pa breds take center stage in $100,000 stakes

By Dick Jerardi

Monday’s $100,000 Unique Bella Stakes and $100,000 Page McKenney Handicap for Pennsylvania breds were run in similar fashion –  talented speed horses battling for the lead before popular Parx mainstays added to their stellar resumes with powerful rallies to get to the wire first. The only difference was the final times for the 7-furlong races and that difference was just half a second.

Morning Matcha towered over the Unique Bella field in accomplishment. She was just $260 shy of $900,000 in her 24-race career that included multiple graded stakes placings and a dominant win in the 2023 Unique Bella, her first race in five months. Just like last year, Morning Matcha had been off nearly five months when she emerged from the starting gate. And just like last year, trainer Butch Reid had her ready to fire right off the layoff.

Morning Matcha (3-5) did not need much help, but with a hot, contested pace in front  of her, it could not have set up much better. And when jockey Mychel Sanchez asked the question in the stretch, the now 5-year-old mare had the answer, rolling by her competition to win by 2 1/4 lengths, a quarter length better than her margin last year.

Morning Matcha now has career earnings of $944,940, not bad for a horse that cost $18,000 at a Timonium sale in October 2002. Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Gary Barber have done well together through the years, but it will be hard to top this return on investment anytime soon.

“She’s the best,” Reid said. “For a horse we didn’t pay a whole lot of money for, ultra consistent, gives it her best against the best in the country.”

Doctor Abbie (9-1) closed up the rail for second, with Warrior’s Ransom (5-1) closing down the middle for third. Parx’s 2023 Horse of the Year Aofie’s Magic (14-1) was easily the best of the 3-year-olds in the race, running the other speed horses out of the race and taking a clear lead in the stretch before tiring late to finish fourth, 5 1/4 lengths behind Morning Matcha. It was not a win for the daughter of Smarty Jones, but it was a really impressive effort under less than ideal circumstances running against older horses in April, a race that suggests there is more winning in her future.

Morning Matcha ran the 7 furlongs in 1:26.33. She now has seven wins, second seconds and seven thirds in 25 starts. Millionaire status awaits.

“I think maybe one turn might be her best race –  seven eighths, I’d love a one-turn mile if we could find something like that,” Reid said.

“We got a good post and I didn’t want to drop in,” Sanchez said of the outside post. “Sometimes, when you’ve got the best horse, you’ve got to ride like you’ve got the best horse. Stay out of the way, don’t get in trouble.”

The early pace was not quite as hot, but even more contested in the Page McKenney, with some really talented horses, including 9-5 favorite Uncle Ernie battling for the lead in the long run down the backstretch. Far Mo Power, racing for the first time since July 17, was far back in last early.

But trainer Lou Linder had the amazing 6-year-old ready to deliver his A performance. And he did, rolling by the field in the stretch to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths under Dexter Haddock who has ridden the gelding in all 17 of his starts.

Far Mo Power, owned by Joseph Sutton, runs at any distance on any surface, but he really runs at 7 furlongs. He now has five wins in six starts at the distance. His only loss was a fifth-place finish in the 2022 Page McKenney. He more than made up for that in the 2024 renewal.

“We were trying so hard to get him ready for the Dirt Mile last year but he just wasn’t coming around so we decided to pull the plug, do right by the horse and it paid off.’’ Linder said. “On the engine or coming from dead last, he just finds a way to get there. It was a little harrowing going down the backside, but I seen him lengthen stride and I figured we got a shot.”

Far Mo Power (7-1) now has eight wins, three seconds and four thirds in 17 starts for earnings of $450,168. His biggest win was also his most bizarre. He crossed the wire first in the 2022 Parx Dirt Mile, but was disqualified for interference. Much later, official winner Mind Control was disqualified for failing a post-race drug test. And Far Mo Power finally became the real official winner.

Just 17 of his nearly 5,000 rides have been on Far Mo Power, but there is no doubt about Haddock’s favorite horse. It is, he agreed, Far Mo Power.

Ninetyprcentmaddie (9-2) rallied for second, but could not hold off the even laterrally of Far Mo Power. Uncle Ernie survived the early battle to be a solid third.

Far Mo Power ran the distance in 1:25.82 and ran the race like he could have a very big 2024.

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