By Dick Jerardi
Horses from the barns of the two Parx trainers with the most stakes caliber talent went north and south over the long July 4 weekend and acquitted themselves quite well in graded stakes, finishing in front of everything except odds-on winners.
And the “weekend’’ finally ended Tuesday when Parx ran its first open stake of 2021, the $200,000 Grade III Dr. James Penny Memorial at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
John Servis sent two fillies to Delaware Park Saturday for the Grade III $300,000 Delaware Oaks. Midnight Obsession (Main Line Racing Stable) and Leader of the Band (SMD Limited) finished second and third so they are now graded stakes placed.
They just happened to run into the 1-5 Ken McPeek-trained Crazy Beautiful who won the race by 6 lengths. It was the third Oaks win of the year for Crazy Beautiful after previously getting the Gulfstream Park Oaks and Summer Oaks at Santa Anita. The CCA Oaks and Alabama could be on her schedule as well as the Sept. 25 Grade I $1 million Cotillion at Parx.
In his first stakes try after breaking his maiden and winning an optional claimer at Parx, the Butch Reid-trained Ridin With Biden (Cash Is King LLC and LC Racing) ran a phenomenal race in Monday’s $250,000 Grade III 1-mile Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park. Sent right to the lead by the great Irad Ortiz, Jr. Ridin With Biden was still leading in deep stretch before getting passed by the unbeaten (3-for-3) $1.5 million yearling First Captain (Terry Finley’s West Point Thoroughbreds is part owner).
Trainer Shug McGaughey was talking Travers with First Captain. Ridin With Biden was beaten by just 1 3/4 lengths while finishing second. The winner earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure while Riden With Biden got an 87
Reid has two very talented 3-year-olds in Beren and Ridin With Biden. Beren is already at Saratoga getting ready for the July 30 Curlin Stakes. Down the road, there is the Aug. 24 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx and, of course, the $1 million Grade I Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 25 for 3-year-olds.
The “Doc Penny’’ went to 1-1 favorite Princess Grace. The 4-year-old filly has now won 4 of 5 starts, with her lone loss by a half-length. The Penny was her first start since November for trainer Michael Stidham. Jockey Joe Bravo kept her just off the pace and when a hole opened up on the rail, horse and rider took it. And they needed every bit of a good trip to run down 6-1 Madita right before the wire.
As we hit July and the second half of the racing season, all of the big national races are, one way or another, preps for the first weekend of November when the Breeders’ Cup returns to Del Mar.
There were three “Win and You’re In’’ races over the weekend and two more races that featured defending champions in dominating double-digit length wins.
Max Player upset Dubai World Cup winner Mystic Guide in Saturday’s Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park to earn a BC Classic berth. The Parx-based, Uriah St. Lewis-owned and -trained Informative finished fifth after his amazing win at 79-1 in the Salvator Mile.
Mind Control beat Firenze Fire after a race-long duel in the John Nerud at Belmont, getting an automatic spot in the BC Sprint. Ce Ce the only Grade I winner in the field won Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park to earn a spot in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint.
Defending BC Dirt Mile winner Knicks Go could not have been any more impressive at Prairie Meadows on Friday while crushing the field by 10 1/4 lengths in the Cornhusker Handicap and getting a 113 Beyer figure. Defending BC Filly & Mare Sprint champ Gamine overwhelmed the field in the Great Lady M Stakes at Los Alamitos Monday, winning by 10 lengths. She is now unbeaten in seven one-turn races, winning by a combined 55 lengths. So the four-month race to Del Mar has officially begun. The Haskell, Travers, and Pa. Derby. The Alabama and Cotillion. The Whitney and Woodward. The Hopeful and Champagne. All the great fall races at Keeneland and Santa Anita. Check out all the big races. They are the tests on the way to the final exams at Del Mar.
By Dick Jerardi
John Nash was a Saturday patron at the old Garden State Park in the early 1970s. In November 1972, he was playing what was a relatively new bet – the $3 trifecta. On three consecutive Saturdays, he hit a trifecta, first for $1,500, then for $3,300 and, finally, for $9,700. On the last one, he went beyond his normal 4-horse box ($72 investment) and bet $144 when a filly running against colts intrigued him enough to include her. The filly won the race.
“I made a decision at that time, I was going to put half of my winnings on the mortgage and with the other half, I was going to buy a horse,’’ Nash said.
He waited until March 1973 to claim his first horse. On May 5, 1973, the horse won. That just happened to be the same day Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby and set the Derby time record that still stands.
“So I was hooked,’’ Nash said,
Fast forward to 2021 and Nash has owned horses for nearly half a century. He bought a 7-acre farm a few years after that first win.
“I can’t say that I’ve made money, but I’ve made a lot of friends and a lot of associates and had a lot of great experiences,’’ Nash said.
One of those friends was a classmate at Monsignor Bonner, PTHA executive director Mike Ballezzi. When Ballezzi asked Nash to join the PTHA board recently, he did not hesitate to say yes.
Nash, of course, is very well known in the Delaware Valley as the general manager of the Sixers back in the day. He was also an NBA GM in Washington, New Jersey and Portland.
Back in 1973, the Saint Joseph’s graduate was working as the ticket manager for the Flyers. He was there for both of the Stanley Cups.
He was the executive director of the Big 5 before going to work with the Sixers as assistant GM in 1981 when Harold Katz bought the team. When GM Pat Williams left for Orlando to start a team there, Nash was elevated to GM. After working in the NBA for the better part of three decades, Nash retired from basketball.
“I had a good long run,’’ he said.
All the while, he owned horses and spent time at the track whenever he could. Along with who knows how many others, he was “part-owner’’ of 1987 Belmont Stakes winner Bet Twice, owned by his good friend Bob Levy.
Nash has never owned a stakes horse of his own. But he has owned some really neat horses. His favorite was Granite Run, named after the mall.
Nash sold the horse as a yearling. The horse bowed his tendons at Bowie. Nash bought him back as a riding horse. He thinks he paid $750.
He would watch Granite Run in the pasture at his little farm and “he looked pretty sound to me.’’ So he sent him back to the race track.
All Granite Run did in his career from 1977 to 1984 was run 123 times and win 21 races, with 24 seconds and 13 thirds. It wasn’t all for Nash as the horse kept getting claimed from him. And he kept claiming him back.
“He was like a pet,’’ Nash said. “Phil (Aristone) trained him for a while. Phil had him. Everybody had him. I kept him on my farm after his career was over. He lived to be almost 30-years-old.’’
Nash may have been involved with Bet Twice,, but he always has a special place in his heart for the $5,000 claimers.
“I have a great respect for the competitiveness of horses,’’ Nash said, “I love those campaigners.’’
Like Granite Run.
Nash’s farm was in Gradyville (Delaware County) which he describes as “a little dot on the map next to Glen Mills.’’
Nash sold the farm in 2001, but he never got out of the game. He lives not far from the old farm and is a frequent presence at Parx. Now, he is on the Board of Directors for the PTHA, his passion for the game and understanding of it obvious after nearly 50 years around the horses.
By Dick Jerardi
The weather could have been better, but the cause is so good that nothing really was going to stop the celebration that is Turning For Home Day at Parx.
It was Tuesday, with a terrific card that included two $100,000 Pennsylvania bred stakes and two $75,000 Turning For Home Starter Handicaps. There was TFH merchandise for sale and donations to be made. And the day culminated with the raffling off of an Afleet Alex stud halter after the 10th race, the second of the TFH races.
It was the seventh TFH Day as TFH, the brainchild of PTHA executive director Mike Ballezzi, celebrates its 13th year as the nation’s model race track horse retirement program.
“The whole idea of Turning For Home Day is to tell the story, to showcase the alumni, to remind the public that we do take care of these horses after they’re done racing,’’ TFH program administrator Danielle Montgomery said in a soggy winner’s circle.
Two TFH alums, Star of Midnight and Rainbow Valley, led the post parades in the two TFH races.
After horses are finished racing at Parx, TFH facilitates their transition into second careers, So far, more than 3,200 horses have been part of the program.
“What happens is when the owners and trainers decide (horses) can’t race anymore, they shouldn’t race anymore, they give us a call and we’re here for them,’’ Montgomery said. “Turning For Home Day started out to acknowledge our partner farms…It’s about thanking all the people that make all this happen. You can’t possibly know if you’re here and you’re betting the races on what goes on behind the scenes. But we know and I know that I’ve got some great partner farms and they love these horses when they get them and they do everything they can to make sure they go into that second career.’’
All true and for 13 years now.
The day was about Turning For Home, but it was also about some terrific races and one amazing performance.
When the rain took the two stakes off grass, trainer Butch Reid was not at all unhappy. His hot 3-year-old Beren was unproven on grass, but very proven on dirt, having just won two open stakes at Belmont Park, including one on a sloppy track by 10 3/4 lengths.
The only question about Beren, sent off at 2-5 in the mile and a sixteenth Crowd Pleaser, was how he would perform around two turns for the first time. Question answered.
Sitting third in the run down the backstretch under Frankie Pennington, Beren cruised to the lead on the far turn and just kept improving his margin, finally winning by 9 1/2 lengths.
It was, Pennington said, as easy as it looked.
“There is plenty of 3-year-old racing left to do this year,’’ Reid said. “Now that he can get two turns, we’re going to pick out something nice for him…He might have just punched his ticket to make the Saratoga squad.’’
That squad will include Mainstay, the half sister to champion Vequist and a brilliant maiden race winner at Monmouth Park, now pointed for the Schuylerville Stakes opening day (July 15) at the Spa. Reid mentioned the July 7 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand as a possible next start for Beren.
Precious was the 4-5 favorite in the Power By Far Stakes, but it was Hey Mamaluke, racing for the first time since Nov. 4, that survived an early speed duel in the 5-furlong race and got away at the finish, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over a fast-closing Precious.
“She had a little throat issue that we took care of so that’s why it was so long,’’ trainer Pat Farro said. “It seemed like she could breathe now.’’
The late Tony Correnti trained Power By Far, winner of 15 races, including 10 stakes. This year’s race was run in his honor.
“He’s my friend and I believe he was right here with us,’’ Farro said as she pointed to the sky.
The two starter stakes really did come right down the wire, the camera unable to separate two horses in the first one and a nose separating the top two in the second one.
Enough Love at 52-1 and 16-1 Atina Salsa finished in a dead heat in race 8, just ahead of 9-5 favorite Shero. In race 10, trainer Jamie Ness caught Jamie Ness at the wire, Thundershook beating stablemate Thorny Tale by a nose, with 2-1 favorite Sheer Flattery third.
The races were great, the cause even greater, as Turning For Home was justly celebrated, a source of pride for anybody associated with the race track.
By Dick Jerardi
Patience is a lost virtue in our 24/7 society. Once something becomes news, there is a mad rush to get to an immediate conclusion. It is amazing how often the initial “conclusion’’ turns out to be wrong.
I don’t pretend to know how the Medina Spirit betamethasone case will play out, but I am willing to wait it out. I want to know more, better understand the science, see if there are mitigating circumstances.
That is how I thought before I was trained to think that way. The training just reinforced it. Find out what happened by asking questions and then try to arrive at the best obtainable version of the truth.
Unfortunately for trainer Bob Baffert, public opinion does not wait. The headline: “Kentucky Derby winner tests positive’’ becomes the story. There is no nuance.
Baffert becomes Lance Armstrong. It’s not fair, of course. But it is the world we live in, one where perception is reality.
All of us who love the sport want the cheaters out. Horses get mistreated by cheaters. Owners and trainers, who play by the rules, don’t have the deserved success when their horses lose races they should have won.
However, sometimes in our zeal to get rid of the bad guys, we make assumptions before all the facts have been determined. The due process always matters or at least it should.
So here is what we know now. According to the lawyers for Baffert and Medina Spirit’s Amr Zedan, the horse tested positive for the anti-inflammatory betamethasone, a therapeutic medication not allowed to be in a horse’s system on race day in Kentucky. The lawyers also announced that betamethasone was detected in Medina Spirit’s split sample.
I can stand corrected on this, but I have not yet heard a veterinarian say betamethasone is a performance enhancer. It should not be in a horse’s system on or near race day to protect the horse. If a vet conducts a pre-race exam and the anti-inflammatory is still in the horse’s system, it could mask a leg problem.
So what is going on here? Remember Baffert originally said Media Spirit never got betamethasone. Typically, a horse gets the medication through an injection.
Two days after saying the horse never got betamethasone, Baffert reversed himself and said the horse had been regularly treated with Otomax for a skin rash. Well, it turns out one of the properties in Otomax just happens to be betamethasone.
The way the story came out was clumsy and sounded very much like the dog ate my homework. If this had been a one-off, Baffert may very well have gotten the benefit of the doubt. But he had the two overages for a different medication last year in Arkansas. And then a positive for betamethasone in Gamine after she finished third in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks. And the bizarre scopolamine fiasco after Justify won the 2018 Santa Anita Derby and before the colt won the Triple Crown. And this was the Kentucky Derby. There was going to be major scrutiny.
It was all just too much. And I absolutely get that, especially in the current environment so soon after the Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro charges.
And how was Baffert winning all those races anyway? Under the circumstances, it was a reasonable question to ask.
So what are we to believe?
Here is what I think: we don’t have the answers yet. Baffert’s attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. I read it and thought what was being asked was not unreasonable
They are saying it was the Otomax that caused the positive. They want another test to determine if there were other properties in the horse’s system that would only be in the Otomax. The horse’s blood has already been tested twice. A third and final blood sample was somehow destroyed on the way to be tested for those Otomax properties.
At a Friday hearing in Kentucky, a circuit court judge was clear that he wanted the colt’s urine sample to be tested to see if the Otomax theory holds up. That should be resolved this week.
Let’s say it was the Otomax. That, at least, changes the perception. Or it should. You don’t treat a skin rash to improve a horse’s performance.
We may never know all of the facts. I hope we do, but that is far from a guarantee.
As a society, we love conspiracies. We really love them in horse racing: This trainer is winning so much because he has some miracle, undetectable, illegal drug. Does that happen? Sadly, yes. More likely, the trainer is winning because he spots his horses well, trains to get them to peak on race day, and employs smart jockeys who formulate intelligent in-race strategies.
Most “conspiracies’’ run by alleged geniuses are typically somebody doing something stupid or just being lazy. And it ends up looking really bad.
There is no argument that what has happened in the Medina Spirit case looks really bad. But was it just something stupid such as using an ointment that contained a prohibited property or something more nefarious? Time may give us a chance to find out if we are willing to wait long enough for all the questions to be asked and answered.
By Dick Jerardi
It took until the first Saturday of June, but after the Kentucky Derby exacta was 12-1 over 26-1 (the final official result to be determined who knows when) and an 11-1 Preakness winner, 2-year-old champion Essential Quality, bet in every pool like the result was preordained, won the Belmont Stakes.
It was seven months earlier at Keeneland when Essential Quality passed Hot Rod Charlie in deep stretch to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It was those two again in a private battle in the homestretch at Belmont Park, with Essential Quality, a head behind Hot Rod Charlie in the Derby when they were third and fourth, eventually getting by in the final 100 yards.
It was the first time the BC Juvenile 1-2 finished 1-2 in a Triple Crown race. Incredibly, Essential Quality was just the fourth BC Juvenile champ to win a Triple Crown race and the first to win the Belmont. Timber Country won the Preakness. Street Sense and Nyquist won the Derby. That is the list. In the 37-year history of the BC Juvenile, there have been 111 Triple Crown races run the subsequent year, with just those four winners.
Essential Quality ran a terrific fourth in the Derby, his only loss in seven races. Essential Quality’s owner and trainer are now in the line for that combined $100,000 bonus if they run the colt in the Sept. 25 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. The Derby (if that can actually be determined), Preakness, Haskell, and Travers winners also qualify for bonus cash.
Hot Rod Charlie was heroic in defeat, the best runner-up finishes in the Belmont since Smarty Jones exactly 17 years before. The Doug O’Neill-trained colt set a very fast pace but was hounded throughout by Rock Your World and France Go de Ina. Those two dropped out on the far turn and then dropped way back. Hot Rod Charlie never stopped trying, but a really good colt, just cruising on the outside behind the leaders, was too fresh and too good in deep stretch.
It was a satisfying ending to a bizarre Triple Crown that began with trainer Bob Baffert winning his record seventh Derby. Then, it went off the rails a week later when Baffer revealed that Medina Spirit had tested positive for a therapeutic medication that cannot be in a horse’s system on race day.
At this moment, Medina Spirit is still the Derby winner. There will be a hearing before the Churchill Downs stewards about the Derby winner’s positive test for the anti-inflammatory Betamethasone. Eventually, a ruling will be handed down and then the litigation can begin in earnest. Don’t expect a final outcome for quite a while.
Meanwhile, Baffert has been banned for two years from running horses at any Churchill Downs-owned track which obviously includes the home of the Derby. The New York Racing Association has banned Baffert from running horses at its tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Saratoga) indefinitely. No other track has followed suit at this point. In fact, Monmouth Park officials said Baffert is welcome to run horses in the Haskell or any other race at the track. Same with Parx officials who said Baffert can run horses in the Pennsylvania Derby or any other of the track’s races.
Baffert and Medina Spirit became the story after the Derby win and stayed the story throughout the Triple Crown, even after Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness and Baffert horses left the 2021 TC scene.
That was a shame as it took away from the brilliant performance by Rombauer in the Preakness and even better performances by Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont.
But that is the world we live in. Controversy sells.
The good news is the horses will continue to run and as we head into summer, with the Haskell, Travers, and Pa. Derby looming, the 2020 2-year-old champion Essential Quality, Blue Grass and Belmont win on his 2021 resume, is the mid-year leader for the 3-year-old champion, with absolutely nothing decided.
REMEMBER THE MAINSTAY
About 24 hours before the Belmont Stakes, Parx trainer Butch Reid unleashed another powerhouse 2-year-old filly. Mainstay, a half-sister to 2020 2-year-old champion Vequist, overwhelmed maidens at Monmouth Park. Ridden by Parx Hall of Famer Frankie Pennington and owned by breeder Tom McGrath’s Swilcan Stable and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, Mainstay was 7 3/4 lengths in front at the wire of the 4 1/2-furlong race and more than 20 lengths in front during the gallop out. Look for Mainstay in a Saratoga stake next.