By Dick Jerardi
The first one came on Sept. 21, 2003 at Thistledown. Twenty years and 40 days later, Frankie Pennington got win No. 3,000 in race 1 on Halloween at Parx Racing. After celebrating in the winner’s circle with most of the jocks room by his side posing for pictures. Pennington remembered the first one like it was yesterday.
“It was my stepdad’s (owner/trainer Rodney Faulkner) horse,” he said. “I believe her name was Confused Genius. He let me ride other ones and he’s finally like ‘I’m going to put you on your first winner. All you’ve got to do is make sure you get out of the gate.’ That’s pretty much all I had to do too.”
Pennington got the name right. He also got out of the gate. And he won. Pennington has never been confused, but he is certainly a riding genius. His greatest attribute is his consistency. Think about the math. To get to 3,000, you need to ride 150 winners a year for 20 years. That is Pennington – reliable, smart, present.
Pennington began to ride at Penn National later in 2003 and then came to Park in early 2004. His agent Bobby Martel has been with Pennington since he came to Parx so those two have been together for all but a few of those wins.
“I got Frankie early in his (apprentice year),” Martel said. “We’ve been together 20 years and I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s the greatest person ever and like our son. He’s wonderful.”
Pennington won No. 3,000 for trainer John Servis and owner Emcee Stable LLC, ET AL on a 2-year-old filly who was making her sixth start and getting her first win. What looked like for a few seconds like it was to be a clear win when MiI Amo took the lead in midstretch turned out to be anything but that when a challenge loomed to the outside.
“Looking at the race, I’m going ‘hopefully I can win this one by a couple because she looked pretty tough,'” Pennington said. “When I heard the horse coming outside of me, I’m going ‘where’s the wire at?'”
Shubabeenacowgirl really looked like she had the momentum to go by but, in just his third race after getting to 2,999 the day before, Pennington urged his filly to stay in the front and she did all the way to the wire, winning by a head.
There are so many great jockeys who have ridden regularly at Parx – Tony Black. Rick Wilson and Kendrick Carmouche among them. Pennington is right up there with the very best. And if he keeps winning at the same pace, win No. 4,000 should come around 2030.
As he was getting close to this milestone, Martel said: “it’s not that anything changes, but it just feels like it does. It just feels that much harder to get to that spot. I’m just so relieved it’s over.’’
Two of Pennington’s favorites have been fabulous Pennsylvania breds Miss Blue Tye Dye and Beren. They won 22 combined races. Pennington got mount fees on $1.27 million in purses during their careers.
The most talented?
Maximus Mischief, the best 2-year-old at Parx since Smarty Jones who gave Pennington his only Grade II win in the 2018 Remsen Stakes and would have been a force during the 2019 Triple Crown if he had not been injured in Florida.
“He was such an amazing horse,” Pennington said. “I knew from the time I got on him, the way he was breezing and everything, you could tell he was certainly different that I was used to getting on so it was pretty cool.”
Maximus Mischief is off to a great start as a stallion with his 2-year-olds winning from coast to coast.
Pennington’s first mount came on Playcodered in an Ohio bred race at Thistle on Sep, 8, 2023. The horse finished third at 10-1. It took him just nine rides to get that first win. And the winning has never stopped.
Mii Amo was ride No 15,984, with the 3,000 wins, 2,666 seconds, 2,324 thirds and mount earnings of $68.5 million. Pennington’s mounts win at a 19 percent clip and are in the money at 50 percent, another testament to his incredible consistency.
“It’s been a great journey so far and I appreciate all the owners, trainers, grooms and everybody that’s been a part of it,” Pennington said.