By Dick Jerardi
“How did that happen?”
That was John Servis’s answer when asked for his reaction to winning the 2018 Parx Racing training title.
He was not showing false humility. He was just being realistic. He typically does not have enough horses making enough starts during the year to win the title. This year really wasn’t that much different in that respect. It is just that when the horses did run, they won at a high percentage from January to December.
Servis finished with 71 winners at Parx to 68 for runner-up Patricia Farro. He started 255 horses; she started 423. He won with 28 percent of his Parx starters and his stable won $2.5 million.
Servis was part of several Parx training titles when he was Mark Reid’s top assistant before his training career officially began in 1984. But his only other personal title was in 1989 at Garden State Park.
“Joe Orseno and I were going back and forth,” Servis remembered. “I think I was one win up going into the last day. Joe had five in and I had two in. Joe won three races and took a two-win lead. Then, both my horses won and one was in the last race. So we ended up in a tie.”
This title kind of snuck up on Servis.
“A month ago, my assistant (Jennifer Hamm) came up to me and said ‘you know, you’re leading trainer,’” Servis said. “I go, ‘really, I didn’t even know.’ She said, ‘we got a shot to win this.’ I said, ‘we’re not going to win this.’”
They won it.
“The fact that we did, I’m so happy for my help,” Servis said. “I have such a good crew. They’re team players. I’m so happy for the owners too, not that the owners get anything out of it other than having a good year, but they can blow their horn a little bit.”
Overall, Servis won 111 races with nearly $6 million in earnings in 2018. It was, in many respects, the second-best year of his career. It will be hard to top 2004 with Smarty Jones, but Servis is poised to have a great 2019.
Servis won the Grade I Frizette and the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with Jaywalk. She is at Palm Meadows in Florida gearing up for a 2019 campaign that may begin in March at Gulfstream Park and Servis hopes will take him back to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks, a race he won in 2016 with Cathryn Sophia.
He also has a very talented colt named Lucky Lee who won twice at Parx and is being pointed to the Feb. 2 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. Servis is really high on Lucky Lee; so high that he is thinking he could be good enough to get on the Kentucky Derby trail and stay there.
Servis will be spending much of his time this winter at Palm Meadows with a stable of horses he has there. The Parx horses are being overseen by his very capable assistants Hamm and Jesus Santiago.
Servis just went over 10,000 starters for his career. He has won 1,755 races. His horses have earned $57.4 million. He has won eight Grade I races and 28 graded stakes.
And now John Servis has his first Parx training title.