By Dick Jerardi
Not the remnants of Hurricane Henri that took all the races off the grass nor the postponement by a week of the $2000,000 Grade III Parx Dash could undercut the enthusiasm at the track when Parx returned after a 19-day break with a two-day extravaganza that included 23 races, $2 million in purses, eight stakes and total handle of $6.16 million
First, it was Pennsylvania Day at the Races with its all Pa.-bred card on Monday, Aug. 23, followed by Smarty Jones Day Tuesday, with three open stakes, all preps for Pennsylvania Derby Day on Sept. 25.
The five $100,000 stakes on Pa. Day featured winners that included a filly returning to where her career began to upset another filly that looked like she might never lose, a filly that got a brilliant ride from a Parx legend, a 3-year-old colt that had raced just three times against seven horses which had a combined 178 starts, a gelding that is one of the great claims in Parx history and another gelding that cost $50,000 to claim but keeps paying dividends.
Chub Wagon was 2-5 in the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial and why not. All she had done for trainer Lupe Preciado and owners Danny Lopez and George Chestnut was start eight times and win them all. The 4-year-old filly, ridden by Jomar Torres, ran another brilliant race in the Garofalo, but Don’t Call Me Mary ran the race of her life and edged by Chub Wagon in the stretch to win by 1 ¼ lengths. She had to run 6 furlongs in 1:09.57 on a sloppy, sealed surface to do it.
The two fillies hooked up at the start and ran around the track together. Chub Wagon was ahead most of the way and it really looked like she was going to getaway. But Don’t Call Me Mary, trained in New York by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Paco Lopez, just kept coming and ran her down in the final 100 yards.
Vault, who won the Grade II Ruffian at Belmont Park in April, was 3-5 in Mrs. Penny. She is trained by Brad Cox and was ridden by Florent Geroux. But her Beyer figures were no better than those of Precious. And Precious had a huge tactical edge. In a two-turn race with no speed, she had just raced in sprints and jockey Frankie Pennington understood the race dynamics perfectly.
The Parx Hall of Famer put the John Servis-trained Precious on the lead. They went the first quarter in 25:11, made the favorite chase, and just kept running all the way into the winner’s circle.
“She broke on the lead and I just tried to walk her all the way through it,’’ Pennington said.
He certainly did that and when Vault threatened on the far turn and in the stretch, Pennington just let Precious drift a path or two outside to discourage the favorite. It worked perfectly.
“We figured out with this filly early on, if you hustle her early, mentally she couldn’t handle that, she just couldn’t settle,’’ Servis said.
No need to hustle her when she was the only speed. She settled and she was gone.
Precious is owned by Greg Newell, who just happens to be the president of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. He was rather excited by the victory.
“I am going crazy,’’ Newell said. “I was screaming and shouting. People are laughing at me. I am so into it. Today was really special because we are taking that chance of running her long. What a brilliant training job and riding job between John and Frankie.’’
I Am Redeemed, with just those three races, gave up all that experience to those seven horses with the 178 starts in The Storm Cat. Neither his trainer Penny Pearce nor his jockey Abner Adorno had ever won a stakes race.
No matter. I Am Redeemed ran away from the field in the stretch and won the race by 3 ½ lengths for owner Larry Rebbecchi.
So what was Adorno feeling when he crossed the finish line?
“I wanted to scream,’’ he said. “It’s been a long run, but we’re here.’’
What I Am Redeemed lacked in experience, he made up in talent.
“I can’t even talk or breathe,’’ said Pearce, tears forming in her eyes. “It was fantastic. It was worth the wait.’’
Admiral Abe was claimed for $25,000 on Jan. 6, 2020 by trainer Bobby Mosco for StefCon Racing LLC, a partnership of Ed Stefanski and Bill Conlin. It was their first horse with Mosco. After going wire-to-wire under regular rider Silvestre Gonzalez to win The Marshall Jenny Handicap, Admiral Abe has won seven races and $353,012 for his owners. Not a bad return on investment.
“He’s just so fast,’’ Gonzalez said of Admiral Abe. “Today, 5 furlongs, it was going to be hard to catch him. He just breaks out of there with so much power. I’m just there for the ride.’’
And it has been some ride for the 5-year-old.
“I was just hoping to get a good horse for a first-time owner,’’ Mosco said. “Never expected this.’’
Like Pearce, this was Mosco’s first stakes win.
“I’ve been in racing a long time,’’ said Stefanski, the longtime NBA executive and one time Sixers general manager. “For a $25,000 horse to run in a $100,000 stake at 2-5, it was beyond comprehension.’’
Stefanski was a partner in several of Bob Levy’s good horses, including Hall of Famer Housebuster and 1987 Belmont Stakes winner Bet Twice.
“This was right up there, but I guess Bet Twice winning the Belmont by 14 was the biggest thrill I’ve ever had,’’ Stefanski said.
Trainer Mike Pino went to Churchill Downs on May 29, 2020 looking to claim a Pa. Bred for $50,000. Turned out John Servis was interested in Fortheluvofbourbon as well. They each put in claims and Pino won the shake for owner Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle, LLP.
After winning The Banjo Picker Sprint as the favorite, Fortheluvofbourbon has won four races and more than $160,000 since the claim.
“He was a Pa. Bred,’’ Pino said. “I knew he won here first time out impressively. He’d run against some tough horses at Oaklawn and it looked like he was worth the money. We go there every year and try to claim some horses at Keeneland and Churchill. He fit the bill, we got him and it turned out great.’’
Lopez won the first of the Pa.Day stakes and then the last of them. He was aggressive, as always, and the horse responded.
The Smarty Jones Stakes was the highlight of Smarty Jones Day. After chasing and not catching Parx-based winners all weekend, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux waited for the end and got the biggest prize of the all in the $300,000 Grade III Smarty.
Fulsome, last early at 3-5, circled the field and won easily by 2 lengths. A hot pace up top helped, but it also helped that Fulsome was just the best horse.
“My horse is a closer, but I loved the setup with a decent amount of speed in the race,’’ Geroux said, “I knew I was going to be last or second to last (early).’’
In the end, Fulsome was first. And Geroux would love to come back in the Pennsylvania Derby with Fulsome.
It was hoped that the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia would mark the return of champion Vequist, but she had another physical setback and was scratched. Her racing future is questionable at best and she is likely to be offered at the Night of the Stars sale in November.
So it was up to another local horse, Monmouth Oaks winner Leader of the Band, to try to win the race as the 9-5 favorite for Will Schwartz’s SMD Limited and trainer John Servis. She was up against it the whole way, running from far back into a slow pace. Then, she lost momentum when a horse came out in front of her on the far turn. Still, she kept running all the way to the wire, ultimately losing by a half-length to Lovely Ride.
Lovely Ride looked beaten several times, but never stopped trying and somehow just kept going. Her trainer Bret Calhoun is no stranger to Parx where he brought the wonderful Chamberlain Bridge to take down the Turf Monster. He is now thinking about the Cotillion with the filly after being “very concerned the middle of the turn.’’ But she kept running so why not run her back at Parx?
Trainer Butch Reid obviously was disappointed with the Vequist situation, but he was thrilled with Beren in the $100,000 Parx Summer Sprint. Sent off at 2-5, Beren, with Pennington, immediately got to the lead and was never in any danger. The colt, winning for the sixth time in his last eight races, crossed the wire 6 1/2 lengths in front. The performance was enough to convince Reid to look hard at the Gallant Bob Stakes on Sept. 25, Pa. Derby Day.
“He loves the home cooking,’’ Reid said of Beren. “He got a little unnerved at Saratoga (when far back in the Curlin). Anybody who saw him pre-race would see he was calm and collected (today).’’
So the two days of racing, which offered so much promise, definitely delivered. Now, there is much to look forward to with the $1 million Pa. Derby and $1 million Cotillion coming more clearly into focus.
By Dick Jerardi
There was so much we missed in 2020, but the chance to see some of the country’s best horses come to Parx was right near the top of the list. We were fortunate to have PA Day at the Races on Labor Day, but there were no open or graded stakes at the track last year.
When the track reopens after a 19-day respite on Monday, Aug. 23 with five Pennsylvania Bred stakes on PA Day at the Races, it will mark the beginning of the best month of the racing calendar at Parx, culminating with Pennsylvania Derby Day on Sept. 25.
There will be 19 stakes with purses of more than $4 million. Starting Monday with five $100,000 stakes (Banjo Picker Sprint, Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial, Marshall Jenney Handicap, Mrs. Penny Stakes and Storm Cat Stakes) for Pa. breds, continuing the next day with Smarty Jones Day (including four significant preps for four of the graded stakes on Pa. Derby Day), two $100,000 stakes (The Roamin Rachel and Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup) on Labor Day and concluding with the feast that will be Pa. Derby Day itself.
That day will include the $1 million Grade I Pa. Derby, the $1 million Grade I Cotillion, the $300,000 Grade III Gallant Bob, the $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster, the $200,000 Grade III Greenwood Cup and three other stakes. The final two hours (4-6 p.m) of the card will be broadcast live on PHL17.
Open stakes on Tuesday, Aug. 24 are the $100,000 Parx Summer Sprint (a Gallant Bob prep), the $200,000 Grade III Parx Dash (Turf Monster prep), the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia (Cotillion or Pa. Derby prep) and the $300,000 Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes (Pa. Derby prep). The top three finishers in those races will get nomination, entry and starter fees paid for the Sept. 25 races should they choose to go on. Additionally, the trainer and owner of the Cathryn Sophia winner will be eligible for $50,000 bonuses if their horse wins the Cotillion or Pa. Derby. Same for the owner or trainer of the Smarty Jones if their horse wins the Pa. Derby.
The Smarty Jones Stakes (1 1/16 miles) got 33 nominations that include major stakes winners and horses from some of the top barns in America. Todd Pletcher nominated 7 horses, Brad Cox 5, Chad Brown 4 and Steve Asmussen 2. Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic is on the list of nominees, as is Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock, West Virginia Derby winner Mr. Wireless, and Midnight Bourbon, second in the Preakness. The exciting First Captain and unbeaten Life is Good are also among the nominees.
Life is Good was the Kentucky Derby favorite before being injured. The colt has not raced since the spring and was transferred from Bob Baffert’s barn to Pletcher’s.
According to Pletcher, the plan now is for Life is Good to race in the Aug. 28 Grade I Jerkens on Travers Day at Saratoga, with his next race very possibly in the Pennsylvania Derby. Trainer Doug O’Neill has said Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie is coming to the Pa. Derby. Also, Kentucky Derby “winner’’ Medina Spirit (pending a hearing after a positive drug test for a prohibited race-day medication) has been working well at Del Mar and could be heading to the Pa. Derby as well.
The Cathryn Sophia could mark the return of 2-year-old filly champion Vequist. The Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies winner has been at Saratoga for trainer Butch Reid, with the Cotillion as the longer-range goal. She was out of hard training for months after an atypically poor performance at Gulfstream Park this winter, but recent workouts suggest she is coming back to top form. There is a chance Reid could run Vequist at Saratoga as the prep for the Cotillion so stay tuned there.
The Cathryn Sophia (1 mile, 70 yards) got 22 noms, including Monmouth Oaks winner Leader of the Band from John Servis’s barn and one filly each from the barns of Brown, Cox, and Asmussen.
The Parx Dash (5 furlongs turf) got 24 noms that include the very accomplished The Critical Way and Caravel. The Parx Summer Sprint (6 furlongs) got 26 noms, including four from Cox, and two each from top Parx trainer Jamie Ness, Reid, and Jerry Hollendorfer.
So get ready for these four racing cards over 33 days that will mark the return of what has made Parx in the last decade very much a part of the national racing scene in late summer and early fall.
By Dick Jerardi
It was some 28 hours from mid-morning Friday at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion to mid-afternoon Saturday across Union Ave. at the old Saratoga Race Course.
First, it was the double Hall of Fame class being inducted Friday and then Steve Asmussen breaking Dale Baird’s North American wins record for trainers on Saturday.
It was two stellar Hall of Fame classes, led by trainers Todd Pletcher and Mark Casse, 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Nothing against any of the inductees, all of whom were deserving, but Asmussen’s 9,446th win was a singular achievement. And now that he holds the record, there is every chance he will hold it forever, just as Russell Baze (12,842 wins) is likely to hold the jockeys’ record.
Consider that Asmussen, who typically wins 400 races per year (with a record best of 650 in 2009), is just 55-years-old. If he wins 400 each of the next 10 years, that puts him beyond 13,000. Jerry Hollendofer is currently third with 7,695 wins. He isn’t catching Asmussen. The late Jack Van Berg had 6,523 wins. King T. Leatherbury has 6,507, but has just a few horses. Parx Hall of Famer Scott Lake has 6,195 wins. He should be fourth someday and possibly third, an incredible achievement. But he isn’t catching Asmussen. Nobody is.
“For it to unfold and happen on Whitney Day at Saratoga with a 2-year-old that came through mom and dad’s program in Laredo (Texas) owned by the Winchells…’’ Asmussen said on the FS2 show from Saratoga.
The record win came with first-timer Stellar Tap, a son of Tapit. It was Saratoga’s fifth race and it wasn’t close.
“We’re so blessed to be in horse racing,’’ Asmussen said. “The amazing horses that we’ve had and everything that we’ve learned from every single one of them, they’ve made the Asmussen family possible…It’s amazing what a horse can do to make you feel good about yourself.’’
Asmussen is going to keep improving the record because he has strings in Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Jersey, and New York. Saturday, he had a horse in a $5,000 claimer at Louisiana Downs and the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. And that is what makes his stable unique. He wins at the lowest levels of the sport and the highest.
He has trained two-time Horse of the Year Curlin as well Horses of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Gun Runner. He trained the great fillies Untapable and Midnight Bisou and Sprint champion Mitole. He has won 275 graded stakes and just about every big race there is to win _ except one. He is 0-for-23 in the Kentucky Derby. But he vowed he will be going after the Derby as hard as he ever has and one year, he will have the right horse.
Asmussen was 1-for-15 in his first year as a trainer in 1986. Nearly 46,000 starts later, he has won more races than anybody in North American history. He did not get discouraged in that first year. He is not going to get discouraged. He is just going to keep winning and winning and winning.
It took Pletcher what had to seem like forever to win the Derby. Casse has not won it yet, but he won’t stop trying either. That is what separates the best from the rest. And, of course, getting owners to supply you with fast horses.
“I can’t tell you how humbled I am to join this esteemed group,’’ Pletcher said in a typically understated speech. “So many of these guys were my childhood heroes, role models, mentors.’’
Pletcher has won 60 meet titles between NYRA tracks and Gulfstream Park. He has won seven Eclipse Awards as the nation’s leading trainer. He has won 705 graded stakes, including 166 Grade I. His horses have won a record $410 million.
When he went out on his own after being Wayne Lukas’s top assistant for years the question he kept getting was: what is the one thing you learned from Wayne Lukas?
“The answer is there is not one thing, it’s everything,’’ Pletcher said. “Everything matters. Everyone matters. Every horse matters. Every horse owner matters.’’
Casse was so emotional in his speech that when he talked about his parents, he had to get his wife Tina to read it. When she relayed that, after Casse’s parents divorced, it was his mother who agreed to let him stay with his father to be around horses, the trainer’s emotion was understandable. After all, his mother gave up living with her son to let him live out his dream which ended with a spot in the Hall of Fame.
“Who would have thought 50 years ago as I slept right over there in the Fasig-Tipton parking lot with my dad, had breakfast every day at the Saratoga Snack Shack that I would be standing here today?’’ Casse said. “Horse racing has always been my life. When I was little, I was reading the Racing Form instead of the comic strips. The worst day of the week was Sunday because there wasn’t a Form.’’
This past Sunday at Saratoga was a day of reflection to consider Asmussen’s record and the best of the best who earned induction into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
By Dick Jerardi
When Will Schwartz (SMD Limited) claimed Catsuit for $32,000 on May 25, 2004, at Parx, he was not really claiming her to race. He was hoping she would make a good broodmare. She has better than good, culminating on the last Saturday afternoon of July at Monmouth Park.
That claim came full circle when Catsuit’s 3-year-old daughter Leader of the Band, owned and bred in Pennsylvania by Schwartz, stormed past favored front runner Edie Meeny Miny Mo to win the $250,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks at 10-1.
The filly was ridden by Parx Hall of Famer Frankie Pennington. It was his seventh graded stake winner and 2,694th win of his career. Back in 2004, Catsuit was ridden in the final three races of her career by a 5-pound apprentice with fewer than 100 wins. That would also be Frankie Pennington.
Frankie did not remember riding Catsuit. Nor did Will remember him riding her in her only start for him before he retired her. Neither will forget the 2021 Monmouth Oaks.
“She was stretching out nice, really picked it up,’’ Pennington said. “She really seems to love the two turns.’’
The Oaks was Parx Hall of Fame trainer John Servis’s 33rd graded stakes win and 1,886th of his marvelous career. His horses have earned nearly $64 million.
“Since that Delaware race (third in the Grade III Delaware Oaks), she’s been training lights out,’’ Servis said.
Servis-trained fillies actually ran first and third in the Oaks as Midnight Obsession (Main Line Racing Stable) put pressure on the leader before tiring late to settle for third.
Servis has trained several offspring of Catsuit, including a horse named Ill Conceived that won $160,332. The horse’s name came about because Catsuit was actually bred to the wrong stallion after two halters were mixed up at a farm. Schwartz was notified of the mistake by the Jockey Club after a DNA test. That turned out okay too.
In fact, Servis thought the horse had won the 2012 Battaglia Memorial (a Kentucky Derby prep race) at Turfway Park until they posted the photo that said he was second.
“I was walking down to the winner’s circle,’’ Servis said, “Graham Motion won the race. I couldn’t believe they put his horse up.’’
No photo was needed Saturday. Leader of the Band won by a decisive two lengths. The $150,000 first prize from the Oaks pushed her earnings to $264,540. Next up, the filly will be able to run right out of her Parx stall in the Aug. 24 Cathryn Sophia, named for the Servis trained Kentucky Oaks winner.
“John Servis is a great trainer,’’ Pennington told the Monmouth Park publicity department. “He does such a great job. He told me before the race how good she was doing…Anytime he says that I feel very confident when I ride for him.’’
Catsuit’s foals have now won more than $800,000. Not bad for a $32,000 claim.
“At that time, I was just starting to get into a little pedigree analysis,’’ Schwartz said. “It looked to me like they were protecting her. For a while, I kept my eyes on her. When they dropped her in for 32 which back then was a pretty serious number…’’
It was a serious number. Catsuit has foaled horses that have produced even more serious numbers. And Leader of the Band has already produced the most serious numbers of all the mare’s offspring.