By Dick Jerardi
It was some 28 hours from mid-morning Friday at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion to mid-afternoon Saturday across Union Ave. at the old Saratoga Race Course.
First, it was the double Hall of Fame class being inducted Friday and then Steve Asmussen breaking Dale Baird’s North American wins record for trainers on Saturday.
It was two stellar Hall of Fame classes, led by trainers Todd Pletcher and Mark Casse, 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Nothing against any of the inductees, all of whom were deserving, but Asmussen’s 9,446th win was a singular achievement. And now that he holds the record, there is every chance he will hold it forever, just as Russell Baze (12,842 wins) is likely to hold the jockeys’ record.
Consider that Asmussen, who typically wins 400 races per year (with a record best of 650 in 2009), is just 55-years-old. If he wins 400 each of the next 10 years, that puts him beyond 13,000. Jerry Hollendofer is currently third with 7,695 wins. He isn’t catching Asmussen. The late Jack Van Berg had 6,523 wins. King T. Leatherbury has 6,507, but has just a few horses. Parx Hall of Famer Scott Lake has 6,195 wins. He should be fourth someday and possibly third, an incredible achievement. But he isn’t catching Asmussen. Nobody is.
“For it to unfold and happen on Whitney Day at Saratoga with a 2-year-old that came through mom and dad’s program in Laredo (Texas) owned by the Winchells…’’ Asmussen said on the FS2 show from Saratoga.
The record win came with first-timer Stellar Tap, a son of Tapit. It was Saratoga’s fifth race and it wasn’t close.
“We’re so blessed to be in horse racing,’’ Asmussen said. “The amazing horses that we’ve had and everything that we’ve learned from every single one of them, they’ve made the Asmussen family possible…It’s amazing what a horse can do to make you feel good about yourself.’’
Asmussen is going to keep improving the record because he has strings in Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Jersey, and New York. Saturday, he had a horse in a $5,000 claimer at Louisiana Downs and the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. And that is what makes his stable unique. He wins at the lowest levels of the sport and the highest.
He has trained two-time Horse of the Year Curlin as well Horses of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Gun Runner. He trained the great fillies Untapable and Midnight Bisou and Sprint champion Mitole. He has won 275 graded stakes and just about every big race there is to win _ except one. He is 0-for-23 in the Kentucky Derby. But he vowed he will be going after the Derby as hard as he ever has and one year, he will have the right horse.
Asmussen was 1-for-15 in his first year as a trainer in 1986. Nearly 46,000 starts later, he has won more races than anybody in North American history. He did not get discouraged in that first year. He is not going to get discouraged. He is just going to keep winning and winning and winning.
It took Pletcher what had to seem like forever to win the Derby. Casse has not won it yet, but he won’t stop trying either. That is what separates the best from the rest. And, of course, getting owners to supply you with fast horses.
“I can’t tell you how humbled I am to join this esteemed group,’’ Pletcher said in a typically understated speech. “So many of these guys were my childhood heroes, role models, mentors.’’
Pletcher has won 60 meet titles between NYRA tracks and Gulfstream Park. He has won seven Eclipse Awards as the nation’s leading trainer. He has won 705 graded stakes, including 166 Grade I. His horses have won a record $410 million.
When he went out on his own after being Wayne Lukas’s top assistant for years the question he kept getting was: what is the one thing you learned from Wayne Lukas?
“The answer is there is not one thing, it’s everything,’’ Pletcher said. “Everything matters. Everyone matters. Every horse matters. Every horse owner matters.’’
Casse was so emotional in his speech that when he talked about his parents, he had to get his wife Tina to read it. When she relayed that, after Casse’s parents divorced, it was his mother who agreed to let him stay with his father to be around horses, the trainer’s emotion was understandable. After all, his mother gave up living with her son to let him live out his dream which ended with a spot in the Hall of Fame.
“Who would have thought 50 years ago as I slept right over there in the Fasig-Tipton parking lot with my dad, had breakfast every day at the Saratoga Snack Shack that I would be standing here today?’’ Casse said. “Horse racing has always been my life. When I was little, I was reading the Racing Form instead of the comic strips. The worst day of the week was Sunday because there wasn’t a Form.’’
This past Sunday at Saratoga was a day of reflection to consider Asmussen’s record and the best of the best who earned induction into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
By Dick Jerardi
When Will Schwartz (SMD Limited) claimed Catsuit for $32,000 on May 25, 2004, at Parx, he was not really claiming her to race. He was hoping she would make a good broodmare. She has better than good, culminating on the last Saturday afternoon of July at Monmouth Park.
That claim came full circle when Catsuit’s 3-year-old daughter Leader of the Band, owned and bred in Pennsylvania by Schwartz, stormed past favored front runner Edie Meeny Miny Mo to win the $250,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks at 10-1.
The filly was ridden by Parx Hall of Famer Frankie Pennington. It was his seventh graded stake winner and 2,694th win of his career. Back in 2004, Catsuit was ridden in the final three races of her career by a 5-pound apprentice with fewer than 100 wins. That would also be Frankie Pennington.
Frankie did not remember riding Catsuit. Nor did Will remember him riding her in her only start for him before he retired her. Neither will forget the 2021 Monmouth Oaks.
“She was stretching out nice, really picked it up,’’ Pennington said. “She really seems to love the two turns.’’
The Oaks was Parx Hall of Fame trainer John Servis’s 33rd graded stakes win and 1,886th of his marvelous career. His horses have earned nearly $64 million.
“Since that Delaware race (third in the Grade III Delaware Oaks), she’s been training lights out,’’ Servis said.
Servis-trained fillies actually ran first and third in the Oaks as Midnight Obsession (Main Line Racing Stable) put pressure on the leader before tiring late to settle for third.
Servis has trained several offspring of Catsuit, including a horse named Ill Conceived that won $160,332. The horse’s name came about because Catsuit was actually bred to the wrong stallion after two halters were mixed up at a farm. Schwartz was notified of the mistake by the Jockey Club after a DNA test. That turned out okay too.
In fact, Servis thought the horse had won the 2012 Battaglia Memorial (a Kentucky Derby prep race) at Turfway Park until they posted the photo that said he was second.
“I was walking down to the winner’s circle,’’ Servis said, “Graham Motion won the race. I couldn’t believe they put his horse up.’’
No photo was needed Saturday. Leader of the Band won by a decisive two lengths. The $150,000 first prize from the Oaks pushed her earnings to $264,540. Next up, the filly will be able to run right out of her Parx stall in the Aug. 24 Cathryn Sophia, named for the Servis trained Kentucky Oaks winner.
“John Servis is a great trainer,’’ Pennington told the Monmouth Park publicity department. “He does such a great job. He told me before the race how good she was doing…Anytime he says that I feel very confident when I ride for him.’’
Catsuit’s foals have now won more than $800,000. Not bad for a $32,000 claim.
“At that time, I was just starting to get into a little pedigree analysis,’’ Schwartz said. “It looked to me like they were protecting her. For a while, I kept my eyes on her. When they dropped her in for 32 which back then was a pretty serious number…’’
It was a serious number. Catsuit has foaled horses that have produced even more serious numbers. And Leader of the Band has already produced the most serious numbers of all the mare’s offspring.
By Dick Jerardi
As I was cruising around the Equibase website doing some research on trainer Steve Asmussen as he pursues the all-time wins record (after Saturday’s races, he trailed Dale Baird by 11 wins, 9,445 to 9,434), my eyes kept darting to the all-time wins list for horses, trainers, and jockeys because I kept seeing horses and people with Parx connections.
Win Man, a Parx Hall of Famer, is second all-time with 48 wins (the records only go back to the 1970s so some horses with more wins are not on the list). Racing from 1987-1995, Win Man, trained by Ernest Cranfield, started 178 times with those 48 wins, 18 seconds, and 23 thirds. Almost all of his races were either at Parx or Penn National.
Jilsie’s Gigalo, with 45 wins, is tied for fourth-most with Guy. Jilsie’s Gigalo raced all over in his 136-race career but made his final eight starts at what was then called Philadelphia Park in 1996. The guy was a Maryland fixture who was golden when he made the lead, hopeless when he didn’t. He raced 161 times from 1976 to 1986. His lone stop at old Keystone was on March 3, 1984.
Cheating Arthur, a Parx HOF trained by a Parx HOF (Dennis Heimer), is tied for 69th on the list with 34 wins after a great career, mostly at Keystone. Dave’s Friend, like Guy, was a Maryland horse until later in his career, but he did race at Keystone. Dave is tied for 53rd on the list with 35 wins. Arthur and Dave were each multiple stakes winners.
Scott Lake, a first-year Parx HOF, is sixth all-time in wins (6,190) for trainers. He has been a Parx regular for years. He is no longer trying to win 500 races in a year. He downsized his stable because the pace was impossible to keep. But he remains one of the sharpest minds in the sport.
Jamie Ness, the 2020 and certain 2021 leading Parx trainer, is 26th with 3,359 wins. At his current pace, he will hit the top 10 (now 4.745 wins) in a decade or less.
Dave Vance (3,186, 30th) was a Keystone regular back in the day. Ron Dandy (2,829, 39th) and Ned Allard (2,730, 46th) won the majority of their races in New England, but spent considerable time at Parx.
Just 37 jockeys are in the exclusive 5,000 wins club. Tony Black is the all-time leader at Parx. Stewart Elliott rode the great Smarty Jones. Each was a first-year Parx HOF. So was the brilliant Rick Wilson who would have joined them in the 5,000-club had his career not been prematurely ended by injury.
Black (5,211 wins) is just ahead of Elliott (5,204) now. Tony is sort of retired, but who knows. Stewart, still going strong, just won the Lone Star Parx meet with 71 wins. They are 31st and 32nd all-time. Rick is 39th with 4,939 wins.
The wonderful Jose Flores, who tragically died in a racing accident, is 44th with 4,650 wins. The great tactician Jeff Lloyd (4,276) is 59th. Each is a Parx HOF. Robert Colton (3,988 wins), who won big at Penn National and Parx, is 81st on the all-time list
Joe Bravo, who really got his career started at Philadelphia Park in 1988 is 24th with 5,498 wins. But he is Jersey Joe for a reason. Jose Ferrer (4,585, 45th) is another rider who spent considerable time at Parx, but, like Bravo, is probably more identified with Jersey racing.
The bottom line, this is an amazing list of accomplishments for some of the best in the sport who just happened to do most of their winning at Parx.
By Dick Jerardi
Danny Lopez was just about to retire Hey Chub as a stallion. The New Jersey breeding incentives were gone. Not many people wanted to bring mares to a Jersey stallion anyway. He was frustrated. Then, a friend of his girlfriend said it would be great for the Delaware Valley University Equine program students to work with a thoroughbred stallion.
And that is how Hey Chub, Jersey bred winner of $441,755, ended up in the 24-stall Sydney J. Markovitz Equine Breeding Center at DelVal Univ. in Doylestown, surrounded by 550 acres of the picturesque campus, paddocks and rolling fields right outside his stall.
“Most of our time is caring for Chub and friends,’’ said DelVal’s Breeding Center manager Jenna Reigle. “He’s great to work around on a day-to-day basis. The students groom him, feed him, turn him out, bathe him.’’
Providentially, just 22 miles from the university, Hey Chub’s daughter, Chub Wagon, is stabled at Parx Racing. The Pennsylvania-bred 4-year-old filly has raced eight times and won them all. Owned by Lopez and his friend George Chestnut, Chub Wagon is trained by Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado.
As advertisements for a stallion, they don’t come much better than Chub Wagon. Lopez said he is getting more than a few calls about the 2022 breeding season. Hey, Chub raced from 2003 to 2008 and, despite not getting many opportunities, has five stakes winners and offspring with earnings of nearly $5 million.
Chubilicious won the DeFrancis Dash at Laurel Park and has earned $753,628. Brother Chub has won $548,986. Now, there is Chub Wagon and her $342,800, with the promise of more to come. Chub Wagon has two younger full sisters that hopefully will be getting to the races in a few years.
Hey, Chub first came to DelVal for the 2020 breeding season so 2021 was his second year at the university. The students had worked with standardbred stallions, but those breedings are done through artificial insemination. Hey Chub was their first experience with live cover.
“It was definitely a learning curve,’’ Reigle said. “He’s a quirky stallion. Once you figure out his quirks, he’s amazing to be around. We are excited to have him. The component of the live cover was also really great for our students.’’
Some of the mares just ship for the cover. Others board with the program after being bred. Some end up foaling at the breeding center. In 2020, Hey Chub was bred to five mares. This year, it was nine.
The DelVal Equine program has 120 students. The Equestrian Center has a 52-stall barn. It is Kentucky brought to Bucks County at a university that is celebrating its 125th anniversary of what is termed “Experiential Learning.’’
So Hey Chub and DelVal have been the perfect equine marriage. Lopez, who won 1,533 races as a trainer over 40 years, gets his stallion some action while helping the students. And the university gets the benefit of standing the sire of Chub Wagon, the hottest horse in Pennsylvania.
“I watch her races every weekend when she races,’’ Reigle said. “I have been itching to go to see her race live. Some of the students are now following her and they watch her as well.’’ And, during the breeding season, they get to hang out and care for her sire who turned 21 in 2021 and, after spending the summer and fall back with Lopez in New Jersey, will turn 22 on Jan. 1, just in time for the 2022 breeding season at the Delaware Valley University Markovitz Equine Breeding Center.
By Dick Jerardi
If you are at Parx for the races anyday, there are some people you will always see because they are there everyday – fixtures, constants, characters.
They have stories from yesterday and yesteryear. Some of them are even true.
Ralph Riviezzo is one of those people at Parx. The Equibase statistics say he has been training horses since 1976. That’s because the statistics only go back that far. Ralph predates the stats.
The stats say he’s had 6,056 starters, 574 winners, 680 seconds, 674 thirds and $7.28 million in earnings for his owners. But Ralph has never been about numbers. He has always been about the stories and the smiles and the laughs.
He was at the track when it opened in November 1974 as Keystone. Prior to that, he was at old Liberty Bell Park in Northeast Philly, closed more than three decades ago and now the site of the Philadelphia Mills Mall.
“When I was galloping horses and training horses at Liberty Bell, I was also in the mounted police in Philadelphia,’’ Riviezzo said.
Of course he was.
It was a while back when he was asked about his career in horse racing and before racing, but it could have been anytime. The stories never end.
“I’d get done training and I would run to the city,’’ Riviezzo remembered.
If he had the right shifts with the police, he had time for mornings at the track.
“It’s been horses all my life,’’ Riviezzo said.
His family had no background in horses, but if you grew up in Roxborough in the 50s like he did, “everybody had horses, like little stables all along the Wissahickon. I got myself into it actually and then I just stayed with the horses all my life.’’
Riviezzo has never had the big horse or anything close. He’s had seven horses earn more than $100,000, but none more than $200,000. So he is the ultimate grinder and he is still there. In 2021, he has 81 starts with 13 wins, 12 seconds, and 14 thirds, with earnings of $266,359. His best year for money was 2019 when his horses earned $551,431.
Ralph knows every part of the game. He started pulling horses shoes off when he was 12, “working with blacksmiths, dressing the hooves.’’
He learned from George Fulton and they worked on horses for the Wideners. They shod all the horses at the Valley Forge Military Academy. He worked on a horse for President Eisenhower.
“Kings Ranch had given him a horse,’’ Riviezzo remembered. “It was called Ike. Shoeing was my passion. Horses were my passion. The mounted police, we went up to 168 horses and we had a couple of horseshoers get hurt and they called me in one day’’ and asked if he could shoe the horses. He could and he did.
They were, Riviezzo explained, shod differently than race horses, “with a hard metal that kept them from slipping on the street.’’
They had a police vehicle: “with a forge in it. We went around the city and kept shoes on the horses.’’
It was, Riviezzo said, “the biggest mounted police force in the country.’’
They led the Thanksgiving Parade every year.
He remembers when Alabama governor George Wallace was at the Spectrum in 1968 campaigning for president. He and another mounted policeman rode their horses up the steps of the Spectrum to “clear about 75 or 100 people who were fighting in the back of the Spectrum. It was a wild night.’’
When Ralph gets on a roll, it is a stream of consciousness that could start anywhere and end anywhere. Being a cop and on the track was the perfect exacta for times lived and stories told.
“The people that you meet, movie stars, actors, athletes ‘’ Riviezzo said. “I trained for some of the 76ers, Henry Bibby. Al Domenico was a trainer for 25-30 years in the (NBA).’’
Like anybody who spends any time at the track, Riviezzo got injured. He would then go see Domenico to help him recover. One time the trainer said Ralph would have to wait because he “had to get Moses Malone in the tub.’’
Ralph was important, just not as important as the centerpiece of the Sixers 1983 championship team.
“It’s been kind of a wild ride,’’ Riviezzo said. “If you want to know something about how I feel, I love horse people. I respect what they do. I love owners, trainers, hot walkers, grooms. It’s seven days a week.’’
Riviezzo was on the PTHA board for 20 years, arguing along with Mike Ballezzi and Sal DeBunda for slots
“And here we are today,’’ Riviezzo said.
A mounted policeman for eight years. On the track for more than a half-century. Ralph Riviezzo, the ultimate Parx character.
And he will be here.
“Where am I going?’’ Riviezzo said. “I’m a quart low on embalming fluid and they give me a discount in the (track) kitchen, you know what I mean…I go in and I go `how much is a free coffee?’’’