By Dick Jerardi
It is an annual exercise when the Pennsylvania Nursery is run at Parx Racing: Will this be there the year when the next Smarty Jones emerges?
Alas, 20 years after the real thing blazed 7 furlongs in 1:21.88, won by 15 lengths and earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure, the search continues.
Nine 2-year-olds were in the starting gate Tuesday for the $100,000 Nursery for Pennsylvania breds. There was the unbeaten and quite promising Notice of Action. There was the fast debut winner Uncle Heavy who took so much money at the end that he was sent off as the 6-5 favorite. Twilight Dancer and Heavy Pour from the Scott Lake barn had races that gave either a real chance.
In the end, it was 23-1 Capo who emerged from behind an early speed duel with the winning move in his first race in Pennsylvania and first since being claimed by owner/trainer Jacinto Solis from a maiden $20,000 claimer at Churchill Downs.
The margin was just a nose over speed duel survivor Twilight Dancer with a tough trip Notice of Action third. Uncle Heavy was eliminated at the start when he broke very slowly before taking a sharp left turn. The colt finished fifth, but is way better than that.
It is called horse racing for a reason, but if somebody tells you jockeys don’t matter, show them the replay of Kendrick Carmouche’s ride on Capo. It was a master class from the Parx Hall of Famer in career ride No. 23,159. Carmouche calls the New York circuit home these days, but Parx will always be his real home.
Riding in absolute peak form in 2023, Carmouche had Capo in great position early, third behind 9-2 Twilight Dancer and 65-1 Factor U and Me In. Carmouche also had 2-1 Notice of Action just to his inside and behind those leaders. He had control of the race and knew it.
“I had (Notice of Action) where I wanted him inside of me the whole race,” Carmouche said. “Once we hit the three eighths, (Notice of Action) kind of dedicated himself to the inside. I just knew from there I had to stay close enough so I could keep him inside.”
Factor U and Me In faded at the top of the stretch. Notice of Action seemed uncomfortable behind Twilight Dancer and Capo. When he finally swung out into the clear, it was obvious he did not have that same pop that won those three races. So it was just Capo and Carmouche against Twilight Dancer and Parx Hall of Famer Frankie Pennington to the wire. Twilight Dancer ran a winning race, but was just short at the wire.
The Parx surface for the 2003 Nursery was quicker than for the 2023 version, but not close to 5 seconds faster. Capo ran the 7 furlongs in 1:27.75.
Carmouche was not sure if he wanted to make the trip for a 23-1 shot, but he knows the score.
“Pa. Breds against each other, they fit so I just took a shot and it worked out,” Carmouche said.
Asked when the last time he was 23-1 at Parx, Carmouche said: “that doesn’t happen. If you do see me at 23-1, I think you should run to the window.”
After the race, Carmouche, with win No. 3,767 in the books, headed back to Delaware where he lives with his family.
“Today is a gumbo day,” the Louisiana native said. “I’m going to make me a chicken/sausage gumbo just because I win one at Parx today. That’s my little favorite dish that I do whenever it’s a little cold out.”
Any day anywhere is a great day for always positive Carmouche. A day at Parx for a $100,000 stakes win? Even a little better.
“I love coming to Parx and seeing my people,” Carmouche said. “I was pretty much raised with all these people around here. It’s just good to come hug and give kisses where I can get love back.”