By Dick Jerardi

In my 33 years covering horse racing at the “Philadelphia Daily News,’’ I was never shy about criticism when criticism was necessary. When I set out to right a perceived wrong, I made certain to research a subject so my viewpoint could be supported by facts.

Does horse racing have significant issues on a national and local scale? Absolutely.

Have too many in positions of power in the game been too comfortable for too long? No doubt.

So, as there were when I started writing about the sport, unresolved issues remain. But there has been progress in making racing safer for the horses and caring for those horses as their racing careers come to an end. Any objective look at where the sport was a decade ago and where it is now would uncover that fact.

Embarrassingly, however, the “Inquirer’s’’ recent story on racing at Parx specifically and Pennsylvania in general got too many basic facts wrong. When you can’t get facts right, your credibility becomes the issue.

The story conflated statistics, which was either sloppy reporting or deliberately misleading. A chart that accompanied the article told a story very different than the one the author was trying to make. The chart showed the progress in horse safety that has been made in recent years while the author, focusing on just one outlier year (2019), was arguing the opposite.

It is a sad fact that some horses suffer catastrophic injuries during races. I was at Belmont Park in 1990 when Go For Wand broke down yards from the finish line at the Breeders’ Cup. I was there at Pimlico in 2006 when Barbaro’s right hind ankle shattered just yards into the Preakness. I have been there on regular race days when a horse breaks down. It is always heartbreaking, more so for the people that care for the animals that anyone else. In a perfect world, the number of breakdowns would be zero. It is not a perfect world, but the object is to get as close to zero as possible.

For some unknown reason, there were more racing deaths at Parx in 2019 than the four years that preceded it, but still significantly down from 2013 and 2014.

“The horsemen, the racing commission, the vets, we all started to take steps,’’ said Sal DeBunda, the president of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “That’s all been outlined by the commission, all the different things we did.’’

DeBunda told the author how the industry responded should be part of the story, that “we’re heading back toward zero.’’ Nothing DeBunda told the writer about the steps taken appeared in the article.

In fact, the writer conflated the 2019 numbers and essentially ignored a dramatic decrease in racing-related deaths in 2020. In 2019, horses made 12,312 starts at Parx, with 32 racing-related deaths. There were also six deaths during training and 22 at the barns from diseases such as colic which can happen to horses whether they are in training or not.

The writer took all 60 deaths and concluded there were 4.9 deaths per 1,000 starts. The actual number was 2.6 deaths per 1,000 starts, not acceptable, but nearly 50 percent lower than the writer erroneously stated.

In 2020, there were just 8,284 starts at Parx as the track was closed for three months due to the pandemic. There were nine racing-related deaths at Parx or just 1.1 per 1,000 starts.  Those numbers were not included in the article.

The “Inquirer’’ story would suggest that almost every horse in training is on some illegal drug and thus susceptible to breakdowns. The suggestion is not supported by anything other than a few anecdotes and generalities.

The article quotes Lee Midkiff who “owned Animal Kingdom when the stallion won the 2011 Kentucky Derby,’’ saying he was so disgusted with the drug use he left the sport.

Animal Kingdom was actually owned by Team Valor, a syndicate run by Barry Irwin. According to Animal Kingdom’s trainer Graham Motion, Midkiff was one of many members of the syndicate that owned Animal Kingdom, but saying he was the owner “would be a stretch.’’

Yes, there are cheaters, but the vast majority of owners and trainers want the cheaters out so as to level the playing field. There are veterinary exams before races, at the gate, and post-race drug tests. Anybody that cheats should be banned.

Could the testing be better and more uniform from state to state? Yes. Will the new federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, signed into law in December, make it better when the United States Anti-Doping Agency takes over testing on a national basis? Hopefully.

For some unknown reason, the “Inquirer’’ article linked indicted for alleged illegal drug use trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro with Pennsylvania racing, saying those two trainers “have raced hundreds of horses at Parx and Penn National.’’

In fact, Servis raced mainly in Florida, New Jersey, and New York. Navarro raced mostly in New Jersey and Florida

In 2020, before he was indicted and ruled off every track in America, Servis started 92 horses. One was at Parx and none at Penn National. In 2019, Servis started 519 horses – 18 at Parx, 3 at Penn National.

In 2020, before his indictment, Navarro had 134 starts, with none in Pennsylvania. In 2019, Navarro started 769 horses – 57 at Parx, 51 at Penn.

The article discusses XY Jet, a horse trained and allegedly given illegal drugs by Navarro. The horse won more than $3 million in 26 career races. None of those races were in Pennsylvania. Marcos Zulueta, a trainer who was based at Parx and was allegedly working with Navarro, was immediately tossed out of the track after the indictments were made public.

 The story mentions the Servis-trained Maximum Security won the first “Saudi Cup in Dubai.’’ Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Saudi Cup to be run where it was actually run – Saudi Arabia?

The writer says as he has in previous stories about horse racing, that attendance is way down at Pennsylvania tracks. The reality is nobody knows the attendance because there is no admission. The other reality is that 90 percent of the money bet on horse racing is bet away from the track and it has been that way for years so “attendance’’ is essentially irrelevant.

DeBunda said he explained to the writer he “believes horses racing are as safe as the horses who are not racing because they are treated like athletes, their temperature is taken, their joints are touched, they’re exercised. If they have a problem, there is a vet called in right away to give them the proper treatment or medication. They are looked at in the morning by a vet to see if they are fit to run in the race. A jockey can scratch a horse at any time. A vet can scratch a horse, even at the gate…If they are out in the field somewhere, they can run into a fence, get hit by lighting, they can run into each other.’’

DeBunda was quoted in the article, but without any of the reasons cited above.

DeBunda also told the writer about Parx’s “Turning for Home’’ program, the now almost 13-year-old horse rescue program that has become the model for the industry.

Horses at the track are regularly examined by TFH’s team of vets. Once an owner or trainer decides a horse is no longer competitive or might be in danger of developing an injury, that horse is retired from racing and Turning for Home’s team then finds a forever home for the horse where he can live out his years on a farm, often with a new career as a fox hunter or dressage horse, something less stressful than racing.

More than 3,200 horses have been retired through the Turning for Home program. The program is largely funded by a $30 per start fee from the owners. If an owner or trainer is caught trying to sell an infirm horse outside the track rather than giving the animal to Turning for Home, they are banned from the track.

There was no mention of Turning for Home in the article. 

Parx Racing Welcomes New Track Announcer

Chris Griffin has been named as the new voice of Parx Racing. Following the retirement of venerable announcer Keith Jones in December, Parx launched an extensive search for their next track announcer.

Chris Griffin

“Keith was here for 34 years,” said Joe Wilson, Chief Operating Officer for Parx Racing. “This was a new process for all of us. Chris is a rising star in our industry with a tremendous work ethic. We are thrilled to welcome him to the Parx family.”

“This is my opportunity to enter a booth that saw a legend like Keith Jones call for so many years,” Griffin commented. “I am grateful to the management at Parx for this incredible opportunity. Being able to call two million-dollar races as well as several other graded races is very exciting.”
A native of Santa Monica, California, Griffin got his start as an announcer for the National Hot Rod Association. After four years of traveling the country, Chris expanded his travels internationally as the full-time announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters.

While at a tour stop in Little Rock, Arkansas, Griffin’s talent captured the attention of veteran race caller Frank Mirahmadi, who was calling the races at Oaklawn Park. Mirahmadi mentored Griffin and helped secure him his first full time racing job at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale in 2015. He ended up calling races at the various California fair meets, Portland Meadows, Los Alamitos and Gulfstream Park West. In the fall of 2018 Griffin was named the track announcer at Sam Houston while pulling double duty as Marketing Manager.

“I appreciated my time at Sam Houston Race Park, as well as the Northern California Fairs, and other racetracks who have treated me so well.” Griffin reflected. “However, the relocation to a new region is something I am ready for. I am very excited to move to the East Coast and become the full-time announcer at Parx.”

Parx Racing runs Monday thru Wednesday first with the first post at 12:55pm


By Dick Jerardi

There were just six weeks until the Kentucky Derby when unbeaten Life is Good finished off a tour de force workout last Saturday at Santa Anita Park. When the brilliant colt left the track, he was one more prep race (the Santa Anita Derby) and a few more works away from heading to Kentucky as the obvious Derby favorite.    

And then, back at the barn, it became obvious to trainer Bob Baffert and his team that something was off. The colt took some funny steps. Tests were done and it was determined that there was a small chip in his left hind ankle. Surgery will be performed. It is nothing Life is Good can’t come back from, but the timing could not have been worse.

The colt will need 60 days to recover, so, by the time Life is Good is ready to start training again, the Triple Crown will be nearly over. Add the brilliant colt’s name to that what-if list for horses that could have won the Derby if they had gotten the chance.

The 2021 Derby is now, of course, much more wide open, with the Baffert-trained Concert Tour and the Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality at the head of the class as they get ready for their final prep races.

Baffert said Life is Good will be back later in the year and even promised he could be at his best for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar. We can only hope.


Miguel Penaloza took over the training of Exogen a few months ago. The 3-year-old filly came up from Florida to Parx. The trainer thought so much of her that he entered her in the $100,000 Cicada Stakes last Saturday at Aqueduct. She was completely overlooked in the field of four, sent off at 22-1. If the race had been 6 furlongs and a few jumps, the filly would have won it.

Exogen closed relentlessly up the rail, passing 4-5 favorite Save and nearly catching 3-1 Just Read It. She lost by ahead.

Penaloza only has 12 horses in his Parx barn, but add stakes-placed Exogen to multiple stakes winner Share the Ride and the trainer has much to look forward to in 2021.


As we approach the end of March, a quarter of the way through the year, some familiar names are atop the Parx trainer and jockey standings.

Jamie Ness, a runaway winner of the trainer’s race in 2020, leads with 23 winners. Scott Lake is second with 14 while Joe Taylor, the 2019 winner, and Lou Linder each have 13. Ness has started 125 horses and a cool 75 of them have finished in the top 3.

Ruben Silvera leads the jockey standings with 32 winners, followed by Frankie Pennington with 26 and last year’s winner Mychel Sanchez has 21.


Kendrick Carmouche, the Parx Hall of Famer who won 200 or more races each year from 2007-2012, won his first New York jockeys’ title at the shortfall Aqueduct meeting last year. He is a week away from taking his second straight title. Carmouche has been in front virtually all the way at the Aqueduct winter meet that began Dec. 10 and ends March 28. He has 72 winners, seven clear of Eric Cancel.


Dick Jerardi

Basketball has LeBron James. Football has Tom Brady. Horse racing has Bob Baffert

The legendary trainer is loaded again with a major talent for the May 1 Kentucky Derby, a race he has already won a record-tying six times. Nobody is going to be surprised if he holds the record alone, with seven, by sundown on the first Saturday of May.

 Life is Good is unbeaten in three starts. Concert Tour is unbeaten in three starts. Life is Good likely will make his final pre-Derby start in the Santa Anita Derby while Concert Tour may go to the Arkansas Derby. If each wins impressively, Baffert will bring as strong a hand to Kentucky as he did in 2015 when he finished first and third in the Derby with American Pharoah and Dortmund.

Baffert was not hard to read that 2015 Derby Week. He never tipped his hand about which horse he liked best, given that they had different owners, but he made it very clear he thought he was going to win it. He did, of course, and American Pharoah kept right on winning until the colt had won the first Triple Crown in 37 years. Later, Baffert admitted he knew all along which horse was better. He just let the horse show it.

Concert Tour is a very nice horse who just gave Baffert his eighth Rebel Stakes win since 2010. Life is Good has superstar potential. The colt does not run; he glides. Another American Pharoah? Another Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner? Time will tell.

Baffert obviously has access to horses with great pedigrees, but he also has a program that is designed with the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in mind. Watch the horses develop race to race, workout to workout so they peak at exactly the right moment. Everything is by design. The results are no accident.

The results now include those two Triple Crowns, the six Derbies, the seven Preakness, and the three Belmont Stakes, a record 16 Triple Crown race wins in all. He even proved last year that he could win the Derby in September with the third string. That was Authentic in the spring behind Nadal and Charlatan. But when those two got injured, Baffert brought Authentic off the bench to win the Derby, nearly win an eighth Preakness and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Not bad for a backup.

In all, Baffert has trained more than 3,100 winners. His horses have earned $316 million. He has won the Eclipse Award as leading trainer four times (1997, 1998, 1999, 2015) and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

But it is his Triple Crown race mastery that sets him apart. D. Wayne Lukas showed him the way and then Baffert even improved on the standard Lukas set.

Baffert won his first Derby in 1997, the year after he lost it by a nose with Cavonnier. Then, he won it again in 1998 with Real Quiet and War Emblem in 2002. It was 13 years between War Emblem and American Pharoah, but an older, wiser Baffert began another roll in 2015, winning it again in 2018 with Justify and in 2020 with Authentic. So the man won the Derby three times in six years – twice.

And there is also this. His horses have finished second in eight other Triple Crown races. And, with a bit more racing luck in the years he won two of three, Baffert could actually have won four more Triple Crowns.           Think about all that when the horses are in the post parade for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. You may be considering betting on a horse or horses not trained by Baffert. You might want to reconsider.