When those five new stakes, worth $100,000 each, were announced for the Tuesday and Wednesday after Christmas at Parx, the anticipation from owners and trainers was an older version of kids waiting on Christmas presents. The difference was that, yes, it was new money, but it would have to be earned.
And there were the bettors who responded by generating a handle of $4.3 million Tuesday, followed Wednesday, with the aid of a $389,200 carryover and mandatory payout in the Big 5, a handle of $6 million, $2 million of which was bet into the Big 5. That payout was $7,875.40 for each winning ticket.
All five stakes winners earned the cash by beating large, competitive fields. The three Tuesday stakes were all won by former Parx champion jockeys, each of whom took advantage of in-race circumstances to get to the wire first.
Jakarta was 18-1 in the Mrs. Claus for fillies and mares going 7 furlongs. Her published lines were all on grass, except for her most recent start on Tapeta at Turfway Park. She had not won a race all year.
The 6-year-old mare was 8-for-26 lifetime, but she was 5-for-8 on fast dirt tracks. And this was a fast dirt track. Just as she did at Penn National in 2019 when she had four wins, two seconds and a third in nine starts, Jakarta came out running from her inside post and never stopped, winning by 3 lengths in the end.
“She broke so good, I put my hands down and she was awesome,’’ said jockey Mychel Sanchez. “I felt like I was just galloping.’’
The jockey was very confident because he had gone back on Jakarta’s form and saw she “was destroying those fields on dirt.’’
Making her Parx debut after racing in Kentucky, Florida, New York and Canada for Three Diamonds Farm during the year, Jakarta won by a comfortable 3 lengths in her first start for trainer Michael Trombetta.
Kendrick Carmouche, finishing off the best year of his career between New York and Parx, rode the final three Parx cards of the year. He gave a classic KC ride in The Kris Kringle for 3-year-olds and up going a mile and 70 yards. With 3-1 Rock on Luke and 5-2 favorite Davidic Line engaged in a long battle for the lead, Carmouche, riding 3-1 Why Why Paul Why, sat just off those leaders.
When the jockey gave the signal, Why Why Paul Why was there for him and raced away to win by 2 1/4 lengths for trainer Penny Pearce and owner JKX Racing. Davidic Line held on for second.
“They had a very tough pace in here,’’ Carmouche said. “I thought they would go pretty quick up front. The two horses up front hooked up. I just sat the trip and when I was ready to go, the horse did most of the work and I just had to guide him, keep him clear.’’
The first two finishers had been claimed earlier in the year at Churchill Downs. Davidic Line had improved dramatically for trainer Jamie Ness, winning twice in two starts at Parx. Why Why Paul Why now has five wins and a second at Parx.
Trainer John Servis thought so much of Dreams Untold last year that he was thinking of running the son of Smarty Jones in the Preakness. That did not work out, but the now 4-year-old showed his talent in The Blitzen for 3-year-olds and up going 6 furlongs. Positioned perfectly by Frankie Pennington in third behind dueling leaders, Dreams Untold, owned by Pat Chapman’s Someday Farm and sent off at 5-1, exploded on the turn and cruised home by 3 3/4 lengths.
“John Servis really got him ready for this race,’’ Pennington said. “John told me `sit in a good spot and he’ll give you everything.’ Sure enough, he was right.’’
Pennington was thrilled to win but especially so for Pat Chapman.
“She’s the sweetest lady you will ever meet in horse racing,’’ the jockey said. “You’ve got to love her.’’
The 2-year-olds took center stage Wednesday with The Parx Futurity for fillies and The Parx Juvenile for colts and geldings.
Trainer Butch Reid added to his career year when 5-2 Stand Up Comic remained perfect in three main track starts by running away from the field in the Futurity to win by 4 lengths. Frankie Pennington gave her a dream trip over the 7 furlongs for Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing.
The filly, a half sister to the stable’s solid runner Dr B, was purchased privately and appears to have a very good future.
“I went down (to Florida) last spring and we were able to strike a deal,’’ Reid said.
Stand Up Comic had not raced in nearly two months. That she was pulling away at the finish gave Reid the confidence that more distance will not be a problem.
The final of the five stakes went to 3-1 Dance Code who wired the field in the 7-furlong Juvenile for trainer Juan Vazquez and owner Richies World Stables LLC. The son of Honor Code was ridden expertly by Nik Juarez.
After breaking his maiden in a June debut at Parx, Vazquez immediately sent the colt to Saratoga to run in the Sanford and Saratoga Special. That didn’t work out very well, but it was a strong indicator the trainer thought he had something special.
Vazquez was between Saturday’s Jerome at Aqueduct and the Juvenile for Dance Code
“I waited until almost 11:15,’’ he said with a smile. “I was supposed to go to The Jerome. I don’t want to scratch at Philly. Philly is my house. I like him a lot. I made the right decision.’’
Yes, he did.
Got my 2021 Eclipse Awards ballot the other day and, as I began to pour over the past performances of the horses and humans in various categories, I began to marvel at what a great year it was on the track. If that was the only story…
Let’s start at the end. Knicks Go is going to be the Horse of the Year after winning the Pegasus, Whitney, Breeders Cup Classic and $7.3 million. That the 5-year-old held his form from January to November is a rarity these days.
Speaking of holding form all year, how about Medina Spirit and Essential Quality? The most difficult category for me and I suspect most other voters will be the 3-year-old male champion. Almost impossible to separate the two colts. Essential Quality raced from February to November and never failed to fire, his two biggest wins being the Belmont Stakes and Travers. Medina Spirit stayed in form from January to November, his biggest win being the biggest race we have, the Kentucky Derby.
I think Essential Quality has a slightly better resume in terms of races won. I think Medina Spirit’s resume would look much better if he did not have to run against then stablemate Life is Good twice. (By the way, I think Life is Good is better than both of them, but, because of injury and time away, he just does not have the resume.) The tiebreaker for me is going to be that the two colts ran against each other twice in the biggest race for 3-year-olds and “the’’ championship race, the BC Classic. Medina Spirit finished in front of Essential Quality both times. I am not considering the betamethasone positive for Medina Spirit in the Derby because it has not been adjudicated and I don’t think it had anything to do with him winning anyway.
Corniche and Echo Zulu are easy choices as 2-year-old colt and 2-year-old filly champions respectively. Malathaat is a no-brainer as the 3-year-old filly champion.
Knicks Go and Letruska (a 2021 record four Grade I wins) are locks as older male and female respectively.
Even though Jackie’s Warrior’s only bad sprint race was in the biggest race (BC Sprint), I still like him as the sprint champ based on overall resume. Ce Ce upset Gamine in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint and should be the female sprint champion.
I found the resumes of the male grass horses underwhelming, but likely will vote for Domestic Spending. War Like Goddess was an easy choice for the female turf champion.
Hard to believe Joel Rosario has never won the Eclipse Award as champion jockey. That should change. He has nearly $33 million in earnings and had a real chance to break Jerry Bailey’s record for graded stakes wins in a year until a recent injury paused him at 49 graded stakes wins in 2021.
Despite missing the entire Saratoga meet and the final month and change of the Belmont Spring meet after being injured on Belmont Stakes Day, Parx legend Kendrick Carmouche has more than $9 million in earnings, closing on the best earnings year of his career.
Hard to separate Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen for Trainer of the Year. Each is over $30 million in earnings. With Essential Quality and Knicks Go, Cox obviously had the higher quality talent, but Asmussen is going to win close to 500 races and had an incredible Saratoga meeting. Slightest of edges to Asmussen.
Jamie Ness, who will win the Parx training title for the second consecutive year, is third nationally in wins (298 through Dec. 17) and 12th in earnings (nearly $8 million).
Special achievement award to the incredible trainer Charlie Appleby who had 18 starters in North America in 2021 and won with nine of them, including eight Grade I Stakes and three BC winners (Modern Games, Space Blues, Yibir). His nine winners earned almost $6 million.
It helped, of course, that he was training for Godolphin which dominated in North America, Europe, and Dubai. In addition to all those grass winners, Godolphin also had Essential Quality, Maxfield, and Mystic Guide on the main track. They had 11 Grade I wins. That outfit will certainly be named leading owner and breeder for 2021.
Joe Besecker, who runs horses at Parx regularly, is in a battle for the second-leading owner in terms of wins. He has 114 wins with a few days left in the year. Jagger, Inc, easily the leading owner at Parx, is No. 6 nationally with 82 wins.
One fun category that is not an Eclipse category is the horse with the most wins. Shinny (12), Greeley and Ben (11) and Free to Fly (10) had a combined 33 wins in 43 starts. The wonderful Chub Wagon, representing Parx, had the best overall record with 8 wins and 1 second in 9 starts.
By Dick Jerardi
When it was announced on Friday, Dec. 3 by Bob Baffert’s attorney Craig Robertson that Dr. George Maylin, the director of the New York Drug Testing and Research Program, had determined that the anti-inflammatory betamethasone present in Medina Spirit’s split urine sample from the Kentucky Derby came from the topical ointment OTOMAX and not an injection, there was a fleeting thought that this could actually have a feel better, if not, feel-good ending.
Then, right after a workout at Santa Anita on Monday, Dec. 6, Medina Spirit, who finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, collapsed on the track and died.
All of which led to wild internet speculation, due process, and the facts be damned. Everybody thinks they know, but the reality is nobody really knows much of anything.
What hit me the most was we would never get to see Medina Spirit run again. Purchased for just $35,000 as a 2-year-old, Medina Spirit started 10 times, with five wins, four seconds, a third, and earnings of $3,545,200. This was one tough, consistent, overachieving racehorse.
In addition to the Derby, Medina won the Robert Lewis, Shared Belief and Awesome Again. The horse was second in the Sham, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Classic. His “worst’’ finish was a third in the Preakness.
Each of Medina Spirit’s four-stakes wins came when he was loose on the lead and controlled the pace. There was nothing at all atypical about his Derby win in relation to his other wins.
The betamethasone, which was originally detected in a post-race sample and made public by Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert a week after the Derby, did not make Medina Spirit run faster. But, because Baffert had had a series of recent positive drug tests (all for therapeutic medications that are legal to use in training, but not on race day), it made the positive test “look’’ really bad. That, of course, is on Baffert and his team since it is right on the OTOMAX label that betamethasone is one of the ingredients. How that absurd mistake could have been made has never been explained.
The Kentucky Racing Commission has neither announced a positive test for Medina Spirit nor scheduled a hearing on the matter. If there is ever actually a proceeding and Maylin’s findings are accepted, my guess is Medina Spirit still will be disqualified from the Derby because of the presence of the betamethasone. Not sure how they can get around that regardless of how the drug got there. The arguments, however, will be fascinating. Robertson, for instance, is already saying that because it did not come from an injection, it did not break the rules and there should be no DQ. The commission may not see it that way.
At the very least, again if Maylin’s findings are accepted, Baffert may be able to regain some of his lost reputations from those who are willing to accept that it was a mistake and not intentional. Many will not be able to go there and I get that. Just too much smoke for there not to be a fire is an understandable reaction. The results of a necropsy hopefully will be the definitive word on how Medina Spirit died. Sadly, that will not change the fact that a really cool horse, who was being readied for a 4-year-old campaign that was to include a run at the $20 million Saudi Cup, has run his last race. And, regardless of all the conspiracy theories surrounding the horse, his trainer, and what may have contributed to the death, that awful ending to the horse’s career and life is one fact not in dispute.