By Dick Jerardi
It was dark and gloomy and cold and raining at Park Racing Monday, but not even the leftovers from Hurricane Ian could spoil the 2022 Match Series Finals. Yes, two of the races came off the grass, but the overall series leader stayed in his off-the-grass event and came from nowhere to win the most exciting race of the day.
William Pape’s Deciding Vote led the filly and mare grass division and the overall series coming into the Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup, race 10 on the Monday program and the third of the four Match Series races. The 5-year-old mare made the first two starts of her career on dirt at Laurel Park, once on a fast track and once on a sloppy track. She was never close in either race, beaten by a combined 23 1/2 lengths. She had been on the grass in each of her 13 starts since then, including the first four of the Match Races in her division this year.
With the rain, there was no way the Cup was staying on the grass and it didn’t. Trainer Edward Graham considered scratching Deciding Vote. Jockey Mychel Sanchez thought early in the day that Deciding Vote was going to scratch. But there she was in the starting gate, with nine others, including defending champion and 9-5 favorite Sweet Willemina.
It did not look good early in the race when Deciding Vote, sent off at 9-1, was far back, seeming to flounder on the sloppy surface. But then she started passing horses and kept on passing them until there was only one left in front of her, Tic Tic Tic Boom, a terrific second when 34-1 at Parx in the Neshaminy, one of the early Match races. But that was on grass, the surface for most of the 4-year-old filly’s best performances.
No matter, the two grass specialists were going to decide the President’s Cup and, it turned out, the series on the main track. In the end, it was Deciding Vote with the decisive move. She just kept coming and edged by Tic Tic Tic Boom in the final strides to win the race and the overall Match Series by one-half length.
Owner Pape got $30,000 for Deciding Vote’s divisional win and another $20,000 for the overall championship. And the $55,500 as the winner’s share of the $100,000 purse. Graham got $15,000 for the divisional win, $10,000 for the overall championship and the trainer’s typical 10 percent of the winner’s purse.
“We were thinking about scratching,’’ said Graham, whose biggest win came when Hardest Core won the 2014 Arlington Million. “We were so close with the points in the Match Series so I said let’s just give it a try. I told Sanchez if she’s not handling it, take care of her, but if she’s there to win it, go ahead and win it.’’
When they put Deciding Vote in the Match Series, Graham said “the whole point was to try to do something like this. For Mr. Pape and Mrs. Pape, it means a lot. And it means a lot to me, especially to see Pape’s colors. I’ve seen them since I was little.’’
Sanchez said he “rode her like it was a turf race, broke, stayed back and just waited, waited, waited. She gave me a good feeling early in the race.’’
By winning, Deciding Vote ended all suspense as to the overall series winner as she had the most points coming into the day. By the time they were about to run the President’s Cup, only Fille d’Espirit, who had already clinched the filly and mare sprint division, could catch Deciding Vote for the overall championship. Once Deciding Vote won her race, Fille d’Espirit was mathematically eliminated.
She ended up third in Roamin Rachel, won impressively on the lead by Pennsylvania bred Oxana, giving jockey Paco Lopez his second win of the day in the four Match races. Dr B, owned by Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, was rolling late to finish second.
“Not really,’’ Lopez said when he was asked if he thought Oxana was going to get the lead that easily.
After a big Pennsylvania Derby Day at Parx, Lopez returned to get two more big wins at the track.
“I like everywhere,’’ Lopez said if he had a particular affinity for Parx.
Sadly, the great Chub Wagon, the 2021 Parx Horse of the Year and favored at 9-5, was pulled up in the stretch by jockey Silvestre Gonzalez who reported she bled so he chose not to persevere with her. Chub Wagon took quite a while loading into the gate, but broke with the field. She was fine in her stall the next morning, according to Gonzalez’s agent Joe Hampshire who fed her some glazed donuts.
Earlier, Paco Lopez had won the Liberty Bell with the amazing Pa. bred Fortheluvofbourbon, a $50,000 claim at Churchill Downs on May 20, 2020. All she has done since then for owner Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle LLP and trainer Mike Pino is win 10 races, four stakes and $485,610. The 5-year-old gelding is now in the midst of a 5-race winning streak.
“He looked like a Pa. Bred that could run,’’ Pino said of the initial claim. “Might win a Pa. Bred stake. This year, he’s matured and stayed sharp.’’
When asked if Fortheluvofbourbon was as good as he’s ever been, Pino’s answer was simple: “yes.’’
Beren, who ended up fourth in the Liberty Bell, had already clinched the Sprint Division for trainer Butch Reid.
The Bucks County was also supposed to be on the grass. Older Turf Division winner Eons, a grass specialist who had never raced on dirt, was scratched which made it look like a two-horse race between millionaire Tax and stakes winner Wolfie’s Dynashost. Instead, those two hooked up in a pace duel and Main Track Only Shooger Ray Too, off at 5-1, trained by Tyler Servis and ridden by Abner Adorno, was the beneficiary.
“It set up perfectly,’’ Servis said.
Shooger Ray Too, fourth early, inhaled the leaders on the turn and ran away in the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths. The 5-year-old gelding has now won $239,437 under Servis’s care, the most of any horse during his nascent career.
“He’s meant a lot to the barn,’’ Servis said. “He was one of the first 2-year-olds I had an opportunity under Mr. Zacney to train. Ran through some conditions and he was looking to move him on so Dave (Charlton and Roy Johnson of Vintage Thoroughbreds LLC) made a purchase on him and he’s taken us to some decent races and ran against some pretty tough horses and held his own. We always knew he had this type of talent and there was a stake in him somewhere and we just had to find the right spot. And they gave it to us today.’’
It was a terrific end to the Match Series. That the President’s Cup was the deciding race made it even better for the man for whom the race is named and whose name is on the trophy.
“It is an honor,’’ DeBunda said. “I just told them it’s going to be in his house forever, my name. They’re going to say who is that guy.’’
That guy is affectionately known as “El Presidente.’’ On a day when two of the Match races were named in his honor and in honor of Roamin Rachel, the best horse he ever owned, Sal DeBunda gets the last word.