By Dick Jerardi
Danny Limongelli’s last winner, Quiet Please, entered the Parx winner’s circle shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 18. The longtime horse owner, with 450 wins and nearly $9 million in earnings over a career that spanned 20 years, passed away later that afternoon at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.
His longtime trainer Steve Krebs, fellow owner Joe Besecker and his family in a poignant obituary remembered a man who would do anything for anybody.
After serving in Vietnam with the U.S. Army – F Troop, 17th Cavalry, 196th Brigade – Limongelli returned to the Wilkes-Barre area to his family and one of his other loves – cars.
Limongelli started Jo-Dan Motors with his father in 1971. Later, he was heavily involved in warranty companies. Even later, he was able to fulfill his dream by opening Jo-Dan Buick GMC in Moosic, Pa., the franchise dealership he had always wanted.
He owned classic cars, including his favorite, a 1958 Impala. According to his obituary, he loved to attend car shows, spend time on the family farm and, of course, hang out at the track with his friends, his family and his horses.
It was at what was then called Philadelphia Park on Aug, 21, 2004 that Krebs and Limongelli claimed Banjo Picker for $15,000.
“We just claimed him because he was a Pa. Bred,’’ Krebs said, “We figured maybe we could win (a first-level allowance) with him.’’
All Banjo Picker did after the claim was run 40 times, with 15 wins, five seconds, six thirds and earnings of more than $600,000. All but eight of those starts came at the track now known as Parx, with the final race on Nov. 24, 2009.
Tara Hemmings rode Banjo Picker in each of his starts for Limongelli, including a memorable win in the Dec. 18, 2005 Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct when the horse was a cool 47-1. Banjo Picker also won four Pa. bred stakes at Parx – the Lyman, Devil’s Honor, Power By Far and Le Grand Pos.
“He just kept getting better and better,’’ Krebs said, “He just kept right on going.’’
Limongelli had so many friends because he was so friendly,
“He loved all the action,’’ Krebs said.
Krebs and Limongelli had Lothar who won six in a row in 2002. That was one of the first horses they had together. Soon, there were 20 of the owner’s horses in the barn.
“Danny was a trainer’s dream,’’ Krebs said. “Danny was a family man first. He always talked about his family. In fact, he named several horses after all his grandkids.’’
There was Pop-Pop’s Jimmy and Nicky Blue Eyes among others.
“His horses and their well-being came first,’’ Krebs said.
Besecker had known Limongelli for five or six years, but only met him two years ago.
“Just a prince of a man,’’ Besecker said.
When Joe found out Danny was a car dealer, they talked cars. And soon enough, Danny was giving Joe a deal on a pickup that ended that night with them at dinner.
Limongelli had horses at Laurel, Penn National and Parx.
“He liked to go to Parx,’’ Besecker said. “He was a guy who supported everyday racing. He was very knowledgeable. He was one of us, a really good person; looked out for other people in the business. I know he helped out backside people. He was the kind of guy that would slide a hundred to the waitress.’’
When Danny came to the track, he often came with his friends and family.
“He made it fun for everybody,’’ Besecker said. “He usually had his gang with him. And they were a colorful gang. He loved the game.’’
By Dick Jerardi
Vequist, who began her career at Parx and trained there before she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland, was announced on Jan. 16 as a finalist for the 2-year-old filly Eclipse Award. The other finalists are Dayoutoftheoffice and Aunt Pearl. Vequist finished second to Dayoutoftheoffice in the Frizette before turning the tables in the Breeders’ Cup. Aunt Pearl waa dominant on the grass and won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
The winners in all the categories will be announced Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. on TVG. Vequist, trained by Butch Reid, is a huge favorite to win the award. There was a similar situation two years ago when the John Servis-trained Jaywalk won the BC Juvenile Fillies and the brilliant, unbeaten Newspaperofrecord won the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf. Each was a finalist. The voting was not close. Jaywalk got 214 votes; Newspaperofrecord just 31.
There were 249 eligible voters this year. A total of 238 returned their ballots.
The Horse of the Year finalists are: Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Authentic, Improbable and Monomoy Girl. Authentic is a lock to win it. The top three on my ballot were Authentic, Improbable and Swiss Skydiver. Nothing against Monomoy Girl, but she raced just four times. Swiss Skydiver had a throwback campaign that I thought was more impressive.
By the way, in case you didn’t know, the Eclipse Awards are named for Eclipse, a 17th Century English horse that did not start racing until age 5. The horse, foaled April 1, 1764 and named after the Solar Eclipse, raced 18 times and won them all.
CARMOUCHE STAYS HOT
Parx Hall of Famer Kendrick Carmouche won his first Grade I and first New York meet in early December. He was hot when the fall Aqueduct meet ended. He is even hotter now that the Aqueduct winter meet is in full swing.
Carmouche, with 38 wins through Jan. 18, is 16 clear of second-place Eric Cancel. Last Saturday, he won four, three for trainer Todd Pletcher. Those three included the $100,000 Ladies Handicap on Thankful. The winter meet ends March 28.
It’s very early in the year obviously, but Carmouche is second nationally to Joel Rosario in earnings and second to Irad Ortiz, Jr., in wins.
FINAL 2020 PARX STANDINGS
Mychel Sanchez won his first Parx jockeys’ title in 2019 when he tied with Frankie Pennington. Sanchez won it outright in 2020 with 131 wins. Ruben Silvera finished second with 115.
Jamie Ness ran away with the trainers’ title. He had 109 wins to second-place Joe Taylor’s 50.
Jagger Inc., one of Ness’s main owners, won the owners’ title with 42 winners. Top North Racing was second with 24.
By Dick Jerardi
The track was nearly enveloped in darkness late in the afternoon of Dec. 30. There were two lights still shining atop the Parx grandstand after the last race of the day.
There were the lights from the announcer’s booth as Keith Jones bid his farewell. On the floor above, Lew Zagnit, after nearly 40 years at Parx and 45 years in the business, was finishing up his work for the day.
But the fans never heard Zagnit. They just saw his work in the charts and the past performances. He called the horses as they hit the poles, separating them by heads and lengths, never permitted to skip a horse. That 10th race on Dec. 30 was his last race too, even if, as was his custom, he did it with no fanfare.
Zagnit got his start at “Daily Racing Form’’ in the late 1970s, learning the trade from Mike Mercer at what was then called Keystone. He estimates he’s called charts at 30 tracks and “about 10 of them are closed.’’
There was Centennial in Colorado, Bowie in Maryland, Commodore Downs (Erie, Pa.) and Garden State Park. There was River Downs (now Belterra Park) in Cincinnati, Latonia (now Turfway) in Kentucky.
Back then, there were not many year-round circuits so chart callers would follow the horses.
Zagnit was told he would be working the 1981 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and “then you would be on your way home’’ to Pennsylvania.
“I packed enough clothes for a week,’’ Zagnit.
While he was at the Derby, he was asked to go to Centennial. He was there for six months.
On the way home, he stopped at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and “worked a meet there.’’
“Probably about 11 months later, with my week’s worth of clothes, I came back,’’ Zagnit said.
It was that kind of life until he settled in to be the regular chartcaller at Parx in the mid-1980s. He was there until he decided to retire.
There were times when Parx and Garden State were running simultaneously so he was calling charts seven days a week.
Lew and his brother Bruce got into chart calling through their cousin, Herb Goldstein, a DRF columnist back in the day. Bruce still calls charts at Penn National.
Bruce worked as a groom for the great Don Levine at old Garden State, but Lew had no horse racing background.
“My first day at work was my first day at a race track,’’ Lew said.
Zagnit estimates he called 80,000 race charts.
He had a call taker for most of his tenure, somebody who would listen to Zagnit calls the horses and then write down on a sheet where the horses were at different points of call. Lew would always write the footnotes that would accompany the charts. And those charts, of course, became the basis for the past performances the next time the horses in a race would run.
“Mike Mercer was a great teacher and a great chart caller,’’ Zagnit said of the man who became the longtime publicity director at Keystone/Philadelphia Park.
Like announcers, chart callers have to memorize a group of names for 8 or 9 or 10 races per day, immediately forget them and repeat the process all day.
“To this day, if you introduce yourself, within three minutes, I would forget your name,’’ Zagnit said.
He remembers calling a 15-horse field going 5 furlongs at RiverDowns. His brother was the call taker.
“I got every horse,’’ he said.
And he had to get every horse.
“It wasn’t like if we got stuck, we could stop at the sixth horse,’’ Zagnit said. “We’ve got to keep on going.’’
He called the great All Along winning the
1983 Washington D.C. International at Laurel. He called Spend A Buck at Garden State in April 1985 before the colt won the Derby and returned to win the Jersey Derby and a $2 million bonus. He called Smarty Jones’s first two races at Parx in 2003.
“I did the best job I could every day,’’ Zagnit said.
And he did it very well. He was dedicated, accurate, and consistent. If you saw a Lew Zagnit chart or read his footnotes, you did not need to see a replay. He painted a picture of exactly what happened.
He won’t be at the track, but he will still be working at his Animal Rescue. Lew and his wife Karen have adopted out more than 300 dogs. He has been a volunteer for Trenton Animal Shelter.
“I will keep myself busy,’’ Lew Zagnit promised.
By Dick Jerardi
One Kentucky Derby prospect clearly is not enough at Parx in 2021.
On the first day of the new year, trainer Harry Wyner sent newly turned 3-year-old Capo Kane to Aqueduct, aka Parx north, for The Jerome.
The colt immediately hit the front; let 7-5 favorite Swill hang around until the stretch and then ran away from the field, winning by 6 1/4 lengths and running the mile in 1:38.02 which computed to a Beyer Speed Figure of 84.
It was the first stakes win of Wyner’s career. And it sets up a potential showdown between Parx-based Brooklyn Strong (trainer Danny Velazquez) and Capo Kane in the Feb. 6 Withers Stakes, also at Aqueduct.
When it was suggested to Wyner that it would be nice if the Parx horses ran 1-2, he said: “Hopefully and hopefully me on top.’’
As for the $150,000 Jerome, when Capo Kane opened up in the stretch, Wyner said: “I was screaming so loud, I nearly fell off a balcony. I knew the horse was going real well. I figured I could be in the top three, but I didn’t think he’d win like that.’’
Capo Kane won like there is more winning in his future.
After finishing second in his debut on Oct. 28, Capo Kane wired a field of maidens going a mile and 70 yards on Nov. 25. Those races were at Parx.
Dylan Davis rode Capo Kane in The Jerome.
“I told Dylan in the paddock, look this horse has speed, just see where you lay and ride your race, you know the race track better than I do,’’ Wyner said.
Bottom line, Davis was on the right horse.
“Dylan said he had so much horse, it was unbelievable, even after the race, he couldn’t pull him up, he just wanted to keep going,’’ Wyner said.
Capo Kane was purchased for owners Lenny Liberto and Tony Como at Timonium last year.
“We had no intentions of even looking at him,’’ Wyner said, “but he came into the ring and I went `wow, this horse looks great.’’’
The plan was to go $20,000 and then stop. That is what they did. The bidding ended there, but the reserve was $30,000.
So they went back after the sale and tried to make a deal. They settled on $26,000 and they got themselves a stakes winner for that $26,000.
Capo Kane is a California bred by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of an unraced mare by Hard Spun, the Grade I winning Pennsylvania bred who finished second in that Derby to Street Sense.
Wyner had NY Traffic in his barn last year. He knew early on that horse had Derby potential. But then he was sent south to Saffie Joseph and Wyner had to watch the horse run in the Derby last September.
“I was kind of upset because I knew that horse was a nice horse too,’’ Wyner said. “Obviously, I wanted to take a shot at the roses myself. Here I am a year later with another shot. It’s unbelievable. People dream about this, right.’’