belmont at saratoga delivers in every way

By Dick Jerardi

The attendance over the four days of the Belmont Stakes Festival at Saratoga was 120,028. The total handle was just shy of $200 million. With Belmont Park likely closed until sometime in 2026, this was an experiment, an experiment that was an incredible success.

So many great performances from the brilliant filly Thorpedo Anna crushing the competition in the Acorn, Cogburn setting a North American record for 5 1/2 furlongs on grass in the Jaipur, National Treasure overwhelming the Met Mile field and, finally, Dornoch upsetting the Belmont at 17-1.

Right in the middle of all the action were horses based at Parx Racing or with Parx connections, with several placings in graded stakes and a win over a star-studded allowance field in a grass dash.

No Parx horse was better than the Pennsylvania-bred filly Neecie Marie. Sent off at 25-1 in the Grade I New York Stakes on Friday, Neecie had to stop and start several times, but ran right through the wire to be second behind the brilliant Argentina mare Didia at 1 3/16 miles on grass.

Parx Hall of Famer Mark Reid bought the now 4–year-old filly for his friend Mike Milam at the October 2021 Timonium Yearling Sale and turned her over to his brother and fellow HOF Butch to train. She cost just $25,000. She was a very good 3–year-old last year and looks like she is among the best of her division this year after running so well against a field loaded with graded stakes winners.

Neecie, named after Milam’s late wife, now has five wins and three seconds in 11 lifetime starts. On grass, she has four wins and three seconds in eight starts, her only bad race on soft grass at Delaware Park. There may be a Grade I with her name on it this summer.

Friday’s fifth race was a $115,000 allowance/optional claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs on grass. Boat’s a Rockin, owned by PTHA executive director Jeff Matty and his family, is as Jeff said in the winner’s circle after the race, managed just like a boat. Out in the late spring, summer and early fall and then put away for the winter.

To continue the Parx theme, Boat’s got a classic Kendrick Carmouche ride. The Parx HOF jockey put Boat’s on the lead and kept him there all the way, winning by a neck at nearly 7-1. The $63,250 for first increased the now 7-year-old’s career earnings to nearly $400,000, with 12 wins, five seconds and four thirds in 26 grass starts.

Boat’s may train at Penn National with Brandon Kulp, but he’s run enough times at Parx and has all those Parx connections that his win at the Spa will go right on the Parx scorecard.

Ninetyprecentmaddie was 16-1 in Saturday’s True North for trainer Reid and owner Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing. The 4-year-old did not run like a longshot, finishing ahead of some very talented horses while second to runaway winner Baby Yoda. Ninetyprecentmaddie is closing fast on $500,000 in lifetime earnings and has never been better than he is right now.

The Pa. bred has been second in all three starts this year, but, if he keeps running like he has been, wins are sure to follow, maybe even some big ones.

The Parx/Spa festivities got underway Thursday when the brilliantly fast Grey Lightning made her stakes debut in the Jersey Girl. The Pa. bred made the lead again, but had the misfortune of running against a stone killer in 1-2 favorite Almostgone Rocket and, according to trainer Tyler Servis, bleeding.

She still managed to finish third and there are no shortage of races on the schedule that she can win. Almostgone Rocket was just gone and will be the favorite in August’s Test Stakes which is great news for co-owner Ten Strike Racing (Marshall Gramm and Clay Sanders) who have kept a string at Parx with Carlos Guerrero for years.

Other than the owners themselves, nobody was cheering harder in the stretch for Saturday’s Woody Stephens winner Book’em Danno than Bennett. Mark and Barbara Reid got off a plane at 5 p.m, during the 2023 Night of the Stars sale in Lexington, Ky. last year, looked at a mare and then bought her for Bennett at 9 p.m. The $550,000 for a Grade I winner’s mother may turn out to be a bargain. Adorabella is in foal to the great stallion Megaglia d’Oro.

There was the Parx world and there was the other world with Cogburn running those 5 1/2 furlongs in an absurd 59.80 seconds, Thorpedo Anna stamping herself as perhaps the best 3-year-old of either sex, National Treasure moving to the head of the older horse class and Dornoch throwing the 3-year-old picture into total chaos.

Why not just settle that debate on Sept. 21 at Parx in the Pennsylvania Derby? Ken McPeek is saying Travers/Pa. Derby for Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan, along with a possible Cotillion start for Thorpedo Anna. Wayne Lukas, with Preakness winner Seize the Grey, loves the  big Parx races. And when Dornoch’s trainer Danny Gargan was told of the Pa. Derby participation bonuses, his interest was piqued.

Dornoch’s part owner Jayson Werth, the right fielder for the 2008 World Series champion Phillies, clearly loves the game. His Belmont root, caught on camera, was an absolute classic. So, as the Phillies are gearing up for the playoffs in late September, Werth at Parx rooting for his Belmont Stakes winner seems like a perfect fit.

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