By Dick Jerardi

Trainer Jamie Ness made a decision when all the mid-Atlantic tracks shut down in March. He was going to keep his horses sharp for whenever Parx reopened.

“I came ready,’’ Ness said. “We’ve been off for a while and I told the owners `dammit, I don’t know when we are going to run, but when we run, we ain’t going to give them a race or need a race, we’re going to be ready.’ So we were ready.’’

Were they ever. The stable won the first race on June 22, the day the track reopened. Ness also won the fourth race and had three horses run second. The next day, he won two more, with a second and two thirds. The day after that, he started two horses and won with both. So, three days, 15 starts, 6 wins, 4 seconds, 2 thirds.

“The way they wrote the races with the starters, a couple of my horses just slid right in like you couldn’t have written a better race,’’ Ness said.

His winners were all short prices so yes they fit, but, as he kept winning, the bettors were catching on. They were betting anything he ran as Ness clearly returned with horses that were ready to run and win.

There was no right or wrong way to deal with the unprecedented shutdown. Some trainers sent a few of their horses to farms. Others just walked theirs. It was so hard because nobody knew when it was going to end.

“We kept going,’’ Ness said. “It kept the horses fit. Seems like that is the best way. I’ve seen a couple of guys that stopped for a month, turned them out, brought them back. Seems like they’re playing catch up.’’

Right now, they are all trying to catch up to Jamie Ness.

“I kept them so I could get them ready when I needed them to be ready,’’ Ness said.

In addition to a full barn of 35 horses at Parx, Ness also has 15 at Laurel, 60 at Delaware Park and a bunch at the farm. He did not have a starter from March 15 until May 30. The Laurel restart came really fast. He had a reasonably good idea of when Parx was coming back so he could plan accordingly.

“I’ve been doing this 20 years and I’ve never been in this situation as most people haven’t,’’ Ness said. “Are you training too heavy, are you training too light? A lot of these old claiming horses that have been going forever, it’s hard to breeze them every week. They’re not used to that. They’re used to racing, jogging; get ready to go race again. It was tough. All of us trainers were kind of out of our element here.’’

Ness figures he was ready two weeks before Parx opened.

“When I thought I was ready, I probably got an extra breeze in that made me really ready,’’ Ness said.

The trainer cut his day rate through the shutdown to try to help his owners. This is his busiest time of the year with 2-year-olds coming in and horses returning off layoffs so he has actually been able to add nine employees to his staff when jobs are precious.

“Financially, it’s been rough,’’ Ness said. “Still is a little rough, but we’re getting back to semi-normalcy.’’

Ness has won more than 3,000 races and his horses have earned $51 million. His career has been a great success. The shutdown offered him a chance to evaluate how he had been training his horses.

“Sometimes, you fall into a rut and we kind of do the same thing over and over again,’’ Ness said. “I got a feeling that I might do a little change, trying to evolve into a different kind of training method. I think it’s going to help me in the long run. Sometimes, you get into a routine, but like in any sport, you’ve got to change.’’

Indeed. What always worked may not work forever. And if you get stuck there, you may get passed.

“Maybe a little more breezing up to races where before maybe I kind of eased back into them,’’ Ness said, “A lot of these horses I’m running, I’m breezing five, six days out harder than I probably would have before. They seem to be responding well that way.’’

The proof is in the results.


By Dick Jerardi

The last year a New York bred won a Triple Crown race, a Pennsylvania bred won two the following year. That would be Funny Cide in 2003 followed by Smarty Jones in 2004. Each won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

After New York bred Tiz the Law dominated the Belmont Stakes, maybe we can look forward to a Pennsylvania bred winning a Triple Crown race or two or three in 2021.

That is for then. For now, Tiz the Law is the horse alive for a Triple Crown that will play out over 15 weeks in this bizarre year where just about everything has changed. The Belmont was first, followed by the Derby in September and Preakness in October. It will be different, but the horses are running everywhere again and this is a very good thing.

Tiz the Law’s trainer Barclay Tagg grew up in Abington. He is a Penn State graduate. Won his first race at old Liberty Bell Park in 1972. Has never had a big stable as evidenced by his never winning as many as 100 races or having as many as 500 starters in any one year.

Tagg is your classic old-school grinder who typically trains anywhere from 20 to 25 horses at a time. He has had very few opportunities to train horses for owners with deep pockets. Tiz the Law cost just $110,000 when he was purchased as a yearling in 2018.

Tiz the Law is now 5-for-6 lifetime and really should be 6-for-6. Whatever could go wrong did go wrong last November in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. Still, the colt finished third, beaten by just three-quarters of a length.

Now a winner of four stakes, including three Grade I stakes, Tiz the Law is clearly the most accomplished 3-year-old in the country. The Aug. 8 Travers at Saratoga likely will be next. So the midsummer Derby in 2020 is a prep for the actual Derby in September, yet another strange occurrence in a year filled with them.

Tiz the Law was the only Grade I winner in this Belmont, run at a mile and an eighth instead of the normal mile and a half. The competition will be much tougher in September as several trainers with top 3-year-olds passed on the Belmont because they are pointing specifically for the Derby. Other late-developing 3-year-olds could also be a factor by September.

Parx-based Mischevious Alex finished fourth of five in the Grade I Woody Stephens Stakes, the second race on the Belmont Stakes Day card. The Parx Juvenile, Swale and Gotham winner just did not have the same punch he had in those races.

It had been 100 days since the colt’s last race. When the
New York schedule finally came out, trainer John Servis said: “then I really started bearing down on him. I don’t know if I really needed to. He had a pretty good bottom in him.’’

So, Servis said, he is just going to put a line through the race.

“Right now, I’m probably going to go in the (July 18)
Haskell,’’ Servis said. “I don’t know where else to go. I want to try him two turns, I really do. If he doesn’t run any good, then we’ll regroup and go from there.’’

If Mischevious Alex does run well in the Haskell, the colt will have more than enough points to get into the Derby. Stay tuned.


By Dick Jerardi

So it will be 104 days between races at Parx. The waiting was hard; the not knowing when it would end was even harder.

It was March 10 when Little Neck won the last race at Parx. It will be June 22 when the next winner emerges from the first race that day.

Could Parx have opened a few weeks earlier? Say like June 1, two days before Belmont Park. Probably.

But, as PTHA president Sal DeBunda pointed out in his recent video announcement, horse racing is a regulated sport. Nobody can go any faster than the regulators tell them to go. Government often moves in unpredictable ways.

Why Pennsylvania took several weeks longer than New York to give the green light to race tracks isn’t clear, but it is also no longer relevant.

We can’t go back in time so it is time to look forward. Bruce Casella, Keith Jones and I look forward to taping “Let’s Go Racing’’ again, with this Saturday’s show a look ahead to the Parx reopening and the Belmont Stakes which will be run without fans.

As Sal pointed out, there are still some questions that will take some time to answer.

Will there be a Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion this year? The Pa. Derby’s traditional spot on the late September calendar would be between the rescheduled Kentucky Derby the first Saturday of September and the rescheduled Preakness the first Saturday of October, not a good fit. Could it be used as a Derby prep in August? Is there money in the purse account for it this year?

When will the Parx casino reopen? Slot machine revenue that fuels purses is critical.

When the casino does reopen, how quickly will patrons return and what will the slots handle be in relation to what it was before the shutdown?

When will fans be able to return to Parx for racing?

Delaware Park opens this Wednesday with fans and protocols. So that day with fans for more tracks is coming.

So the seemingly endless wait is nearly over. Racing at Parx will be Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There will be no August break.

There will be a Pa. Day at the Races, date to be determined soon. There will be Parx-based Mischievious Alex running in the Woody Stephens on Belmont Day for trainer John Servis.

The best news of all, of course, is owners, trainers, jockeys and Parx track employees can all get back to earning some money. The trainers and their help, of course, never stopped working. The owners never stopped paying bills. Many of the jocks were still there every morning exercising horses. And those horses will finally get a chance to run again.


When you hear people at the track talk about owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis, they all pretty much say the same thing. Well, he doesn’t win many races.

That is not untrue, but it misses the point, his point.

“My wife always says you can’t go to the bank with races, you go to the bank with money,’’ St. Lewis said. “I see a lot of guys win a hundred races and they’re all broke.’’

That is exactly the same philosophy most successful bettors have. It’s not about how many winners you have; it’s about how much money you win.

St. Lewis proved his philosophy works when the amazing Discreet Lover, a Parx Hall of Famer, won the 2018 Jockey Club Gold Cup. The horse, purchased for $10,000, has won $1,450,685. He was 40-1, 50-1, 70-1, 80-1 as St. Lewis kept putting him in graded stakes races. Discreet Lover wasn’t winning, but he was picking up checks until finally winning the big one in his 44th start.

St. Lewis is using a similar philosophy with Forewarned, a horse he purchased for $40,000 in December 2018, parlaying some of that Discreet Lover cash.

Forewarned was solid in two years racing in Ohio, even winning a state-bred stake. The horse has been even better for St. Lewis running in races like the Whitney,Woodward and Cigar Mile. St. Lewis took the horse back to Ohio last October to win a $150,000 state-bred stakes. Last Saturday, Forewanted finished third at 59-1 behind 2019 Travers winner Code of Honor in the Westchester at Belmont Park.

When asked if he is going to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup with Forewarned this year, St. Lewis laughed and said that race was reserved for Discreet Lover.

Discreet Lover made his first start in more than a year when he ran in the Blame States at Churchill Downs on May 23. He was 101-1 and finished 11th. But let’s see how the year plays out before making any pronouncements.

As for Forewarned, the now 5-year-old horse has won $293,420 since that $40,000 purchase. The Suburban could be next. The Met Mile is possible.

And there is Adventist, yet another St. Lewis success story. The horse has won $258,590 since coming to the trainer’s barn a year and a half ago. Adventist won the 2019 Greenwood Cup at Parx after going off at 50-1. The horse is entered in a stakes Thursday at Belmont Park against 2019 Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston.

“I buy horses, try to keep them sound so you don’t have to spend all your money on vets,’’ St. Lewis said.

St. Lewis now has 10 horses at Belmont Park and 18 more at Parx as everyone awaits the return of live racing. And more Uriah St. Lewis longshots keep getting some piece of the purse or, in some cases, all of it.

It was a good first few days for Parx horses as Belmont Park opened on June 3. Powerful Venezuela won a $10,000 claimer for trainer Harold Wyner and jockey Ruben Silvera. Helene Jacqueline was second in a maiden special for trainer Richie Vega, Zoomer third in a $40,000 claimer for Jamie Ness and Pategory One a better-than-it-looks seventh at 57-1 in a New York bred maiden race for Carlos Guerrero.


By Dick Jerardi

I have been in the prediction business pretty much my entire adult life. My process has been altered through the years, but a few basics are unchanged: try to compile as much information as possible before arriving at a conclusion.

Trying to predict anything during this pandemic, much less when racing will return at Parx, has required me to alter even those basics. Hard to come to a conclusion when the information consists of so many moving parts.

After being on a call last week with several representatives from Gov. Wolf’s office as well as three representatives of the horse racing industry in Pennsylvania, I can say that the governor’s office clearly understands that horse racing can return safely in the state.

My role, as somebody who has covered racing on the national scene for 35 years and has visited every major race track in the country, was to explain how safely racing was conducted in Florida and Arkansas all winter and spring, how racing is now being conducted safely in Maryland, Kentucky, Texas and California among other states and how racing will be conducted safely during the first week of June in New York and Ohio.

I was also able to explain how the race track world works, that there are actually far more people working on the backstretch in the morning than will be needed to conduct racing in the afternoon, that since everything will be outside, it will be quite easy to comply with protocols that have worked so well at all the other tracks.

When I got off the call, I felt the governor’s representatives had a much better understanding of how and why live racing should return as soon as possible.

When Bucks County goes to yellow on June 5, I got every sense that the governor’s office would approve having live racing return to Parx without fans.

From the start of the pandemic, PTHA president Sal DeBunda and executive director Mike Ballezzi have been working long hours behind the scenes with the horsemen and for the horsemen. That remains true now during the final stages before reopening, with Sal and Mike trying to get live racing back as soon as possible while talking regularly to their members, officials from the governor’s office, the Pennsylvania Racing Commission and Parx administrators, all of whom are playing a part in the restart.

If I am right about what the governor’s office is going to do and I think I am, once the racing commission officially approves the track reopening, it would then be up to Parx management when live racing would actually begin.

The Parx racing office needs to be re-assembled, a condition book must be written and distributed so entries can be taken and racing can resume.

My guess is live racing returns on a Monday. Could it be as soon as June 8? Probably a longshot because there are so many moving parts.

The 15th is more feasible, with June 22 being about the latest opening I could envision.

So we are talking somewhere around 100 days from the time the track closed for live racing to when it is going to reopen, a time that must seem like an eternity to everybody who has mounting expenses and no revenue. I wish I could make the time go faster or be able to say with certainty the exact date when there will be racing again at Parx. I can’t do that, but I can say we are much closer to the end than the beginning.