By Dick Jerardi
It began on the last Tuesday of March and ended on the first Tuesday of April. As it took a week, Jamie Ness did not realize it was happening until it was almost over.
Since Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx opened in 1974, an estimated 100,000 races have been run. There is no record of this exactly, but it is safe to say until Ness did it over four racing days, no trainer had ever won 10 straight races at the track.
“I had five in on Monday,’’ Ness said. “One of my buddies called me from California. He was betting Parx, said `you like anything today.’ I said `Troy, you know what, everything’s got to go right, but I think I’m dead on in all five races today.’ I’ve been there before and been 0-for-5.’’
Ness went 5-for-5. He had won with his only starter the previous Tuesday and then went 2-for-2 on Wednesday. After five days off, he won those five. And the next day, he went 2-for-2 until the streak finally ended when Love In Her Eyes ran into 1-5 Dr. B (named for First Lady Jill Biden) in Race 9 last Tuesday.
The trainer did not know about the streak until somebody said: “man, are you going to lose a race?’’
When somebody wondered how many he had won in a row, they had to look it up and Ness said: “Holy Bleep.’’
“You’ve got to have a little luck,’’ Ness said. “I win two races by a last bob.’’
Factor This In was the fourth of the five winners on Monday. When speedy Petulant Delight missed the break, Factor This In was left alone on the lead. The horse went all the way, holding on to win by a head at 11-1.That was the biggest price among the 10 as the others were so well spotted, they were: 8-5, 3-2, 2-1, 2-5, 2-1, 1-2, 4-5, 3-5 and 3-5. Ruben Silvera, the leading jockey at Parx with 49 winners in 2021, rode seven of the 10 winners.
The horses won at 6 furlongs, 7 furlongs (three times), a mile (twice), a mile and 70 yards (twice), a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and a half. The horses earned $135,000. Four were claimed for another $41,000.
And Ness wasn’t just winning at Parx. He went 4-for-4 over two days at Laurel last week and won two more at Penn National.
One horse ran second at Laurel and got put up. Another is “a stake horse in the mud, 25 claimer on the dirt. I’ll be damned if it didn’t pour raining. He win easy.’’
It was just one of those rolls that you hope never end.
“A lot of times, everything can go wrong,’’ Ness said. “This time, everything went right.’’
Ness has won 3,255 races and his horses have earned $56 million. Today, he has 52 horses at Parx, 21 at Laurel, 22 at Delaware, some layoff horses and 2-year-olds at a Delaware training center.
“Never have we been on a streak like we’ve been on right now,’’ he said.
“I’ve got pretty good horses right now, the best stable that I’ve ever had. It’s like the old saying goes: `I’ve got a good feed program. I feed good horses.’’’
Ness is putting the miles on his car. When gas went up, Ness figured he had to win another race a week. He is doing that and then some.
After easily winning the 2020 trainers’ title at Parx with 109 winners, Ness already has 39 Parx wins in 2021, 22 clear of second-place Scott Lake. Ness has those Parx milestones and now he has a record that should stand the test of time.
Parx Racing has announced a terrific schedule of Stakes Races for the 2021 Racing Season!
The Stakes season kicks off April 27th with the $100,000 Page McKenney Handicap and wraps on December 7th with the $100,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes. The highlight of the season is the Grade 1 September 25th $1.000.000 Pennsylvania Derby! And while we might be biased as it honors our boss, we’re circling September 21st on our calendar for the Michael Ballezzi Appreciation Mile. Attorney Ballezzi serves as Executive Director of the PTHA. A downloadable PDF of the 2021 Parx Racing Stakes
The schedule is available at:
By Dick Jerardi
When 2021 began, there were serious hopes that a Parx-based horse would make the Kentucky Derby.
Well, there won’t be a horse, but there will be a jockey (albeit a graduate), one of the very best in the nearly 50-year history of the track.
Kendrick Carmouche rode 72-1 shot Bourbonic in the Wood Memorial for Calumet Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher. The horse was so far behind during much of the race that it was hard to see him watching the video.
But there the colt was, passing horses one by one, until finally only stablemate Dynamic One was in front of him. In the final strides, Bourbonic got by Dynamic One, winning by a head.
And Carmouche, a member of the Parx Hall of Fame, had his first Derby mount.
“I’m thrilled for Calumet Farm. I won my first Grade 1 with True Timber in the Cigar Mile for them and now I won the Wood for them,” Carmouche said. “These past six months of my career have just been what you dream of.’’
There were three Parx-based horses intended for the Wood. Jerome Stakes winner Capo Kane was not entered after an ankle issue that will keep him sidelined for a few months. Remsen Stakes winner Brooklyn Strong, who missed serious training time this winter due first to an illness and then to weather-related track closures, was admittedly rushed by trainer Danny Velazuez to make the race. Market Maven, who had won two straight at Parx for trainer Penny Pearce, was also entered in the Wood.
Market Maven, under Parx jockey Dexter Haddock, set the pace at 70-1 before fading in the stretch to finish eighth. Brooklyn Strong, sent off at 7-1, was making his first start in four months. The gelding was kind of stuck inside most of the way, never really comfortable. Still, Brooklyn Strong ran respectably, considering the circumstances with just 5 weeks of serious training, finishing fifth, beaten by 5 lengths. Could be better days ahead.
Carmouche was originally supposed to ride Nicky the Vest in the Wood. When that colt was not entered due to an injury, Carmouche got the mount on Bourbonic, a colt Pletcher had not planned on running. But Brad Kelly, owner of Calumet Farm, wanted his colt in a Derby points race, just in case.
So that is how Bourbonic ended up in the Wood Memorial winner’s circle with more than enough points for a spot in the Derby starting gate.
“Todd asked me what I was going to do and I told him I wouldn’t move,” Carmouche said. “I was just going to sit, sit, sit, sit and hopefully get out the last quarter of a mile. I knew he would go on from there. My horse was in a good stride. Each pole I was picking them up one by one without even asking.”
Bourbonic did not run very fast, getting the mile and an eighth in 1:54.49 which computes to an 89 Beyer figure. So the colt will be a huge longshot in the Derby. But, as Carmouche knows better than anybody, you can’t win it if you are not in it.
You can’t make it up. Now, Parx’s favorite son will be riding in his first Kentucky Derby on May 1.
MISCHEVIOUS ALEX WINS GRADE I CARTER
Mischievous Alex, owned by Parx regulars Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett, continued his perfect 4-year-old season with a blowout win in the Carter Handicap while getting a career-best 109 Beyer figure.
The colt, a son of Into Mischief, the hottest sire around, broke his maiden at Parx on June 25, 2019. He won the Swale and Gotham last year for trainer John Servis.
Now trained in Florida by Saffie Joseph, Mischievious Alex likely will be pointed for the Grade I Metropolitan Mile on Belmont Stakes Day. There is a reasonable chance he could meet up that day with Charlatan, most recently second in the $20 million Saudi Cup.
By Dick Jerardi
In my 33 years covering horse racing at the “Philadelphia Daily News,’’ I was never shy about criticism when criticism was necessary. When I set out to right a perceived wrong, I made certain to research a subject so my viewpoint could be supported by facts.
Does horse racing have significant issues on a national and local scale? Absolutely.
Have too many in positions of power in the game been too comfortable for too long? No doubt.
So, as there were when I started writing about the sport, unresolved issues remain. But there has been progress in making racing safer for the horses and caring for those horses as their racing careers come to an end. Any objective look at where the sport was a decade ago and where it is now would uncover that fact.
Embarrassingly, however, the “Inquirer’s’’ recent story on racing at Parx specifically and Pennsylvania in general got too many basic facts wrong. When you can’t get facts right, your credibility becomes the issue.
The story conflated statistics, which was either sloppy reporting or deliberately misleading. A chart that accompanied the article told a story very different than the one the author was trying to make. The chart showed the progress in horse safety that has been made in recent years while the author, focusing on just one outlier year (2019), was arguing the opposite.
It is a sad fact that some horses suffer catastrophic injuries during races. I was at Belmont Park in 1990 when Go For Wand broke down yards from the finish line at the Breeders’ Cup. I was there at Pimlico in 2006 when Barbaro’s right hind ankle shattered just yards into the Preakness. I have been there on regular race days when a horse breaks down. It is always heartbreaking, more so for the people that care for the animals that anyone else. In a perfect world, the number of breakdowns would be zero. It is not a perfect world, but the object is to get as close to zero as possible.
For some unknown reason, there were more racing deaths at Parx in 2019 than the four years that preceded it, but still significantly down from 2013 and 2014.
“The horsemen, the racing commission, the vets, we all started to take steps,’’ said Sal DeBunda, the president of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “That’s all been outlined by the commission, all the different things we did.’’
DeBunda told the author how the industry responded should be part of the story, that “we’re heading back toward zero.’’ Nothing DeBunda told the writer about the steps taken appeared in the article.
In fact, the writer conflated the 2019 numbers and essentially ignored a dramatic decrease in racing-related deaths in 2020. In 2019, horses made 12,312 starts at Parx, with 32 racing-related deaths. There were also six deaths during training and 22 at the barns from diseases such as colic which can happen to horses whether they are in training or not.
The writer took all 60 deaths and concluded there were 4.9 deaths per 1,000 starts. The actual number was 2.6 deaths per 1,000 starts, not acceptable, but nearly 50 percent lower than the writer erroneously stated.
In 2020, there were just 8,284 starts at Parx as the track was closed for three months due to the pandemic. There were nine racing-related deaths at Parx or just 1.1 per 1,000 starts. Those numbers were not included in the article.
The “Inquirer’’ story would suggest that almost every horse in training is on some illegal drug and thus susceptible to breakdowns. The suggestion is not supported by anything other than a few anecdotes and generalities.
The article quotes Lee Midkiff who “owned Animal Kingdom when the stallion won the 2011 Kentucky Derby,’’ saying he was so disgusted with the drug use he left the sport.
Animal Kingdom was actually owned by Team Valor, a syndicate run by Barry Irwin. According to Animal Kingdom’s trainer Graham Motion, Midkiff was one of many members of the syndicate that owned Animal Kingdom, but saying he was the owner “would be a stretch.’’
Yes, there are cheaters, but the vast majority of owners and trainers want the cheaters out so as to level the playing field. There are veterinary exams before races, at the gate, and post-race drug tests. Anybody that cheats should be banned.
Could the testing be better and more uniform from state to state? Yes. Will the new federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, signed into law in December, make it better when the United States Anti-Doping Agency takes over testing on a national basis? Hopefully.
For some unknown reason, the “Inquirer’’ article linked indicted for alleged illegal drug use trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro with Pennsylvania racing, saying those two trainers “have raced hundreds of horses at Parx and Penn National.’’
In fact, Servis raced mainly in Florida, New Jersey, and New York. Navarro raced mostly in New Jersey and Florida
In 2020, before he was indicted and ruled off every track in America, Servis started 92 horses. One was at Parx and none at Penn National. In 2019, Servis started 519 horses – 18 at Parx, 3 at Penn National.
In 2020, before his indictment, Navarro had 134 starts, with none in Pennsylvania. In 2019, Navarro started 769 horses – 57 at Parx, 51 at Penn.
The article discusses XY Jet, a horse trained and allegedly given illegal drugs by Navarro. The horse won more than $3 million in 26 career races. None of those races were in Pennsylvania. Marcos Zulueta, a trainer who was based at Parx and was allegedly working with Navarro, was immediately tossed out of the track after the indictments were made public.
The story mentions the Servis-trained Maximum Security won the first “Saudi Cup in Dubai.’’ Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Saudi Cup to be run where it was actually run – Saudi Arabia?
The writer says as he has in previous stories about horse racing, that attendance is way down at Pennsylvania tracks. The reality is nobody knows the attendance because there is no admission. The other reality is that 90 percent of the money bet on horse racing is bet away from the track and it has been that way for years so “attendance’’ is essentially irrelevant.
DeBunda said he explained to the writer he “believes horses racing are as safe as the horses who are not racing because they are treated like athletes, their temperature is taken, their joints are touched, they’re exercised. If they have a problem, there is a vet called in right away to give them the proper treatment or medication. They are looked at in the morning by a vet to see if they are fit to run in the race. A jockey can scratch a horse at any time. A vet can scratch a horse, even at the gate…If they are out in the field somewhere, they can run into a fence, get hit by lighting, they can run into each other.’’
DeBunda was quoted in the article, but without any of the reasons cited above.
DeBunda also told the writer about Parx’s “Turning for Home’’ program, the now almost 13-year-old horse rescue program that has become the model for the industry.
Horses at the track are regularly examined by TFH’s team of vets. Once an owner or trainer decides a horse is no longer competitive or might be in danger of developing an injury, that horse is retired from racing and Turning for Home’s team then finds a forever home for the horse where he can live out his years on a farm, often with a new career as a fox hunter or dressage horse, something less stressful than racing.
More than 3,200 horses have been retired through the Turning for Home program. The program is largely funded by a $30 per start fee from the owners. If an owner or trainer is caught trying to sell an infirm horse outside the track rather than giving the animal to Turning for Home, they are banned from the track.
There was no mention of Turning for Home in the article.
Chris Griffin has been named as the new voice of Parx Racing. Following the retirement of venerable announcer Keith Jones in December, Parx launched an extensive search for their next track announcer.
“Keith was here for 34 years,” said Joe Wilson, Chief Operating Officer for Parx Racing. “This was a new process for all of us. Chris is a rising star in our industry with a tremendous work ethic. We are thrilled to welcome him to the Parx family.”
“This is my opportunity to enter a booth that saw a legend like Keith Jones call for so many years,” Griffin commented. “I am grateful to the management at Parx for this incredible opportunity. Being able to call two million-dollar races as well as several other graded races is very exciting.”
A native of Santa Monica, California, Griffin got his start as an announcer for the National Hot Rod Association. After four years of traveling the country, Chris expanded his travels internationally as the full-time announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters.
While at a tour stop in Little Rock, Arkansas, Griffin’s talent captured the attention of veteran race caller Frank Mirahmadi, who was calling the races at Oaklawn Park. Mirahmadi mentored Griffin and helped secure him his first full time racing job at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale in 2015. He ended up calling races at the various California fair meets, Portland Meadows, Los Alamitos and Gulfstream Park West. In the fall of 2018 Griffin was named the track announcer at Sam Houston while pulling double duty as Marketing Manager.
“I appreciated my time at Sam Houston Race Park, as well as the Northern California Fairs, and other racetracks who have treated me so well.” Griffin reflected. “However, the relocation to a new region is something I am ready for. I am very excited to move to the East Coast and become the full-time announcer at Parx.”
Parx Racing runs Monday thru Wednesday first with the first post at 12:55pm