney was talking maybe Wood Memorial and Preakness. Servis was not sure, thinking maybe Mischevious Alex would be best at a mile, but not discounting the possibility that he could be effective going longer. The Derby is a bit of a longshot, but not out of the question yet.

“He’s so tactical,’’ Carmouche said. “You get a horse that can break that fast and can do anything. He’s rateable. You don’t have to be on the lead…He sits good in your hand. If I wanted to wire the field I could have. That’s how much horse I had.’’

Carmouche gave Diamond King a similar ride with the same result.

“I was glad to get (Carmouche) on Diamond King because I want him to ride him at Charles Town,’’ Servis said,

That would be for the $1 million Charles Town Classic, a race Diamond King lost by a half-length in 2019.

That could be a cool victory for Servis, a West Virginia native.

“It’s huge for the horse too,’’ Servis said. “A million-dollar race, graded earnings, What’s he worth as a stallion?’

Diamond King, by the top stallion Quality Road, is a full brother to the excellent stakes-winning filly Bellanfina.
So Mischevious Alex and Diamond King, a strong exacta as we head into the spring and the prime racing season.

Carmouche especially loved the day because he got to do it “with my Parx people. You know how I feel about that. It’s good to see my people come to New York and be successful at it.’’

His “Parx people’’ took a quarter million in purses back home following a New York Saturday to remember.