CHUB WAGON BACK TO THE RACES AND BACK IN THE WINNER’S CIRCLE

By Dick Jerardi

Chub Wagon ended her incredible 2021 season on the last Saturday of September during the Pennsylvania Derby Day undercard. She began her 2022 season on the last Monday of June. The 2021 Parx Horse of the Year ended both races where she has been after every race but one during her 12-race career – in the winner’s circle.

The now 5-year-old Pennsylvania bred mare had to work for it in the off-the-grass (after a downpour) 5-furlong $100,000 Power By Far Stakes for Pennsylvania bred fillies and mares. Hey Mamaluke, who won the 2021 Power By Far, was alone on the lead until the far turn. That’s when Silvestre Gonzalez, riding Chub Wagon for the first time, let his mount start to close in.

Hey Mamaluke, ridden by Andy Hernandez, was still in front with 100 yards to go, but anybody who has ever watched Chub Wagon run knew what was going to happen. The mare eased by in the final yards and won by three-quarters of a length. It was 8 lengths back to Castilleja, trained by Hall of Famer King Leatherbury in Maryland.

“She was comfortable the whole time,’’ Gonzalez said. “If I had asked her a little bit earlier or it was a little bit more distance, she would have given me even a little bit more. She’s that type of filly that she’s going to give it her all.’’

Chub Wagon is now 11-for-12 with one second in a career that began Nov. 16, 2020. It was her seventh win at Parx and seventh stakes win, four at Parx, two at Pimlico and one at Delaware Park.

Trained by Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado for owners Danny Lopez and George Chestnut, Chub Wagon has now earned $593,600. She is a bit more than 1 length from being unbeaten (her lone loss came last August at Parx). She came into the Power By Far with a series of very fast workouts, but the hard race should set her up nicely for the rest of the season.

“It’s been (nine) months, she had the vacation that she needed, got back into training, but every three, four days, it would rain, she couldn’t be trained,’’ said Lopez in explaining why it took until late June to get her back to the races.

Lopez said Chub Wagon may race next in a few weeks at Laurel Park. And then they might look at some of the bigger out-of-town races.

“As long as she shows that she still belongs against the company she’s been facing, because she’s going to have to step it up some in the future,’’ Lopez said.

Chub Wagon has not yet run in a graded stakes race. She has been managed carefully but smartly. And she always delivers.

The $100,000 Crowd Pleaser, also off the grass and for 3-year-old Pa. Breds going a mile and a sixteenth, was a tour de force for Greg and Caroline Bentley’s Runnymoore Racing and trainer Cal Lynch. They won the April 25 Unique Bella together with Cinabunny. They went one better in the Crowd Pleaser going 1-2 with Undercover Kitty and Loose Ends.

Undercover Kitty was sent immediately to the front by jockey Charlie Marquez. She was just in front much of the race and then re-broke in the stretch to win by 6 lengths with her stablemate a clear second and Epic Luck along for third.

“(Undercover Kitty) had run in an allowance race at Pimlico last time and he was the only 3-year-old in that race,’’ Lynch said. “We were shooting a little bit (high) that day, but this (race) was in mind and we’re happy it all worked out right.’’

Lynch, who was based at Parx for years until moving his stable to Laurel, now works out of the Bentley’s barn at Fair Hill (Md.). They have some very good horses together and are buying more. Lynch has started 35 horses at Parx this year, with 10 wins and 9 seconds.

“Mr. Bentley has a lot of very nice stock coming along and we’re very optimistic we’ll be back,’’ Lynch said.

2022 MATCH SERIES AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

The 2002 Match Series paid a visit to Parx Tuesday June 14 with races in two divisions and is scheduled to return for the series grand finale on Oct. 3 with races in all four divisions, including the Sal Debunda PTHA President’s Cup.

The Match Series, first run in 1997, began this year at Laurel Park on April 23, continued at Penn National on June 17, and is back at Laurel July 16 and Colonial Downs Aug. 16 before concluding at Parx. This year, the series of races has $2.2 million in purses and $400,000 in bonus money for owners and trainers. The four divisions are: long on turf for males and females and sprints for males and females.

The races on June 14 came in the two grass divisions and featured terrific stretch duels between accomplished horses and two top jockeys who came down from New York for the day.

The $100,000 Neshaminy (females 1 1/16 miles turf) had an odds on favorite in High Opinion, trained in New York by former Parx favorite Tony Dutrow. John Servis saddled the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid for Dutrow. Flavien Prat, who won the 2021 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Hot Rod Charlie, rode the 5-year-old mare who had been second or third in three graded stakes in New York over the previous 11 months.

Prat had High Opinion in fifth early, just a few lengths off the leaders. The mare began to make her move on the turn, but what looked easy on paper turned out not to be so easy in reality. It took some serious urging for High Opinion to get by the horses in front and, as soon as she finally did, 34-1 Tic Tic Tic Boom, trained at Parx by Alan Bedard and ridden by Trevor McCarthy, was coming with a huge move outside the favorite.

High Opinion, however, held on nicely to win by 3/4 of a length, with Tic Tic Tic Boom second and 15-1 Wicked Groove third.

“It’s fun when you ride good horses that are ready to win,’’ Prat said. “Obviously, she was ready to run a really good race.’’

The Neshaminy came 72 hours after Prat rode Flightline, the fastest horse in America, to a dominating win in the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day

 How good is this horse?

“He’s a really special horse, a lot of talent and is getting better; really grateful to ride him, try to enjoy every single minute on him,’’ Prat said.

Where does Flightline rank among the horses he’s ridden?

“Probably the best,’’ Prat said. “Wherever he goes, I’ll try to go.’’

And, of course, there are great memories from Hot Rod Charlie’s Grade I win at Parx.

“It was a great run from that horse,’’ Prat said.

It was Prat and McCarthy together again in the stretch in the $100,000 Bensalem (1 1/16 turf males); Prat on 3-10 favorite Beacon Hill for trainer Michael Matz, McCarthy on 9-1 Eons for trainer Arnaud Delacour.

Beacon Hill had been incredibly consistent for a year, always in the top 4, never beaten by more than 3 lengths in seven races against some serious competition, winning twice, with two seconds and a third. Eons had not won in two starts this year, but had some back paper, including a win last July in a $150,000 stakes at Colonial and a win in the 2019 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park when ridden by McCarthy.

Eons got first run on the far turn, but Beacon Hill really looked like he was going by in deep stretch – until Eons just dug in and refused to let the favorite go by, McCarthy’s horse beating Prat’s by a nose.

“I said `’let me kind of get the jump and get him rolling,’’’

McCarthy said. “He never likes to win far. He likes to win by a head, he likes to win by a neck. He’s very game.’’

McCarthy knew it was Prat and Beacon Hill that were coming.

“On paper, I said I really like my horse, it’s a two-horse race, me and Flavien,’’ McCarthy said. “We got the pace we wanted. It set up beautifully for us and he was kind of stuck inside so I tried to take advantage by making a middle move and it worked.’’

 King Cause, ridden by Parx Hall of Famer Kendrick Carmouche,

finished third.

When the Match Series returns to Parx Oct. 3, in addition to the President’s Cup (grass females), the other races will be the Bucks County Stakes (grass males), and Roamin Rachel Stakes (female sprinters), and Liberty Bell Stakes (male sprinters). Championships will be on the line and, if those four races are anywhere as good as the first two, it should be a fascinating day at the races.

SERIOUS STAR POWER ON BELMONT STAKES DAY

By Dick Jerardi

The fastest (and most valuable) horse in the country evoked memories of the sport’s all-time greats on Belmont Stakes Day. The best 3-year-old in America ran 4 1/2 hours before the Belmont Stakes. The 2021 Cotillion winner at Parx ran the best race of her career. Finally, on what will be the best racing card of 2022 outside of Breeders’ Cup Saturday, order was restored to a bizarre Triple Crown season when Mr. Belmont Stakes himself Todd Pletcher finished 1-2 in the mile and a half classic.

It is very rare for a star performer in any sport to exceed the hype, Tiger Woods did it. LeBron James did it. Flightline is doing it.

The son of super sire Tapit was purchased for $1 million at the 2019 Saratoga yearling sale by Terry Finley’s West Point Thoroughbreds. Several partners joined in. The colt was eventually sent to trainer John Sadler in Southern California.

Word was out on Flightline before he made his debut in April 2021. He won big, but then he didn’t race for more than 4 months when he won big again.Then, it was almost 4 months before the next race. He won big again – three races all won by double-digit lengths, Beyer figures of 105, 114, 118, really unprecedented.

Then, the colt was away from the races for 5 1/2 months before he appeared in the starting gate for the Met Mile, his first race out of California, his first race against a field with three Grade I winners.

So what happens? Flightline misses the break, has to steady twice when trying to come up the rail, works his way outside top class Speaker’s Corner (five consecutive triple digit Beyer figures) on the turn, proceeds to leave that horse in just a few strides and runs away from Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Happy Saver in the stretch while Speaker’s Corner fades badly and Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Aloha West is never a factor.

Flightline ran the mile in 1:33.59, won by 6 lengths, got a 112 Beyer and, if you kept watching past the finish line, you saw a horse that was looking for more. If his minor issues that kept him from the races are behind him and this colt has a regular schedule from now to the Breeders’ Cup, there is simply no telling what we might see.

Jack Christopher is, by far, the fastest 3-year-old in America and proved it when dominating the Woody Stephens, running the 7 furlongs in 1:21.18, winning by 10 lengths and getting a 107 Beyer. Unbeaten and untested in four starts, Jack Christopher goes next in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. Many races to run, but today I would rank Jack Christopher as the most likely 3-year-old champion when all those races are run.

There was eight Grade I stakes at Belmont Park. Trainer Chad Brown won three of them, two on grass and the Woody Stephens. He has Preakness winner Early Voting, Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon and Jack Christopher so for the first time ever, he is loaded in horse racing’s glamor division. Expect to see at least one of that group in the Sept. 24 Pennsylvania Derby.

Last year’s Cotillion winner Clairiere, who may be the best-bred horse in America, was relentless in the Ogden Phipps, out finishing the 2021 3-year-old champion Malathaat in a wonderful stretch duel that was certainly set up by a wild speed duel between Letruska and Search Results, the Ortiz brothers running each other out of any chance of winning.

Clairiere is a daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of $2 million earner Cavorting (winner of the 2016 Phipps). She never ran a poor race last year, but kept coming up short until her breakthrough win in the Cotillion. She will be a major player in the older female division the rest of the year after getting a career best 106 Beyer in the Phipps.

Reflecting the strange 2022 Triple Crown, this was the first time since 1954 that the Kentucky Derby winner did not run in the Preakness and the Preakness winner did not run in the Belmont Stakes. But the Derby winner did run in the Belmont (well Rich Strike was in the race, but he didn’t do much running, sort of like all those other races except the Derby).

Most importantly, Pletcher had two horses in the Belmont, the very consistent colt Mo Donegal and the very consistent filly Nest. In the last 15 years, Pletcher has perfected the Belmont winning formula: run in the Derby or Kentucky Oaks, take the horses back to his Belmont Park home base, and await the Belmont Stakes. In those 15 years, Pletcher now has four wins and six seconds from 29 starters after Mo Donegal (98 Beyer) and Nest ran 1-2, with Rich Strike a no-factor sixth, nearly 14 lengths behind Mo Donegal, a horse he had beaten by almost 4 lengths in the Derby. The Ortiz brothers ran 1-2 in the Belmont, with Irad winning on Mo Donegal, and Jose second on Nest.

Turned out the much-maligned Wood Memorial was the key Triple Crown prep this year, with the winner (Mo Donegal) and runner-up (Early Voting) winning the Belmont and Preakness. Didn’t see that coming off recent history and still have no clue where Rich Strike came from, but maybe a TC without Bob Baffert was always going to be strange.  Well, Baffert is due back off his suspension in 3 weeks and we have a great summer and fall racing season to look forward to with Flightline, Jack Christopher, Clairiere, Jackie’s Warrior, Life is Good and Golden Pal among so many stars on the track. Can’t wait.

STEVE KREBS’ CONTINUING HORSE EDUCATION

By Dick Jerardi

Steve Krebs figures he was out of high school for like a week when he went to work for Parx Hall of Famer Bob Camac during the period the trainer had several serious stakes horses in his barn, including Class of 2013 Parx Hall of Famers Fire Plug and Cagey Exuberance (combined 46 wins in 95 starts and $1,342,942).

That was 3 1/2 decades ago. Krebs has been at the track ever since, working out of Barn 3 at Parx where he trains nine horses at the moment. He was actually around horses even before he came to the track full time.

“When I was like 5-years-old, my dad was given a free thoroughbred stallion,’’ Krebs said. “I got a picture of him somewhere. The poor horse was tied to a tree in somebody’s backyard, skin and bones. My dad took him and nursed him back to health. I guess he liked it so much he ended up buying this whole chicken farm down in Williamstown (New Jersey), 25 acres and made a farm out of it. The next thing you know, we had 10 broodmares and went from there. My childhood was pretty much spent  on the weekends at the race track and in the summertime at the track track.’’

Krebs’ first starter as a 22-year-old trainer was on June 18, 1990 at Atlantic City Race Course. The horse, Immitation, was beaten by 35 lengths. Eighteen days later, Imitation came back, won and paid $85.

Krebs did not have that many horses to train through the 1990s, but he eventually became an assistant to trainer Scott Lake when Lake was winning hundreds of races each year.

“It was a really hard decision (to leave Lake when he was approached about taking on some new owners as their trainer),’’ Krebs said. “We were on an unbelievable roll, making money. I had a few of my own horses.’’

His two best horses after he went out on his own full time were for owner Danny Limongelli who passed away on Jan. 18, 2021. They claimed Parx Hall of Famer Banjo Picker for $15,000 on Aug. 21, 2004. All the Pennsylvania bred did for them was start 40 times, with 15 wins, 5 seconds, 6 thirds, earnings of $619,026 and a win at 47-1 in the Grade III Gravesend Handicap on Dec. 18, 2005 at Aqueduct. Banjo Picker was ridden in all 40 of those starts by Tara Hemmings; the trainer and rider have been together for 20 years now.

“She did a great job with him,’’ Krebs said.

Krebs is known for his exuberance when cheering his horses home. The Gravesend, he said, may have been his best “root’’ of all.

“I watched the race down in the horsemen’s lounge at Aqueduct and I’m screaming and screaming and screaming,’’ Krebs said. “I thought he won. I ran out the door. I got halfway down the hallway, turned around and came back to watch the replay. And Billy Turner of Seattle Slew fame is sitting there watching and I’m going `did he win, did he win?’ And he was just laughing at me.’’

Banjo Picker won by a neck.

Krebs’ second best horse was Lothar, also owned by Limongelli. In the fall and winter of 2002, Lothar won six consecutive races.

Krebs won 65 races in 2006, 39 in 2015. But it has not all been smooth sailing. There were some years when wins were hard to find.

“It’s tough,’’ Krebs said. “I just had to pick myself off the canvas. Right now, I have some really good owners. They let me do what I have to. They put some money up to get some horses. I’m enjoying it again.’’

Tara is right there exercising Steve’s horses. Now, all they need to do is find another Banjo Picker.

JOSUE ARCE WON AS A JOCKEY, WINNING AS  A TRAINER

By Dick Jerardi

It was the summer of 2006. Two years into his riding career, Josue Arce hatched an ingenious plan that would end up with him on a Grade I winner.

Arce had ridden Malibu Mint when she broke her maiden for trainer James Chapman at Calder. She was 12-1 that day and won by 5 1/4 lengths. Chapman had brought Malibu Mint to Kentucky the next year, but she didn’t run well in two Keeneland stakes and then stumbled out of the gate, losing her jockey at the start of the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on the day Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby,

So, Arce got the ride on May 27, 2006 when Malibu Mint was second by a neck at 50-1 in the Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs. The trainer headed back to Florida, but Malibu Mint stayed behind and Arce was getting on her every day.

He wanted to know when she was going to run next. Kept asking and nobody would tell him. Finally, the

horse’s groom said: “Arce, I think he’s going to take her to Florida for a Grade I race.’’The groom did not know when the race was going to be run so he told Arce to look it up in the condition book. He found out the Grade I Princess Rooney was going to be run at Calder on July 15.

So he called Chapman and said if you need me (in Kentucky) from July 12 to July 16, “I won’t be here. I will be in Florida.’’

“Why?’’ Chapman asked.

“I’m going down to Miami to see my family,’’ Arce said. “Hopefully, I get one or two mounts and they see me ride again.’’

 And Chapman told him: “you might be in the right place at the right time.’’

 “Really, why?’’ Arce asked innocently.

 “I’m going to run in the Princess Rooney and if you are going to be there, you might as well ride her,’’ Chapman said.

 “You kidding me?’’ Arce replied.

The plan had worked perfectly.

Now, he just had to get from Louisville to Miami. He flew the day of the race. He wasn’t going to see his family at all. He missed his first flight and got there late.

How late?

“It was close,’’ Arce said. “I know the clerk of scales. I had him on the phone. He shouldn’t have allowed me to ride the horse. I was there so late. I was `man, I’m going to get caught in a lie because I told him I was going to be there.’ It was meant to be.’’

Indeed it was. Malibu Mint was 23-1 in the Princess Rooney. Dubai Escapade, ridden by Edgar Prado, was 1-5.

“We passed the three-eighths (pole) and I just started making my move and I remember Prado asking and I’m full of horse and I’m `oh my God, I’m going to win.’’’

In fact, Malibu Mint crushed the field, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. Dubai Escapade was off the board.

It was a $500,000 race. The winner’s share was $294,000 so Arce got $29,400.

“I blew it,’’ he said.

But he had a story for the ages. Arce rode Malibu Mint a few weeks later when she was second in the Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga. Malibu Mint finished her career with seven wins and five seconds from 25 starts, with earnings of $723,829. In six starts with Arce, Malibu Mint had two wins, three seconds, a third and $366,169 in earnings. Arce never rode her again after that Saratoga race, but, in a riding career that went from 2004 to 2018 and included 393 wins, that Princess Rooney, the win and how he made it happen, will be a forever memory.

Arce told that story last Wednesday at his Parx barn where he is now a trainer, the weight he always battled, was finally too much to overcome so he made the transition to training last year.

He groomed and walked horses in Puerto Rico before moving to Miami where he became a jockey after finding a way to reduce from 130 pounds. Eventually, he worked his way to Parx where he had some success as a jockey and exercise rider over a career that included $8.8 million in earnings and a career-best 77 wins in 2008.

Arce and trainer Scott Lake had and have a very close relationship.

“Scott taught me a lot about the condition book, how to enter,’’ Arce said. “He’s just a brilliant guy, such a smart person. He knows how to take care of the horse, how to keep him sound, how to keep him happy.’’

Arce has 13 horses in his barn for three owners. That he gets on all his horses in the morning is a nice edge that so far he has parlayed into 7 wins, 13 seconds and 15 thirds from 96 starters.

He does not miss riding races. Trying to constantly lose weight just became too much. Now, he is all the way up to 140 pounds, much more reasonable for someone around 5-7 or 5-8.

Training horses requires attention to detail considering all possibilities and being ready for any opportunity. When he was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime back in 2006, Josue Arce found a quite creative way to take advantage. That kind of quick thinking will serve him quite well as a trainer.