By Dick Jerardi
What better way to return after 4 weeks without live racing at Parx than to have your most decorated trainer get win No. 2,000 in the very first race back and then to finish off the two-day 11 stakes extravaganza by having one of the nation’s best jockeys sweep the last three stakes, including the Smarty Jones.
That was the deal after trainer John Servis won Monday’s opener with a first time starter named Dewey Doit and then jockey Luis Saez swept Tuesday’s Parx Dash, Cathryn Sophia and Smarty Jones.
Servis arrived at Parx in 1980 and never left. The only trainer in history to win with his first starters in the Kentucky Derby (Smarty Jones) and Kentucky Oaks (Cathryn Sophia), Servis had two divisional champions (Smarty, Jaywalk) and should have had a third with Jostle, his first big horse.
Servis may be a West Virginia native, but he is a Pennsylvania treasure. Much more next week in this space on the man who absolutely helped save racing in the Commonwealth with his impeccable handling of Smarty Jones through the 2004 Triple Crown cauldron. No Smarty, very likely no slots bill.
The 2023 Grade III Smarty Jones race was won by Il Miracolo, overmatched in the runup to the Triple Crown, but a late bloomer for owner Eduardo Soto and trainer Antonio Sano.
“We always thought he was a good horse,” said Sano, who promised that Il Miracolo would return for the Sept. 23 Pennsylvania Derby and that he himself will bring a string of horses to Parx in the next year or so.
Il Miracolo took Saez beyond the crown of the track in the stretch but the race had already been won by that point and anybody who had a Saez Pick-3 cashed their tickets.
Trainer Butch Reid mapped out a racing route to the Sept. 23 Cotillion for Foggy Night after she won the Grade III Delaware Oaks July 1 – Monmouth Oaks (second), Cathryn Sophia (first after Saez gave her a dream rail trip). The filly is owned by 94-year-old Poppy Gotwals whose family started the Brook Ledge van company nearly 70 years ago.
After all those years in the game, Poppy decided to buy his first race horse at the April 2022 Ocala Sale. He purchased the 2-year-old that would become Foggy Night for $20,000. She is closing fast on $500,000 in earnings, with the Cotillion looming.
“She loves this race track,” Reid said of Foggy Night. “We had a pretty good feeling coming back here.”
Saez also gave an absolutely brilliant ride to Indiana bred Nobody Listens and the 5-year-old responded by just getting up to win the Parx Dash, a prep for the Sept.23 Turf Monster.
“We knew there was a lot of speed here,” said Saez, who broke his collarbone in a racing accident the next day at Saratoga. “My tactic was to break good, get a good position, put him in the clear.”
Tactics were right and the horse was there in the stretch.
“I love to be here (at Parx),” Saez said. “I love the fans.”
The first Salvatore M. DeBunda Sprint kicked off the four open stakes on Tuesday. The race was emotional as it honored past PTHA president DeBunda, who did so much for so long for the Parx horsemen.
“It’s fabulous,” DeBunda said. “I appreciate all the people that came out to celebrate this with me. It’s been a surprise and really wonderful.”
The race was won appropriately enough by two Parx mainstays – owner/breeder Joe Imbesi and Hall of Fame trainer Lupe Preciado. Pennsylvania bred Gordian Knot, ridden by Silvestre Gonzalez, was the odds-on favorite, sat a good trip behind the speed and won it by a neck.
“We’re basically newcomers to the Pa. program,” Imbesi said
Newcomers with a really good plan that is working really well.
Monday’s Pa. Day at the Race was all about the Pa. breds with seven $100,000 stakes restricted to horses born in the state.
Mia Tosca was 12-1 when she came flying down the stretch under Paco Lopez to win the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial. It only cost Greg DeMasi of Pewter Stable $5,000 when they bought her as a yearling. The 4-year-old filly went over $200,000 in earnings with the win.
“I figured there was enough speed in here that maybe I’d get a nice piece,” her Parx Hall of Fame trainer Kate DeMasi said. “I got a better piece than a nice piece, but I’ll take it…As a Pa. breeder, as a Pa owner, it’s super exciting (to win one of these race). It’s a great day.”
When Talented Man has the lead in the stretch, he has never lost.
The 4-year-old gelding battled with Fore Harp for the early lead in the Marshall Jenney Handicap. He led into the stretch and then refused to let favored Witty pass in the final 100 yards. Talented Man, ridden by Andy Hernandez, trained by Michael Moore and owned by Moore’s Hardesty Stable, held on to win by a head.
“The whole stretch, it looks like Witty’s going to go by him and I’m thinking second’s good, I’ll take a second,” Moore said.
Then, it kept getting closer to the wire, with Talented Man still there.
“He just never lets them by,” Moore said.
The Miss Blue Tye Dye, for 2-year-old fillies, was a bit of a mystery with so many first time starters. Turned out 5-2 Jody’s Ruby, making her third start, had the requisite experience and late run to get it done after a nice stalking trip. That gave Servis win No. 2,001. Abner Adorno rode for Gilman Hallenbeck.
“She’s a pretty talented filly,” Adorno said. “She was running, stretching out pretty good. I was confident.”
Twisted Ride is a lot like stablemate Talented Man. If he leads in the stretch, he is very hard to pass. That’s the way it played out in the Banjo Picker. Twisted Ride, sent off as the 9-5 second choice behind 6-5 Uncle Ernie, really looked like he might be in trouble when the very accomplished Beren ($900,000 in earnings) made a huge move into the stretch. But Twisted Ride dug in and would not let Beren pass, eventually winning by a half-length for Moore and owners Kasey K and Final Turn.
“If you check the races, (Twisted Ride) waits for the other horses,” winning rider Andy Hernandez said. “When he saw Beren outside, he picked it up again.”
The Whistle Pig was an open race for 2-year-olds and trainer Jason DaCosta brought 8-1 Gamboling Ghost in from Thistledown to get the money, the gelding finishing with a flourish to win by 3 lengths for jockey Jairo Rendon.
“He definitely looks like he’s going to want to go longer,” DaCosta said. “It was an encouraging run.”
Buy Land and See may very well have given the best performance over the two days when he absolutely ran away from a strong field in The Storm Cat to win off over 3-5 Nimitz Class. A stakes winner on grass and dirt, Buy Land and See, a 5-year-old, looks to have a future as stallion for owner/breeder Joe Imbesi.
“We’re trying to find the right stud farm for him,” Imbesi said. “I’d like to find a farm close enough to the east coast that I don’t have to travel 200 or 300 miles to see my mares and my stallion.”
Mychel Sanchez rode the winner for Lupe Preciado.
“He’s such a great horse to be around,” Sanchez said. “He does pretty much everything himself. I’m a pilot on top of him. He tries hard all the time.”
Neecie Marie has come a long way in a very short time since being moved to the grass in early June. She dominated The Mrs. Penny at 2-1 with a powerful late move, coming from 10th early to win big at the finish.
She was purchased by former trainer Mark Reid for $25,000 and then turned over to his brother Butch Reid to train for Mike Milam who named the filly for his late wife Denise Marie.
“This race today was very impressive,” Butch Reid said. “I thought she was going to be closer to the lead than she ended up. Abner (Adorno) was patient with her and made his move when the time came. She was really striding out well.”
That was the final stakes Monday, the Smarty Jones the stakes anchor Tuesday. All of which was a great appetizer for the Big Show on Sept. 23, Pennsylvania Derby Day.