It was a spectacular Tuesday afternoon at Parx, a perfect day to induct three new Parx Hall of Fame members that was capped by the return of a legendary HOF member who dominated the big race, named for a beloved member of the track community who passed away a year ago.
Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson (Special Achievement), Jack Mondel (owner) and the great mare Chub Wagon (horse) were elected by the HOF committee. No trainer or jockey made it through this year, but Kendrick Carmouche, one of the best riders in the history of the track, came back home, put 3-1 Offaly Cool on the lead and cruised home by nearly 5 lengths to win the $75,000 M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile, named for long PTHA executive director Mike Ballezzi.
Wilson came to Parx in 1985 and never left, rising through the ranks to become COO. As the memories came flooding back after his formal induction, Wilson became emotional.
“My life has been at this race track for quite some time,” he said. “I appreciate being recognized. It means a lot. Joining a great group of people and I guess Hall of Fames are forever. They can’t take me down, can they?”
They are forever. And he won’t be taken down.
The memories are also forever.
“Nothing better than 2004 and the magical run with Smarty Jones,” Wilson said. “Talk about being happy to come to work every day and smiling, along with everybody else.”
Mondel’s Hidden Lane Farms raced such stars of their day as Mr. Nasty and Debutant’s Halo. They were trained by Parx HOF Lupe Preciado who also happened to train Chub Wagon.
“It’s been a big part of my life,” Mondel said. “I was always a pretty simple guy. I had my family, had my work. Not a whole lot turned me on, but the horses did. Spent a lot of time here, got a lot of pictures here…The memories I don’t have in print; I’ve got them in my mind.”
Chub Wagon, owned by Danny Lopez and George Chestnut, began her career with eight consecutive wins. She won 12 times in 15 starts. She was fast and competitive and incredibly consistent.
“It’s something that will be around for a long time,” Lopez said of the honor.
Chestnut was thrilled to be part of it all.
“This was a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I appreciate every bit of it.”
Preciado has had some really talented horses, but none that started a career with eight straight wins.
“It’s not easy to find that kind of horse,” he said.
Carmouche, presently third in the jockeys’ standings at the Belmont at Aqueduct meet, is having another great year with 106 wins and $7.3 million in mount earnings, bringing his career numbers to 3,752 and $142.2 million.
“I thought I had the speed in the race,” he said after winning the Ballezzi for owner Lawrence Rebbecchi, Jr. and trainer Jacinto Solis. “I just didn’t want to go too fast.”
That it was on Hall of Fame Day made it even better for a true Hall of Famer.
“It’s just so good to come back to Parx,” Carmouche said. “I love it here. I get to come sit in the jocks’ room and sit with Frankie (Pennington) and my valet…It makes me feel even more humble for where I’m at today.”