By Dick Jerardi
The 2002 Match Series paid a visit to Parx Tuesday June 14 with races in two divisions and is scheduled to return for the series grand finale on Oct. 3 with races in all four divisions, including the Sal Debunda PTHA President’s Cup.
The Match Series, first run in 1997, began this year at Laurel Park on April 23, continued at Penn National on June 17, and is back at Laurel July 16 and Colonial Downs Aug. 16 before concluding at Parx. This year, the series of races has $2.2 million in purses and $400,000 in bonus money for owners and trainers. The four divisions are: long on turf for males and females and sprints for males and females.
The races on June 14 came in the two grass divisions and featured terrific stretch duels between accomplished horses and two top jockeys who came down from New York for the day.
The $100,000 Neshaminy (females 1 1/16 miles turf) had an odds on favorite in High Opinion, trained in New York by former Parx favorite Tony Dutrow. John Servis saddled the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid for Dutrow. Flavien Prat, who won the 2021 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Hot Rod Charlie, rode the 5-year-old mare who had been second or third in three graded stakes in New York over the previous 11 months.
Prat had High Opinion in fifth early, just a few lengths off the leaders. The mare began to make her move on the turn, but what looked easy on paper turned out not to be so easy in reality. It took some serious urging for High Opinion to get by the horses in front and, as soon as she finally did, 34-1 Tic Tic Tic Boom, trained at Parx by Alan Bedard and ridden by Trevor McCarthy, was coming with a huge move outside the favorite.
High Opinion, however, held on nicely to win by 3/4 of a length, with Tic Tic Tic Boom second and 15-1 Wicked Groove third.
“It’s fun when you ride good horses that are ready to win,’’ Prat said. “Obviously, she was ready to run a really good race.’’
The Neshaminy came 72 hours after Prat rode Flightline, the fastest horse in America, to a dominating win in the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day
How good is this horse?
“He’s a really special horse, a lot of talent and is getting better; really grateful to ride him, try to enjoy every single minute on him,’’ Prat said.
Where does Flightline rank among the horses he’s ridden?
“Probably the best,’’ Prat said. “Wherever he goes, I’ll try to go.’’
And, of course, there are great memories from Hot Rod Charlie’s Grade I win at Parx.
“It was a great run from that horse,’’ Prat said.
It was Prat and McCarthy together again in the stretch in the $100,000 Bensalem (1 1/16 turf males); Prat on 3-10 favorite Beacon Hill for trainer Michael Matz, McCarthy on 9-1 Eons for trainer Arnaud Delacour.
Beacon Hill had been incredibly consistent for a year, always in the top 4, never beaten by more than 3 lengths in seven races against some serious competition, winning twice, with two seconds and a third. Eons had not won in two starts this year, but had some back paper, including a win last July in a $150,000 stakes at Colonial and a win in the 2019 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park when ridden by McCarthy.
Eons got first run on the far turn, but Beacon Hill really looked like he was going by in deep stretch – until Eons just dug in and refused to let the favorite go by, McCarthy’s horse beating Prat’s by a nose.
“I said `’let me kind of get the jump and get him rolling,’’’
McCarthy said. “He never likes to win far. He likes to win by a head, he likes to win by a neck. He’s very game.’’
McCarthy knew it was Prat and Beacon Hill that were coming.
“On paper, I said I really like my horse, it’s a two-horse race, me and Flavien,’’ McCarthy said. “We got the pace we wanted. It set up beautifully for us and he was kind of stuck inside so I tried to take advantage by making a middle move and it worked.’’
King Cause, ridden by Parx Hall of Famer Kendrick Carmouche,
When the Match Series returns to Parx Oct. 3, in addition to the President’s Cup (grass females), the other races will be the Bucks County Stakes (grass males), and Roamin Rachel Stakes (female sprinters), and Liberty Bell Stakes (male sprinters). Championships will be on the line and, if those four races are anywhere as good as the first two, it should be a fascinating day at the races.