By Dick Jerardi
There was so much we missed in 2020, but the chance to see some of the country’s best horses come to Parx was right near the top of the list. We were fortunate to have PA Day at the Races on Labor Day, but there were no open or graded stakes at the track last year.
When the track reopens after a 19-day respite on Monday, Aug. 23 with five Pennsylvania Bred stakes on PA Day at the Races, it will mark the beginning of the best month of the racing calendar at Parx, culminating with Pennsylvania Derby Day on Sept. 25.
There will be 19 stakes with purses of more than $4 million. Starting Monday with five $100,000 stakes (Banjo Picker Sprint, Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial, Marshall Jenney Handicap, Mrs. Penny Stakes and Storm Cat Stakes) for Pa. breds, continuing the next day with Smarty Jones Day (including four significant preps for four of the graded stakes on Pa. Derby Day), two $100,000 stakes (The Roamin Rachel and Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup) on Labor Day and concluding with the feast that will be Pa. Derby Day itself.
That day will include the $1 million Grade I Pa. Derby, the $1 million Grade I Cotillion, the $300,000 Grade III Gallant Bob, the $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster, the $200,000 Grade III Greenwood Cup and three other stakes. The final two hours (4-6 p.m) of the card will be broadcast live on PHL17.
Open stakes on Tuesday, Aug. 24 are the $100,000 Parx Summer Sprint (a Gallant Bob prep), the $200,000 Grade III Parx Dash (Turf Monster prep), the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia (Cotillion or Pa. Derby prep) and the $300,000 Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes (Pa. Derby prep). The top three finishers in those races will get nomination, entry and starter fees paid for the Sept. 25 races should they choose to go on. Additionally, the trainer and owner of the Cathryn Sophia winner will be eligible for $50,000 bonuses if their horse wins the Cotillion or Pa. Derby. Same for the owner or trainer of the Smarty Jones if their horse wins the Pa. Derby.
The Smarty Jones Stakes (1 1/16 miles) got 33 nominations that include major stakes winners and horses from some of the top barns in America. Todd Pletcher nominated 7 horses, Brad Cox 5, Chad Brown 4 and Steve Asmussen 2. Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic is on the list of nominees, as is Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock, West Virginia Derby winner Mr. Wireless, and Midnight Bourbon, second in the Preakness. The exciting First Captain and unbeaten Life is Good are also among the nominees.
Life is Good was the Kentucky Derby favorite before being injured. The colt has not raced since the spring and was transferred from Bob Baffert’s barn to Pletcher’s.
According to Pletcher, the plan now is for Life is Good to race in the Aug. 28 Grade I Jerkens on Travers Day at Saratoga, with his next race very possibly in the Pennsylvania Derby. Trainer Doug O’Neill has said Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie is coming to the Pa. Derby. Also, Kentucky Derby “winner’’ Medina Spirit (pending a hearing after a positive drug test for a prohibited race-day medication) has been working well at Del Mar and could be heading to the Pa. Derby as well.
The Cathryn Sophia could mark the return of 2-year-old filly champion Vequist. The Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies winner has been at Saratoga for trainer Butch Reid, with the Cotillion as the longer-range goal. She was out of hard training for months after an atypically poor performance at Gulfstream Park this winter, but recent workouts suggest she is coming back to top form. There is a chance Reid could run Vequist at Saratoga as the prep for the Cotillion so stay tuned there.
The Cathryn Sophia (1 mile, 70 yards) got 22 noms, including Monmouth Oaks winner Leader of the Band from John Servis’s barn and one filly each from the barns of Brown, Cox, and Asmussen.
The Parx Dash (5 furlongs turf) got 24 noms that include the very accomplished The Critical Way and Caravel. The Parx Summer Sprint (6 furlongs) got 26 noms, including four from Cox, and two each from top Parx trainer Jamie Ness, Reid, and Jerry Hollendorfer.
So get ready for these four racing cards over 33 days that will mark the return of what has made Parx in the last decade very much a part of the national racing scene in late summer and early fall.