racing returns with a flourish

By Dick Jerardi

The biggest annual month at Parx coincides with the return of racing after a three-week break. Monday’s Pennsylvania Day at the Races program will be followed on Tuesday by Smarty Jones Day. The 11 stakes over the two days are a perfect prelude to a giant September, which will culminate on Sept. 23 with Pennsylvania Derby Day.

It will be hard to top the 2022 Pa. Derby card, which was the best in track history and set a handle record of $18.8 million. The stakes laden card, which will be anchored by the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and $1 million Cotillion, will be broadcast live (4:30-6:30) on NBC Sports Philadelphia and hosted by Laffit Pincay.

The Cotillion is very likely to be headed by three-time Grade I winner Pretty Mischievous. What plays out in the Aug. 26 Travers, where the winners of each of the Triple Crown races are scheduled to run along with 2-year-old champion Forte, will be a major factor in deciding which horses come to Parx for its signature race.

The seven stakes for Pa. Breds Monday attracted 192 nominations, including some familiar names such as Beren, Gordian Knot and Flor de Sombra. The Banjo Picker Sprint, the Marshall Jenney Handicap, the Mrs. Penny Stakes, the Storm Cat Stakes and Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial are for horses going short, long and on the grass. There are also stakes for 2-year-olds – the Whistle Pig for males and the Miss Blue Tye Dye for fillies.

Pa. Day is a celebration of the breed in the Commonwealth and just how much talent is produced in the state. Next year will mark 20 years since the slots bill passed and there is no better manifestation of what it has meant for the sport than Pa. Day at the Races.

The day will feature many Parx regulars, but it will also include state bred horses that have been racing successfully in open company for top trainers and owners on major circuits around the country.

Next year will also mark 20 years since Parx and Pennsylvania bred legend Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with such flair that 120,000 fans descended on Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes. No need to rehash that race again, other than to say the best horse did not win that day.

The four stakes on Smarty Jones Day attracted 128 nominations. The Smarty Jones Stakes itself obviously will get some solid 3-year-olds who are trying to get to the Pa. Derby and/or are looking for a late season breakthrough.

The Cathryn Sophia for 3-year-old fillies figures to attract Parx-based Delaware Oaks winner Foggy Night, among others. The timing is perfect for horses trying to get to the Cotillion.

Smarty Jones and Cathryn Sophia, of course, were both trained by John Servis who is sitting on 1,999 wins and is the only person to win both the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks in his first try for each race.

The Parx Dash, the prep for the Turf Monster on the Pa. Derby Day card, typically attracts some really fast grass sprinters. And speaking of sprinters, the fourth stake that day will be the inaugural Salvatore M. DeBunda Sprint, a race named for longtime owner and former PTHA president Sal DeBunda.

DeBunda’s most recent term ended in December, but his impact will be felt for years to come. In fact, DeBunda was very instrumental two decades ago in getting that slots bill passed. Without that law, there are no days like Pa. Day at the Races or Smarty Jones Day or Pa. Derby Day. So it seems only fitting that a race be named in Sal’s honor.

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