By Dick Jerardi
When I went over each of the horses listed for all the categories on the 2021 Parx Horse of the Year ballot, it was hard not to relive all the wonderful performances we saw at the track last year.
The winners in all the categories and Horse of the Year will be announced at the annual Awards Banquet on Saturday, Feb. 19 (5:30-10 p.m.) at Celebrations. Many of the winners are fairly obvious, others less so. Be interesting to find out what the 15 voters decided.
I voted for Dance Code as best 2-year-old male. The Pennsylvania bred, owned by Richie’s World Stables LLC and trained by Juan Vazquez, finished off a terrific season by wiring the $100,000 Parx Juvenile on Dec. 29. Earlier, the son of Honor Code, had finished third in the Grade III Saratoga Special in July just after breaking his maiden at Parx in June. The colt also won a Parx allowance in November and had earnings of $157,260.
Impressive Pennsylvania Nursery winner Witty was also likely to get some support from voters as he was dazzling in a victory that day.
I went for Pa. Bred Dance Code as the top 2-year-old filly. Before unsuccessfully trying the boys in the Nursery, she had won three straight by a combined 26 3/4 lengths. One of those wins was in the Shamrock Rose Stakes at Penn National. In her first two races, Dance Code, owned by Cash Is King LLC and LC Racing LLC and trained by Butch Reid, finished second. She earned $210,460.
Pennsylvania Bred Beren, also trained by Reid and owned by St. Omer’s Farm and Christopher Feifarek, had an incredible 2021 and was an easy selection for me as top 3-year-old male. Both Dance Code and Beren are by Weigelia, one of Reid’s favorite sires. All Beren did in 2021 was go 7-for-12 with 2 seconds, win five stakes and earn $469,790. The colt won two stakes at Belmont Park, two at Parx, one at Penn National and then did everything but win the $250,000 Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley before settling for second. It was a brilliant campaign that began in early January and ended in late November.
Hollywood Jet (five wins) and I Am Redeemed (four wins, including the $100,000 Storm Cat) had really good years. Marvelous Mike won three times and had the misfortune of running into Beren three other times.
Leader of the Band, another Pa. Bred by Bandox, was an obvious choice as top 3-year-old filly. She never ran a bad race in seven starts. She won the Grade III Monmouth Oaks, finished third in the Grade III Delaware Oaks and second in the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia at Parx. Racing for SMD Ltd and trainer John Servis, she tried the Grade I Cotillion against some of the best fillies in the country, but never had much of a chance with her come-from-behind style when the pace was so slow. Leader of the Band earned $284,700 last year.
There were some really good and consistent older male horses that ran at Parx in 2021 – Admiral Abe (five wins, $266,872), Magic Michael (seven wins, $307,560), Sevier (11 wins, $257,150), Sheer Flattery (seven wins, $166,060) and Why Why Paul Why (five wins, $155,250) among others. I found this one of the tougher categories, but ended up voting for Magic Michael. His win the $200,000 Greenwood Cup on Pennsylvania Derby Day and the fact that he raced in every month but October put him over the top for me. And this horse, with nine wins and a second ar Parx, loves his home track. Magic Michael is owned by Morris E. Kernan, Jr., Yo Berbs Racing and Jagger Inc. The now 5-year-old is trained by Jamie Ness.
In another year, horses like Precious (won a stake and placed in two others) and Sweet Willemina (PTHA President’s Cup and Claiming Crown winner) would have received serious consideration as top older female, but not in a year with the amazing Chub Wagon. All the Pa. bred filly did in 2021 was go 8-for-9 with one second. She won three stakes at Parx, two at Pimlico and one at Delaware Park. She also won an allowance at Aqueduct. She is barely a length from behind unbeaten in 11 career starts, that lone loss coming on a sloppy track that she may not have liked.
Trained by Lupe Preciado and owned by Danny Lopez and George Chestnut, Chub Wagon was simply amazing from March to September and I can’t wait to see her back on the track in 2022.
So many great claims at Parx in 2021, but hard not to vote for Thorny Tale, claimed by Ness and Jagger for $12,500 in January. She won the day she was claimed and five times thereafter, the very definition of a great claim.
So many good candidates for Claimer of the Year, including 11-win Sevier, seven-win Flattery and six-win Shero. I went with Sweet Willemina. Scott Lake claimed her for $32,000 in June at Churchill Downs. She came to Parx and had an incredible run from late June until late December for Rich Ciavardone and Lake’s Home Team Stables, winning seven times, including a stake at Parx and the Glass Slipper at Gulfstream. Lake has made some amazing claims in his career, but Sweet Willemina must be one of the very best.
One could certainly make a case for Beren or Leader of the Band as the 2021 Parx Horse of the Year, but I can’t get past Chub Wagon. During a year when he won his 2,000th race, Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado was entrusted with the care of his horse of a lifetime. She was managed perfectly and nearly had a perfect season. She is my 2021 Parx Horse of the Year.