aoife’s magic voted 2023 parx horse of the year

By Dick Jerardi

The year was more than half over by the time she made her debut on Sept. 11, but anybody who saw that dominating maiden win won’t soon forget it. And they will remember her tour de force 12 days later on Pennsylvania Derby Day and the allowance win in mid November and the final victory of the year two days after Christmas.

Four starts, four wins, two stakes, more than 20 combined lengths between Aoife’s (pronounced Efa’s) Magic and her competition. Purchased for $16,000, the 2-year-old filly won $261,000 for owner Art Hetherington.

There were so many good horses that ran at Parx in 2023, but none resonated like Aoife’s Magic. It was partially because of how she ran and those giant winning margins. That she is trained by nice guy David Dotolo who has never had a horse remotely like her and ridden by relative unknown Wilfred Vasquez was definitely a factor in her renown.

But look no farther than the pedigree to understand exactly why Aoife’s Magic became such a star. She is by Smarty Jones, the greatest horse ever stabled at Parx, the best Pennsylvania bred in history, the horse that basically saved racing in the state 20 years ago (then Gov, Rendell said no Smarty, no slots bill) when he ripped through the Triple Crown races with such power and grace that it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement.

For all of that, Aoife’s Magic was named 2023 Parx Horse of the Year at the 28th annual Horsemen’s Awards Banquet Saturday evening at Celebrations Ballroom. There were more than a few strong contenders for the award among the division winners, but the voters went for the brilliant 2-year-old filly with the unbeaten record, great back story and a sire who will actually turn 23 on Feb. 28, but will always be 3-years-old and crushing all the competition in the minds and hearts of everybody that calls Parx Racing home.

“It means an awful lot (to be named Horse of the Year),” Dotolo said after the announcement. “I didn’t expect Horse of the Year, but I mean she is undefeated. There’s no telling how good she can be so hopefully, we’re going to have a good year this year too and we’ll see what she can do.”

Dotolo is looking at the March 2 Busher at Aqueduct for the filly’s 3-year-old debut. The $200,000 race is at 1 mile.

“She’s a joy to go in to every day because she just waits for us to come in and give her a mint,” Dotolo said. “She’s really nice to be around. She’s just a sweetheart. It’s why we purchased her yearling full sister. We’ll see what happens there.”

Every time his filly won another race, Hetherington seemed somewhere between bemused and overwhelmed, like is this really happening and this is impossible.

So Horse of the Year?

“I was definitely not expecting this, but she is an exceptional filly and everyone who works with her says the same thing,” Hetherington said. “I watched her last work and there were people at the rail with me and one person said ‘David’s working the filly.’ They all watched.”

Nobody needed to ask which filly. They just knew.

“It’s amazing to see what she does,” Hetherington said. “And it’s amazing to see what she’s done so far. I hope that she’ll continue. It’s been a whirlwind ride and I really have loved every minute of it.”

We shall see about 2024, but no matter what happens the filly’s 2023 season is forever.

Aoife’s Magic was not the only talented 2-year-old to run at Parx in 2023 and fit the criteria for year-end awards. Notice of Action was voted top 2-year-old male over Uncle Heavy. With five starts, three wins, a second and a third, Notice of Action, trained by Bobbi Anne Hawthorne and owned by A. J. Hawthorne gave a huge effort every time he ran.

Delaware Oaks and Cathryn Sophia winner Foggy Night, owned by Poppy Gottwals and trained by Butch Reid, was an easy choice as top 3-year-old filly. Purchased for $20,000, she has won $468,750. Gordian Knot, with three wins in five starts last year, was voted top 3-year-old male over a very contentious group that included Movisitor, Offaly Cool and Young Squire.

Morning Matcha, just shy of $900,000 in career earnings, was voted top older female for LC Racing (Glenn Bennett), Cash Is King (Chuck Zacney) and Gary Barber. She won two stakes and placed in four more during the year. Nimitz Class, trained at Penn National by Bruce Kravets for owner Thomas Coulter ran in eight stakes during the year and upset Gunite in the Parx Dirt Mile on Pa. Derby Day. The horse finished the year with five wins, three seconds and a third from nine starts.

Masrour was voted claiming Horse of the Year after going 6-for-7 for trainer Ruperto Perez and owner Serranos Racing Stables.

Reid, with his two divisional champions and so many other stakes winners, was voted Trainer of the Year in a new category that was not statistical, but “rather overall accomplishments or special achievements reached throughout the year.”

“It really means a lot because I know it was voted for by a group of my peers, a bunch of great people, breeders, owners, trainers,” Reid said after the announcement. “And it’s not about me. It’s about my owners, about the staff, the people that work for me. Everybody just did a great job last year and hopefully going on to this year too.”

The statistical category winners included Over the Moon Racing Stable (owner), Jamie Ness (trainer), H.R. Brown (trainer under 21 stalls), Mychel Sanchez (jockey), Eliseo Ruiz (apprentice jockey) and Causes Trouble (most wins by a horse).

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