By Dick Jerardi
When Precious crossed the wire first in the Aug. 23 Mrs. Penny Stakes at Parx, Grew Newell began to celebrate. Only his celebration may have been a bit louder and more demonstrative and definitely more emotional than most. He had his reasons.
Newell is the president of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders’ Association. The Mrs. Penny was one of five $100,000 stakes during Pa. Day At The Races, a card that featured only Pennsylvania breds. It was the first time he owned “anything close to a stakes horse in years.’’ And Precious just happens to be his wife Kathy’s nickname. The 4-year-old filly was born just about the same time Kathy got a breast cancer diagnosis.
“Needless to say, that was pretty devastating,’’ Newwell said. “The great news is my wife is fully recovered, but the name Precious was a. her nickname and b. life is precious. That’s why I scream and shout because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and I want to celebrate at the moment for all its worth. I don’t care if it looks embarrassing or whatever. Life really is precious and you’ve got to celebrate it because you just don’t know.’’
No, you do not.
“It was a long, hellish year (after the diagnosis) and this horse means the world to us,’’ Newell said. “(Cancer) was not in our family, came out of nowhere and you start to hang on for straws. Then, this beautiful little filly came along and she’s just been everything. It’s a really wonderful story.’’
It is indeed.
Newell, like so many in the Commonwealth, became attracted to the sport in 2004 because of Smarty Jones.
He was in the Little Red Feather partnership when they had horses in Pennsylvania with trainer John Servis. Later, he had a piece of MarchFore Thoroughbreds’ Adirondack King during that horse’s 46-race career that began in 2011 and ended in 2017 with 7 wins, 10 seconds, 7 thirds, and earnings of $578,554. The gelding was also trained by Servis. As is Precious has five wins and earnings of $252,020. Newell expects her to run in the Sept. 25 Plum Pretty Stakes on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard.“I’m here to run,’’ Newell said. “We’re not going to the breeding shed. We can wait three more years for all I care. I breed to race.’’
That Precious won on Pa. Day was just about perfect.
“It’s part of the whole message that even the small people (can succeed),’’ said Newell, putting on his PHBA hat. “Listen, I’ve only got a couple of mares. But you have a chance in the Pa. breeding program to have a successful day and have a big win and you don’t always have to go to the highest stallions and so forth and you can trust your own mare and so for me to then send a message to everybody else: listen I’m only here because of the Pa. program, no other reason am I here today except for that.’’
And he is not going anywhere. His engineering firm, Nave Newell, is based in Wayne. Right out of college, he was the design engineer when a turf course was installed about the time Keystone was being renamed Philadelphia Park in 1985. He rides horses every day. He has pieces of a few other runners, some mares and yearlings.
So how did he end up as president of the PHBA?
“I say that I’m pretty lousy at musical chairs,’’ Newell said.
He wasn’t really the only one standing when the music stopped. He was interested.
He became friends with PHBA executive secretary Brian Sanfrantello, who asked him to be on the board.
“I’m just a person if I’m going to be involved, I’m going to be involved,’’ Newell said.
So he got involved and then became president. His business lends itself to interactions with state legislators. So, he was ready for that part of the job.
“I’m just willing to talk to people,’’ Newell said.
And he is willing to celebrate so that everybody notices which make him the perfect horse racing ambassador in all his roles.