By Dick Jerardi
The track was nearly enveloped in darkness late in the afternoon of Dec. 30. There were two lights still shining atop the Parx grandstand after the last race of the day.
There were the lights from the announcer’s booth as Keith Jones bid his farewell. On the floor above, Lew Zagnit, after nearly 40 years at Parx and 45 years in the business, was finishing up his work for the day.
But the fans never heard Zagnit. They just saw his work in the charts and the past performances. He called the horses as they hit the poles, separating them by heads and lengths, never permitted to skip a horse. That 10th race on Dec. 30 was his last race too, even if, as was his custom, he did it with no fanfare.
Zagnit got his start at “Daily Racing Form’’ in the late 1970s, learning the trade from Mike Mercer at what was then called Keystone. He estimates he’s called charts at 30 tracks and “about 10 of them are closed.’’
There was Centennial in Colorado, Bowie in Maryland, Commodore Downs (Erie, Pa.) and Garden State Park. There was River Downs (now Belterra Park) in Cincinnati, Latonia (now Turfway) in Kentucky.
Back then, there were not many year-round circuits so chart callers would follow the horses.
Zagnit was told he would be working the 1981 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and “then you would be on your way home’’ to Pennsylvania.
“I packed enough clothes for a week,’’ Zagnit.
While he was at the Derby, he was asked to go to Centennial. He was there for six months.
On the way home, he stopped at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and “worked a meet there.’’
“Probably about 11 months later, with my week’s worth of clothes, I came back,’’ Zagnit said.
It was that kind of life until he settled in to be the regular chartcaller at Parx in the mid-1980s. He was there until he decided to retire.
There were times when Parx and Garden State were running simultaneously so he was calling charts seven days a week.
Lew and his brother Bruce got into chart calling through their cousin, Herb Goldstein, a DRF columnist back in the day. Bruce still calls charts at Penn National.
Bruce worked as a groom for the great Don Levine at old Garden State, but Lew had no horse racing background.
“My first day at work was my first day at a race track,’’ Lew said.
Zagnit estimates he called 80,000 race charts.
He had a call taker for most of his tenure, somebody who would listen to Zagnit calls the horses and then write down on a sheet where the horses were at different points of call. Lew would always write the footnotes that would accompany the charts. And those charts, of course, became the basis for the past performances the next time the horses in a race would run.
“Mike Mercer was a great teacher and a great chart caller,’’ Zagnit said of the man who became the longtime publicity director at Keystone/Philadelphia Park.
Like announcers, chart callers have to memorize a group of names for 8 or 9 or 10 races per day, immediately forget them and repeat the process all day.
“To this day, if you introduce yourself, within three minutes, I would forget your name,’’ Zagnit said.
He remembers calling a 15-horse field going 5 furlongs at RiverDowns. His brother was the call taker.
“I got every horse,’’ he said.
And he had to get every horse.
“It wasn’t like if we got stuck, we could stop at the sixth horse,’’ Zagnit said. “We’ve got to keep on going.’’
He called the great All Along winning the
1983 Washington D.C. International at Laurel. He called Spend A Buck at Garden State in April 1985 before the colt won the Derby and returned to win the Jersey Derby and a $2 million bonus. He called Smarty Jones’s first two races at Parx in 2003.
“I did the best job I could every day,’’ Zagnit said.
And he did it very well. He was dedicated, accurate, and consistent. If you saw a Lew Zagnit chart or read his footnotes, you did not need to see a replay. He painted a picture of exactly what happened.
He won’t be at the track, but he will still be working at his Animal Rescue. Lew and his wife Karen have adopted out more than 300 dogs. He has been a volunteer for Trenton Animal Shelter.
“I will keep myself busy,’’ Lew Zagnit promised.
By Dick Jerardi
One Kentucky Derby prospect clearly is not enough at Parx in 2021.
On the first day of the new year, trainer Harry Wyner sent newly turned 3-year-old Capo Kane to Aqueduct, aka Parx north, for The Jerome.
The colt immediately hit the front; let 7-5 favorite Swill hang around until the stretch and then ran away from the field, winning by 6 1/4 lengths and running the mile in 1:38.02 which computed to a Beyer Speed Figure of 84.
It was the first stakes win of Wyner’s career. And it sets up a potential showdown between Parx-based Brooklyn Strong (trainer Danny Velazquez) and Capo Kane in the Feb. 6 Withers Stakes, also at Aqueduct.
When it was suggested to Wyner that it would be nice if the Parx horses ran 1-2, he said: “Hopefully and hopefully me on top.’’
As for the $150,000 Jerome, when Capo Kane opened up in the stretch, Wyner said: “I was screaming so loud, I nearly fell off a balcony. I knew the horse was going real well. I figured I could be in the top three, but I didn’t think he’d win like that.’’
Capo Kane won like there is more winning in his future.
After finishing second in his debut on Oct. 28, Capo Kane wired a field of maidens going a mile and 70 yards on Nov. 25. Those races were at Parx.
Dylan Davis rode Capo Kane in The Jerome.
“I told Dylan in the paddock, look this horse has speed, just see where you lay and ride your race, you know the race track better than I do,’’ Wyner said.
Bottom line, Davis was on the right horse.
“Dylan said he had so much horse, it was unbelievable, even after the race, he couldn’t pull him up, he just wanted to keep going,’’ Wyner said.
Capo Kane was purchased for owners Lenny Liberto and Tony Como at Timonium last year.
“We had no intentions of even looking at him,’’ Wyner said, “but he came into the ring and I went `wow, this horse looks great.’’’
The plan was to go $20,000 and then stop. That is what they did. The bidding ended there, but the reserve was $30,000.
So they went back after the sale and tried to make a deal. They settled on $26,000 and they got themselves a stakes winner for that $26,000.
Capo Kane is a California bred by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of an unraced mare by Hard Spun, the Grade I winning Pennsylvania bred who finished second in that Derby to Street Sense.
Wyner had NY Traffic in his barn last year. He knew early on that horse had Derby potential. But then he was sent south to Saffie Joseph and Wyner had to watch the horse run in the Derby last September.
“I was kind of upset because I knew that horse was a nice horse too,’’ Wyner said. “Obviously, I wanted to take a shot at the roses myself. Here I am a year later with another shot. It’s unbelievable. People dream about this, right.’’
By Dick Jerardi
There is no racing where he lives and works 20 miles from Charlotte, North Carolina. So Gabrielle Hakim, who learned to love horse racing in his native Venezuela, has slowly built a powerful stable at Parx with trainer Mario Dominquez.
“We do everything together,’’ Hakim said of his trainer. “He does everything inside the barn…I find the right horses to claim, put them in the right spots.’’
As we hit the final days of 2020, The Hakim’s Stable LLC has the most starts (138), third most wins (22) and fourth best earnings ($449,709) at Parx in 2020.
The Hakim horse racing business began in 2015. The owner got together with Dominguez in 2018. They had six horses then, 21 now
“My dad owned horses in Venezuela,’’ Hakim said. In fact, he has some pictures from 1980 when he was at the track with his father.
His friend, Parx jockey Angel Castillo, told him about the racing at Parx.
Hakim owns a residential remodeling company, a business he began in 2006. It was almost a decade later when he started claiming horses and has slowly built up his stable.
Back in 2016, Hakim claimed Broadway Bay for $10,000 at Parx. The horse won five races in seven starts over a four-month period before he was claimed for $8,000. The horse won nearly $150,000 for Hakim. The New York bred was still winning races last year in a career that included 17 wins in 59 starts. But nobody had a run with him like Hakim.
In 2020, the stable has had a similar run with Petulant Delight. He was claimed for $7,500 in November 2019.
“He’s a great horse, has a big heart,’’ Hakim said.
In his seven starts this year, the 5-year-old has three wins, a second and two thirds for earnings of $48,890. Hakim actually had the horse for one race in 2019. After he claimed the horse for $12,500, Petulant Delight won right back by 6 lengths for $16,000. But he was claimed again.
When the horse was in for $7,500 nearly four months later, Hakim put in a claim slip, but there was more than one claim and he was outshook. When the horse was back in for the $7,500 three weeks later, Hakim again dropped a claiming slip. He was alone this time and got the horse back.
“I love this horse,’’ Hakim said “When I claimed him the second time, he come with a big issue.’’
The horse had a little fracture. So, the owner gave him time to recover.
“I wait for him for seven months,’’ he said.
On July 14, Petulant Delight was back in for $7,500, There were no takers. The horse won by 7 lengths. He has not been in for a claiming tag since.
Fran’s Worrier was another great claim. After the stable claimed the horse for $7,500 in November 2019, the horse won five of nine starts this year before being claimed for $8,000 a year and a day after they got him.
Hakim comes to Parx every other week to watch his horses run.
“My plan next year is to get us some babies,’’ Hakim said., “I want to go step by step.’’
So far, so good.