By Dick Jerardi
The two Parx $100,000 stakes on Monday featured 21 Pennsylvania breds with a combined 128 wins and $5,452,724 in earnings. The fields in The Page McKenney Handicap and The Unique Bella appeared very competitive on paper and turned out exactly that way on the track.
The races were named after two wonderful Pa. Breds, one of which was a Mid-Atlantic star and the other a national star. Page McKenney raced 58 times with 22 wins, 16 seconds and earnings of $1.9 million. The horse raced at 11 different tracks and stopped at Parx often enough to win seven times there. Unique Bella won Eclipse Awards in two divisions while winning three Grade I stakes, three Grade II and two Grade III on the way to earning $1.2 million in a 12-race career that included nine wins and two seconds.
The Page McKenney went first. The 7-furlong race came down to three Parx-based horses with impeccable credentials. Late money showed on I Am Redeemed to make him the 4-5 favorite. Beren, coming off a 2021 season when he earned just shy of $470,000, was 7-2. And Fortheluvofbourbon was 5-1.
I Am Redeemed was wide for much of the trip and got started too late so his big stretch move was only good enough for third. The race essentially was Beren and Fortheluvofbourbon from start to finish. Beren was tossing his head a bit in the gate and lost his footing for an instant at the break, but recovered quickly to get a clear lead. Fortheluvofbourbon broke smoothly and was just to Beren’s outside, the others chasing.
It was Parx Hall of Fame jockeys Frankie Pennington on Beren and Kendrick Carmouche on Fortheluvofbourbon, horses and riders getting away from the field on the far turn. In the stretch, it was Beren on the inside, Fortheluvofbourbon on the outside, Fortheluvofbourbon always just ahead, but Beren always threatening to come back and win it. In the end, it was Fortheluvofbourbon by a neck.
Mike Pino claimed Fortheluvofbourbon for $50,000 on May 29, 2020 at Churchill Downs. The Page McKenney was the horse’s sixth win (all at Parx) since the claim. The horse has earned $291,690 for Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle LLC, making him the 10th highest earner ever for Pino who is closing on 2,000 career wins, with 1,955 and counting.
“I got in a car and drove down and we got him,’’ Pino said when asked about the claim. “He’s been a great little horse. He tries hard. His last race, we kind of crammed a couple of races in a little quick. He just didn’t run his race. Give him a little time. This race set up perfect and it all worked out.’’
The day before he won the Page McKenney, Carmouche had clinched the spring Aqueduct meet with 19 winners from just 62 mounts (32 percent). It was his second New York title after winning the Aqueduct fall 2020 meet.
“All my loved ones, my wife, my kids, my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister, in-laws, my fans, all my loved ones that stood behind me from Louisiana, they’re just so proud of me and I’m proud of myself,’’ Carmouche said. “I left (Parx) seven years ago to do good in New York. Here we go seven years later, I’ve got two titles to add on to my seven at Parx. I’m just loving the game. Each day, I want to go out and ride and compete That’s what it’s about.’’
Parx, Carmouche said, will always be home. That he won this race for Pino was especially gratifying
“Mike Pino is the one who got me started with my career in Oaklawn,’’ Carmouche said. “I’ll never forget the horse I won on, 99-1…and (Pino is) still supporting my career.’’
The Unique Bella, also at 7 furlongs, ended with the same margin, a neck. But it was not the same kind of race. Cinnabunny, once a Parx regular for trainer Kate Demasi before being sold privately in 2020, was given a perfect ride by Jorge Ruiz, caught frontrunning Hey Mamaluke in the stretch and held off a late charge by 42-1 Ninetypercentbrynn. Wildcat Cartridge (48-1) came on to be third.
Cinnabunny, the 2-1 favorite, was making just her second start for Greg Bentley’s Runnymore Racing LLC and trainer Cal Lynch, a Parx regular for years until he moved his stable to Maryland.
“I love it here,’’ Lynch said. “My boys grew up here for 10 years.’’
Bentley bought Cinabunny at the November 2021 Keeneland Breeding Stock Sale for $240,000 from the owners who had bought her privately back in 2020.
“She’s destined for our broodmare band, but we really thought that she wanted to continue to race,’’ Bentley said.
Cinanbunny had not raced since September when they ran her on March 7 in the Penn’s Landing at Parx. She finished fourth that day behind Hey Mamaluke. Both owner and trainer said her recent works at Fair Hill had been terrific so they returned to Parx with confidence.
“We were optimistic today that she would run back to her old form,’’ Lynch said.
Cinabunny did exactly that.
“It pays to be a Pa. Bred,’’ Bentley said
Trainer Butch Reid was two necks from winning both races as he trains Beren and Ninetypercentbrynn. It was the first start of 2022 for each so expect to see both in the winner’s circle a few times this year. As to the winners, it was career win No. 7 for each and there is plenty of time to get more before the year is over.
By Dick Jerardi
When Churchill Downs introduced its Kentucky Derby points system with the 2013 Derby, it was to emphasize the most important 3-year-old prep races and de-emphasize 2-year-old form, especially early 2-year-old form. It was no longer about graded stakes earnings, but points earned in graded stakes, the closer to the Derby the more points on the line.
The speedy 2-year-old that won sprint stakes, but had no chance going a mile and a quarter was no longer going to make it to the Derby. What that did was eliminate the old crazy early paces that gave us 50-1 winners like Giacomo (2005) and Mine That Bird (2009). In fact, it has completely changed the Derby pace dynamic.
Now that all the 2022 Derby prep races are in the book, I decided to take a look back at the 10 years of the points system and nine years of Derby results. The study was illuminating on several levels.
First, I looked at where the winner was at the first call of every Derby from 1990-2012, 23 years in all. Then, I looked at where the winner has been at the first call over the last nine years.
The results of the study were kind of astounding; the deep closer has been all but eliminated after being a major factor for many years.
Factor out Orb coming from 16th in 2013 (the first year of the new points system when there was a pace meltdown) and the first across the wire from 2014-2021 have been in this position after the first call: 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1.
From 1990-2012 those numbers were: 11, 12, 12, 13, 2, 6, 15, 6, 8, 7, 15, 13, 1, 4, 4, 18, 5, 18, 4, 19, 6, 12, 7.
Second, I looked at where all the Derby winners (the first horse across the wire for our purposes so Medina Spirit and Maximum Security are considered winners) were ranked in the points system going into the race. The answer was: Orb (1), California Chrome (1), American Pharoah (4), Nyquist (2), Always Dreaming (7), Justify (9), Maximum Security (7), Authentic (2), Medina Spirit (8).
Third, I looked at the points system itself. Churchill divides the Road to the Kentucky Derby into two distinct groups of races – the Prep Season (23 races) and the Championship Series (16 races). The top four horses in each race earn points.
With the notable exception of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, there are just 17 total points on the line in each of the other Prep Season races. The BC Juvenile is a 34-point race, 20 points to the winner, 8 for second, 4 for third, 2 for fourth.
The Championship Series includes seven 85-point races (50 points to the winner), eight 170-point races (100 points to the winner) and one 34-point race (last Saturday’s Lexington Stakes).
The winner of those 15 big points races is essentially guaranteed a spot in the Derby starting gate. This year, the 85-point races began with the Feb. 19 Risen Star and ended with the March 27 Sunland Derby. The 170-point races began with the March 26 Louisiana Derby and ended with the April 9 Santa Anita Derby.
Epicenter is the only horse to win two of those 15 big points races this year, the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby. The other 13 races were won by 13 different horses. Two of the races, the San Felipe and Tampa Bay Derby, were won by speed horses (Forbidden Kingdom and Classic Causeway) that are no longer under consideration for the Derby. Sunland Derby winner Slow Down Andy is also not running in the Derby.
So what does this all mean: find a horse with early speed that is in the top 10 in points. Which leaves us with the fast and talented Epicenter (164 points), White Abarrio (112) and Taiba (100).
You will hear a lot about the 20-horse field and the traffic issues in the next few weeks. It’s true for the good closers like Zandon, Mo Donegal, Tiz the Bomb and Smile Happy. It is not true for the faster horses which typically make the 20-horse race into a 3-horse (or fewer) race. If 17 horses are behind your horse, your horse is not in a 20-horse race.
So Epicenter, White Abarrio and Taiba. Now, we have a few weeks to decide on the correct order.
by Dick Jerardi
Donny Brown loves Speightstown mares. A few years ago, he found a mare, Ida Clark, in foal to Not This Time, runner-up in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and a half brother to BC Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map.
“So I bought her,’’ Brown said. “I called (partner) Tom (McClay). He said: `are you out of your mind paying I think $45,000 for a mare because we weren’t spending that kind of money at that time.’’
Brown explained he couldn’t say no. McClay said he was in for half.
Ida Clark did not have a similar race record to Not This Time. In fact, she had just two wins, both at Charles Town, one in a maiden claiming $10,000 and the other for $12,500 claiming. Brown was not deterred. He wanted a Speightstown mare and Ida Clark was by Speightstown.
The resulting foal was born on April Fools Day 2018 which also happened to be Easter Sunday. Hempt Farms where the filly was born has since been sold and is under development. It is not far from Brown’s Mechanicsburg, Pa. restaurant Black n Bleu.
“When you put them on the ground, you always wonder what they are going to be like,’’ Brown said.
That foal, now a 4-year-old filly named Just One Time, was in post 4 in the seventh race last Saturday at Keeneland. That race, the Grade I Madison, had a $500,000 purse. Just One Time was 4-1 in the gate, but a flood of very late money made her 2-1 as the horses began their run down the backstretch in the 7-furlong race.
In her five Pennsylvania races, Just One Time had raced up with the pace. But, in her first race for trainer Brad Cox, the Grade II Inside Information on Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park, she had gate issues and broke poorly. No matter. She raced in seventh early, inhaled the field on the turn and kept going in the stretch to win convincingly.
This looked more ominous when Just One Time was even farther back against a more accomplished field. In fact, when she was passed on the turn by the division’s best closer, Bells the One, she was last as the field turned into the stretch.
So what happened? Jockey Flavien Prat eventually swung Just One Time outside Bell’s the One; let her see the sky in the distance and here she came, passing all the horses in front of her until only one remained. Could Just One Time pass Bell’s the One too? She could and she did, winning The Madison, setting off a wild celebration from all the Just One Time connections that include Brown and Todd Mostoller. McClay was not at Keeneland, but he was no doubt celebrating as well.
Just One Time ran the 7 furlongs in 1.22.79, just .32 seconds slower than the talented older male Prevalence had run in winning The Commonwealth 70 minutes earlier. And the filly did it the hard way.
“It’s just magic how it worked out,’’ said Mostoller, who bought into the filly last year and suggested sending her out of town to race in a graded stakes company.
Just One Time has now run seven times, with six wins and earnings of $525,195. They love the filly at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky. where Not This Time stands at stud. When Brown called the farm to say he wanted to come and visit Not This Time, he was told: “you get over here right now, Donny.’’
Not This Time stands for $45.000. The demand and stud fee will be going up. The only Not This Time offspring to earn more money than Just One Time is Louisiana Derby winner Epicenter. Next on the list is Fountain of Youth winner Simplification. Those two colts are scheduled to run in the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
According to Brown, while Ida Clark was pregnant, she had a brother who set a track record.
“Tom and I talked and I said now that she’s a black-type producer, we couldn’t afford to buy her, now we can’t afford not to sell her,’’ Brown said.
“We sold her for $65,000,’’ Brown said. “We thought we were geniuses. We got a free horse.’’
Who knew? The partners obviously wish they had kept Ida Clark. The good news is they have her daughter, Just One Time. And she will race on, with the ultimate goal being the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint back at Keeneland in November. And her residual value as a broodmare is skyrocketing with every racing success. “I’m very grateful,’’ Donny Brown said.