By Dick Jerardi
It was the first non-weekday/holiday, no mask live a racing day at Parx Racing in more than a year. The picnic tables were jammed; the lines for food and drink long, the weather perfect on Memorial Day.
It just felt right and seemed quite an appropriate day to celebrate the best of Parx 2020, a very trying year that has given way to hope as we head for summer 2021 and the big races that come to the track in late August and September, culminating with the Sept. 25 Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion.
So while we contemplate what’s next, looking back at 2020 gave everybody a chance to marvel at the incredible year of trainer Jamie Ness. Champions in various categories were announced after each of the first 10 races. Ness visited the winner’s circle for the various presentations after the second, third, seventh and 10th races. He was the trainer of 3-year-old filly champion Madam Meena as well as older male Flat Out Beautiful and older female champions It’s A Journey. He was also the trainer of the year and Madam Meena was voted 2020 Parx Horse of the Year.
“It was a rough year with Covid, but obviously, we made it work,’’ Ness said. “Our horses ran well. It was trying. We had three months off. Luckily, we came out ready to run and the horses all performed. The owners were good. It was just that everything went right after the Covid (100-day shutdown) and we’re continuing on now.’’
Ness ended the year with 109 wins at Parx, Madam Meena, owned by Michael Cox, the headliner. The filly raced 12 times in 2020 with 7 wins, 2 seconds and 2 thirds, She earned $221,740.
What made her so good?
“She’s very fast,’’ Ness said succinctly. “What made her so good is I was very aggressive with her early. I ran her for maiden 25 ($25,000) so that opened up a lot of conditions for her…I used all her conditions and hence her seven wins and she got better every time too. When we went through all the conditions, she still was probably the best filly here after all that.’’
Ness has been training horses since 1999. His three wins on Memorial Day (two at Parx, one at Delaware Park) brought his total to 3,298. As good as his 2020 was, speaking for many, he was most thankful just for the chance to participate.
“In 2020, I appreciated (the game),’’ Ness said. “We were gone for three months. Nobody knew what was going on. Our future was, nobody knew and I can’t wait to go out, saddle my horse. I don’t care if (the horse) runs bad, just to get back to the races and come back to the people at the track. This is the greatest place to be right here and I missed that and an I appreciate it more now.’’
Other horse category winners included Kidnapped (2-year-old male), Aegean Sea (2-year-old female), Dreams Untold (3-year-old maile), outstanding claim (Admiral Abe), claiming horse, and winningest horse (Salsita Roja).
Jagger Inc. was the top owner, Bobby Mosco leading “B’’ trainer, Mychel Sanchez top jockey, and Gerardo Milan leading apprentice.
Vequist, the Eclipse Award winner as a 2-year-old filly champion with not enough local starts to qualify for a Parx award, was given a special achievement award.
Joe Hampshire won 18 riding titles, nine at Suffolk Downs and nine at Rockingham Parx. The South Philly native rode very well at Parx for many years but never won a title at the track so being Sanchez’s agent made the 2020 jockeys’ title especially meaningful.
“It was a real big deal for Mychel,’’ Hampshire said. “We worked very hard for 4 or 5 years before we got there, but it was well worth it. It’s a beautiful day and everybody’s happy.’’
Indeed they were. It was Memorial Day 2021, with 2020 a bit farther in the rearview mirror, hopefully much more sunshine ahead.