Keith Jones

Dick Jerardi is an award winning sports writer as well as a radio/television host and commentator, and is arguably best known for covering the sport of Horse Racing.

Though his work as a journalist at The Philadelphia Daily News, Dick has covered every Triple Crown race since 1987 (he is a five-time winner of theRed Smith Award for Kentucky Derby coverage). Dick Jerardi famously chronicled the remarkable Smarty Jones during the Triple Crown chase of 2004 s the Thoroughbred won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes for trainer John Servis.

Since 2011 Jerardi has been an on-air analyst for the live television broadcasts of The Pennsylvania Derby from Parx Racing, most recently for NBC Spots Philadelphia.

Many fans know of Dick Jerardi’s work from the long running Let’s Go Racing TV program where he works alongside fellow Parx Hall of Fame members Keith Jones and producer Bruce Casella.

Dick also continues to provide color commentary for the live broadcasts of Penn State basketball.


HALL OF FAME DAY AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

When the idea of a Parx Racing Hall of Fame was conceived back in 2011, it was days like Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 that were top of mind – a celebration of excellence among people and horses.

The 2022 HOF Classic included a trailblazing trainer with a 50-year career, a jockey who rode at the track for a quarter century, two men of rare distinction, and one of just five Parx-based horses to win an Eclipse Award as divisional champion.

Ceremonies honoring the five inductees preceded two excellent stakes races – the $100,000 M.P. Ballezzi Mile honoring the late PTHA executive director Mike Ballezzi and the $100,000 Jump Start for Pennsylvania bred and sired sprinters.

Suzanne Jenkins was the first female trainer licensed in Pennsylvania. When she began at Liberty Bell Park in 1971, it was not exactly receptive to women.

“It was difficult,’’ Jenkins said. “Women couldn’t go on the backside after 5 o’clock. We were at Liberty Bell and you had to be escorted back to go and check on your horses. And there were no dorms for women.’’

She described the HOF as an honor “because I love horses and the racing.’’

Her best horse was Batty who won four stakes including the 1987 Remsen at Aqueduct.

Roberto Rosado rode his first race at Park in 1996, his last in 2021.

He had 1,048 winners and his mounts earned more than $20 million. His oldest son, Johan, is now a jockey himself.

“It was a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice,’’ Rosado said of what led to his induction. “I rode here for 25 years and I’m  very happy Parx put me in the Hall of Fame.’’

When asked for the best horse he rode, he did not hesitate.

“The one I loved was Cathryn Sophia (the 2016 Kentucky Oaks winner),’’ he said.

Bob Bork was the most significant executive in the early history of Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx Racing. As the track’s general manager, Bork was there for the first Pa. Derby in 1979, was behind “Phonebet’’ in the mid-1980s and was instrumental in getting a grass course built in 1985.

Bork, who was the general manager at Parx and Garden State Park at the same time, went on to GM positions at Arlington Park and Sam Houston Race Park. He passed away in June 2021. His son Dan, a prominent racing official in Kentucky, was at Parx to get his father’s HOF plaque.

“I’m really choked up about it,’’ Dan Bork said. “To have everybody out here, my family and friends…He grew up, this was his track. He spent a lot of time at a lot of race tracks, but this was home.’’

Longtime Pennsylvania State Senator “Tommy’’ Tomlinson is retiring, but his impact at Parx has been felt for decades and will continue to be felt decades into the future. Tomlinson, who represents the district where Parx is located, was critical in getting Act 71, the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, passed in 2004. The law became a model for other states by using a percentage of slots revenue to help fund purses as well as healthcare and pension benefits for horsemen.

“This race track has been a part of my community since I was a kid,’’ Tomlinson said. “It employs so many people and it’s such an important area for me. I actually started getting more interested in horse racing when I noticed my neighbors were horse trainers or owners.’’

My Juliet, Gallant Bob, Smarty Jones and Jaywalk were all Eclipse Awards winners based at Parx. In 2021, Vequist joined them when she was named 2-year-old filly champion of 2020. She won the Grade I Spinaway Stakes, finished second in the Grade I Frizette and then won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, the same race Jaywalk had won two years before.

“Watching the videos again, just getting flashbacks from the scene that was just amazing,’’ her trainer Butch Reid said.

Tom McGrath’s Swilcan Stable bred Vequist. After her first start, he was approached about selling her. Eventually, he became partners in the filly with Gary Barber and Adam Wachtel. Three races later, they won a Breeders’ Cup race.

“You always dream about things like that happening, especially when you’re not among the big players in the game,’’ McGrath said.

The Ballezzi Mile looked like a confrontation between two horses that had finished first in Pennsylvania Derby Day stakes. Ridin With Biden had won the Greenwood Cup while Far Mo Power had finished first in the Parx Dirt Mile before being disqualified to second. Turned out it was another horse that was prominent on Derby Day that got the money – Buy Land and See won the Alphabet Soup Handicap right after the Pa. Derby. It was unclear if his terrific dirt form would transfer to the dirt. It absolutely did.

With jockey Mychel Sanchez obtaining good position on the run down the backstretch for trainer Lupe Preciado and owner Joe Imbesi, it was Buy Land and Sea who got first run and won clear at 6-1.

The race result was certainly important, but, as this was the first Ballezzi Mile since its namesake’s recent death, it was very much about Mike Ballezzi.

“This was my brother’s life,’’ Mike’s brother Lou said.

Indeed, it was.

“He would absolutely be very proud and very happy and honored to have (the race named for him),’’ Lou Ballezzi said. “Recognition is a very good thing for people to carry on into the future to know that things should be done the right way.’’

Beren had not shown his typical early speed in his previous two races, but it was all Beren all the time in The Jump Start. Clearing the field almost immediately, Beren was always in control and won the 7-furlong race by 1 3/4 lengths as the 8-5 favorite for trainer Butch Reid and owners St Omer’s Farm and Christopher Feifarek.

“We wanted to be a little more aggressive with him today,’’ winning jockey Frankie Pennington said. “Last time, he didn’t like the track too much, kind of broke sluggish. Today, he was like his old Beren, hopped out of there and did what he does best.’’

In 21 starts, Beren has nine wins and six seconds, with earnings closing on $700,000.

And his win was a fitting culmination to a near-perfect day – five new HOF members, two $100,000 stakes, the final memories of what has to be the best two-month period in track history.

TURNING FOR HOME DAY

By Dick Jerardi

Turning For Home Day officially was Monday, Oct. 10 at Parx Racing. In reality, every day is Turning For Home Day.

In May 2023, TFH will mark its 15th anniversary. The brainchild of the late Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemens’ Association (PTHA) executive director Michael Ballezzi, TFH has retired more than one horse every two days since the program’s inception –  3,650 in all in approximately 5,300 days,  according to program administrator Danielle Montgomery.

When Montgomery took over TFH in 2013 from its first administrator, Barbara Luna, the program was already well on its way to being the industry model. It has only solidified its status since then.

The self-sustaining funding mechanism has been the key to TFH’s continued impact. Owners contribute $30 per start which amounts to about $360,000 annually. The PTHA contributes $65,000 annually and Parx gives $50,000. The Pennsylvania Horse Breeders’ Association contributes close to $20,000, including fundraisers. Jockeys riding at Parx contribute $20 for each win and $10 for each second-place finish. That amounts to another $25,000 per year.

“They were the first jockeys in the country to give a dedicated amount to aftercare,’’ Montgomery said.

Donations from the public and fundraising also contribute to running TFH. Last spring, for the first time, a golf tournament was held at Bensalem Country Club to benefit TFH. The tournament raised $45,000 and a second tournament is set for April 2023.

“We’re looking for sponsors for that,’’ Montgomery said. “We’re going to try to make it like this one big, nice day and make it a Turning For Home Day.’’

All that money goes toward a multi-faceted effort to rehabilitate, retrain and re-home Parx horses that are no longer viable as racehorses either because of injury or non-competitiveness. TFH has 15 partner farms which are where the horses go for the three Rs. Then, once the horses are ready, adopters are found for them. And Turning For Home follows every one of the horses into their next lives.

“The farms take these horses and really give them what they call a college education,’’ Montgomery said.

Twenty TFH horses will be in Kentucky this week for the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover where newly retired horses with just one year of training in their new disciplines display their skills in a competition at the Kentucky Horse Park. The qualifiers will be Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with Saturday the finale in each of the 10 disciplines which include dressage, barrel racing and eventing.

According to Montgomery, the 20 TFH horses entered in the Makeover are the most of any organization, just one more accomplishment for a program that has been a great success since its inception and just keeps building on that success.

MATCH SERIES FINALE AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

It was dark and gloomy and cold and raining at Park Racing Monday, but not even the leftovers from Hurricane Ian could spoil the 2022 Match Series Finals. Yes, two of the races came off the grass, but the overall series leader stayed in his off-the-grass event and came from nowhere to win the most exciting race of the day.

William Pape’s Deciding Vote led the filly and mare grass division and the overall series coming into the Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup, race 10 on the Monday program and the third of the four Match Series races. The 5-year-old mare made the first two starts of her career on dirt at Laurel Park, once on a fast track and once on a sloppy track. She was never close in either race, beaten by a combined 23 1/2 lengths. She had been on the grass in each of her 13 starts since then, including the first four of the Match Races in her division this year.

With the rain, there was no way the Cup was staying on the grass and it didn’t. Trainer Edward Graham considered scratching Deciding Vote. Jockey Mychel Sanchez thought early in the day that Deciding Vote was going to scratch. But there she was in the starting gate, with nine others, including defending champion and 9-5 favorite Sweet Willemina.

It did not look good early in the race when Deciding Vote, sent off at 9-1, was far back, seeming to flounder on the sloppy surface. But then she started passing horses and kept on passing them until there was only one left in front of her, Tic Tic Tic Boom, a terrific second when 34-1 at Parx in the Neshaminy, one of the early Match races. But that was on grass, the surface for most of the 4-year-old filly’s best performances.

No matter, the two grass specialists were going to decide the President’s Cup and, it turned out, the series on the main track. In the end, it was Deciding Vote with the decisive move. She just kept coming and edged by Tic Tic Tic Boom in the final strides to win the race and the overall Match Series by one-half length.

Owner Pape got $30,000 for Deciding Vote’s divisional win and another $20,000 for the overall championship. And the $55,500 as the winner’s share of the $100,000 purse. Graham got $15,000 for the divisional win, $10,000 for the overall championship and the trainer’s typical 10 percent of the winner’s purse.

 “We were thinking about scratching,’’ said Graham, whose biggest win came when Hardest Core won the 2014 Arlington Million. “We were so close with the points in the Match Series so I said let’s just give it a try. I told Sanchez if she’s not handling it, take care of her, but if she’s there to win it, go ahead and win it.’’

When they put Deciding Vote in the Match Series, Graham said “the whole point was to try to do something like this. For Mr. Pape and Mrs. Pape, it means a lot. And it means a lot to me, especially to see Pape’s colors. I’ve seen them since I was little.’’

Sanchez said he “rode her like it was a turf race, broke, stayed back and just waited, waited, waited. She gave me a good feeling early in the race.’’

By winning, Deciding Vote ended all suspense as to the overall series winner as she had the most points coming into the day. By the time they were about to run the President’s Cup, only Fille d’Espirit, who had already clinched the filly and mare sprint division, could catch Deciding Vote for the overall championship. Once Deciding Vote won her race, Fille d’Espirit was mathematically eliminated.

She ended up third in Roamin Rachel, won impressively on the lead by Pennsylvania bred Oxana, giving jockey Paco Lopez his second win of the day in the four Match races. Dr B, owned by Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, was rolling late to finish second.

“Not really,’’ Lopez said when he was asked if he thought Oxana was going to get the lead that easily.

 After a big Pennsylvania Derby Day at Parx, Lopez returned to get two more big wins at the track.

“I like everywhere,’’ Lopez said if he had a particular affinity for Parx.

Sadly, the great Chub Wagon, the 2021 Parx Horse of the Year and favored at 9-5, was pulled up in the stretch by jockey Silvestre Gonzalez who reported she bled so he chose not to persevere with her. Chub Wagon took quite a while loading into the gate, but broke with the field. She was fine in her stall the next morning, according to Gonzalez’s agent Joe Hampshire who fed her some glazed donuts.

Earlier, Paco Lopez had won the Liberty Bell with the amazing Pa. bred Fortheluvofbourbon, a $50,000 claim at Churchill Downs on May 20, 2020. All she has done since then for owner Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle LLP and trainer Mike Pino is win 10 races, four stakes and $485,610. The 5-year-old gelding is now in the midst of a 5-race winning streak.

“He looked like a Pa. Bred that could run,’’ Pino said of the initial claim. “Might win a Pa. Bred stake. This year, he’s matured and stayed sharp.’’

When asked if Fortheluvofbourbon was as good as he’s ever been, Pino’s answer was simple: “yes.’’

Beren, who ended up fourth in the Liberty Bell, had already clinched the Sprint Division for trainer Butch Reid.

The Bucks County was also supposed to be on the grass. Older Turf Division winner Eons, a grass specialist who had never raced on dirt, was scratched which made it look like a two-horse race between millionaire Tax and stakes winner Wolfie’s Dynashost. Instead, those two hooked up in a pace duel and Main Track Only Shooger Ray Too, off at 5-1, trained by Tyler Servis and ridden by Abner Adorno, was the beneficiary.

“It set up perfectly,’’ Servis said.

Shooger Ray Too, fourth early, inhaled the leaders on the turn and ran away in the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths. The 5-year-old gelding has now won $239,437 under Servis’s care, the most of any horse during his nascent career.

“He’s meant a lot to the barn,’’ Servis said. “He was one of the first 2-year-olds I had an opportunity under Mr. Zacney to train. Ran through some conditions and he was looking to move him on so Dave (Charlton and Roy Johnson of Vintage Thoroughbreds LLC) made a purchase on him and he’s taken us to some decent races and ran against some pretty tough horses and held his own. We always knew he had this type of talent and there was a stake in him somewhere and we just had to find the right spot. And they gave it to us today.’’

It was a terrific end to the Match Series. That the President’s Cup was the deciding race made it even better for the man for whom the race is named and whose name is on the trophy.

“It is an honor,’’ DeBunda said. “I just told them it’s going to be in his house forever, my name. They’re going to say who is that guy.’’

That guy is affectionately known as “El Presidente.’’ On a day when two of the Match races were named in his honor and in honor of Roamin Rachel, the best horse he ever owned, Sal DeBunda gets the last word.

THE BEST EVER DAY AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

The first Saturday of autumn was grand and glorious and, without any doubt, the greatest day in the history of Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx Racing.

The first of 128 horses in the 13 races left the starting gate at 12:11 p.m. The last horse crossed the finish line at 6:47 p.m. They ran for a record $4.1million in purses and the handle record set last year ($13,246,657) was crushed by players at the track and around the country who bet $18,844,528. The 13 races included 10 stakes, five of them graded and four for Pennsylvania breds.

The $1 million Grade I Bet Parx Pennsylvania Derby, which attracted bets of $3.34 million in all its pools, was won for the fourth time in the last eight runnings by a horse trained by Bob Baffert. The $1 million Grade I Cotillion was won for the fifth time  in the last 10 runnings by a filly trained by Steve Asmussen. The Hall of Famers hold the records for most wins in the track’s signature races.

On a day when Parx Racing is showcased to the nation and the big money attracts Baffert, Asmussen and fellow HOF trainers Todd Pletcher and Wayne Lukas as well as HOF jockeys like John Velazquez and Mike Smith, Parx Racing owners and trainers had a “day’’ themselves.

Parx Hall of Fame trainers dominated early and late, with seven wins among them. Lupe Preciado won three: the Grade II Gallant Bob with 9-1 Scaramouche, the Prince Lucky for Pa. bred and Pa. sired horses with odds-on favorite Gordian Knot and the finale, the Alphabet Soup Handicap for Pa. Breds, with odds-on favorite Buy Land and See. John Servis won the opener with very impressive first time starter Tuskegee Airmen and then ran 1-2 in the Plum Pretty for Pa.Breds with Love in the Air and Leader of the Band. Butch Reid won an allowance race with 9-1 Eloquist and the Greenwood Cup with 8-1 Ridin With Biden before finishing second in the Cotillion with 48-1 Morning Matcha who has now run six times at her home track with four wins, a second and a third.

Parx trainer Michael Moore, who is having the best year of his career, got his first graded stakes win with the amazing grass sprinter That’s Right who did what he does in the Grade III Turf Monster – to the front and gone, his fourth win in five grass tries.

Owners Chuck Zacney (Cash Is King) and Glenn Bennett (LC Racing) also had a day to remember. Horses they had an interest in won three races, finished second in two others and third in yet another. When the purse earnings were totaled up, the number came to a cool $469,000. And they may have made a few winning wagers along the way.

It was a Hall of Fame kind of day with HOF performances even prior to the Grade I races.  Pro Football HOF Brian Dawkins and Big 5 HOF Jameer Nelson were at Parx to give the riders’ up call for the $1 million races.

It really was quite the show on Pennsylvania Derby Day 2022.

Taiba, the brilliant colt who managed to win the Santa Anita Derby in just his second lifetime start, was always the horse in the 3-year-old division with the highest ceiling. Well, he blasted right through that ceiling with his dominant win in the Bet Parx Pa. Derby.

When the 7-5 favorite, locked in on the rail for much of the trip, finally got clear running on the far turn, it was over in an instant, the son of superstar stallion Gun Runner inhaling the frontrunners and going on to win by open lengths over Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon, with Arkansas Derby and Haskell winner Cyberknife just up for third. Taiba got a career-best 108 Beyer figure, his fourth triple digit number in five starts.

With the Breeders’ Cup Classic looming, Epicenter leads the 3-year-old division because of his terrific campaign and his consistency. Taiba and Cyberknife are the only two-time Grade I winners among the 3-year-old males and the only remaining threats to Epicenter for top honors in racing’s marquee division.

Serious late money made Cathryn Sophia winner Green Up the 9-5 favorite in the Cotillion, with Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath sent off at 2-1. Neither of those accomplished fillies were ever any threat when 7-1 Society immediately crossed over in front of the field from her outside post, got a clear lead well before the first turn and simply ran the field off its feet. The daughter of the incredible Gun Runner proved her big-figure win in the Charles Town Oaks was no fluke when she beat much more accomplished fillies in the Cotillion by nearly 6 lengths.

Nest is the clear leader of the 3-year-old filly division as we head for the Breeders’ Cup on the first weekend of November, but Society, with her consecutive 100 Beyers, at the very least, adds potential intrigue to what should be a very contentious BC Distaff.

When the decision was made to move the Pennsylvania Derby off of Labor Day to late September, a day like Saturday was not inevitable, but, at least, possible. When the Cotillion was moved to Pa. Derby Day, it was more possible. Now, with the day firmly established, the racing office, which did such a great job putting the best card in track history together, has kept adding stakes and working to get full fields.

Pennsylvania Derby Day has become the most significant September day in American racing. It is, in its way, a mini Breeders’ Cup with races long and short, on grass and dirt, and in so many different divisions.

There is the annual 2-hour live television show produced by Bruce Casella that is shown on PHL-17 and several other stations. There is significant on-site coverage from FanDuel TV and Fox’s America’s Day at the Races. And there are the fans who line up well before the doors open at 11 a.m., the vast parking lots jammed for a day that has become an event in every sense of that word.

 When the sun begins to set after the last race, there is just one regret, that we have to wait a year to do it again. But there is also the anticipation of what is coming next, the very essence of horse racing.

PA DERBY DAY CARD BEST IN PARX HISTORY

By Dick Jerardi

The 2021 Pennsylvania Derby Day 13-race card was clearly the best in track history. This Saturday’s 13-race card, with 10 stakes, five graded and a record $4.1 million in purses, is even better. Last year, players at the track and around the country responded with a record betting handle of $13,246,657.

We shall see how they respond Saturday to challenging  handicapping puzzles from $100,000 maiden races to two $200,000 stakes for 2-year-olds, four stakes for Pa. Breds, the Parx Dirt Mile and those five graded stakes, beginning with the Greenwood Cup for marathoners through the Turf Monster for grass sprinters, the Gallant Bob for 3-year-old sprinters and culminating with the $1 million Grade I Cotillion and the $1 million Grade I Pa. Derby.

This is the deepest Pa. Derby field ever assembled, with four Grade I winners and eight graded stakes winners overall. The race has the winners of the Santa Anita Derby (Taiba), Arkansas Derby (Cyberknife), Florida Derby (White Abarrio) and Blue Grass Stakes (Zandon), the four most significant Kentucky Derby prep races. Additionally, the race has the winners of the Fountain of Youth (Simplification), West Virginia Derby (Skippylongstocking), Peter Pan (We The People) and Ohio Derby (Tawny Port).

A case could be made that other than the Derby itself, this is the strongest overall field of 3-year-olds in 2021. Taiba is the likely favorite as trainer Bob Baffert goes for a record fourth Pa. Derby win. Cyberknife is the only two-time Grade I winner among 3-year-olds this year with his win in Arkansas and the Haskell over Taiba. As the Haskell winner, Cyberknife’s owner Al Gold and trainer Brad Cox each are entitled to $50,000 participation bonuses given to the connections of any horse that won the Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Haskell, or Travers.

The Pa. Derby has early speed in We The People and Skippylongstocking. It has mid-back stalkers in Taiba, Cyberknife, and Simplification. It has a deep closer in Zandon. Tawny’s Port’s good races are competitive. White Abarrio would need to recapture his early spring form to win. Add all the money up for the eight graded stakes winners and the total comes to $7,328,070, a testament to the overall quality of the field.

There is four Hall of Fame trainers with horses in the Pa. Derby or Cotillion (Baffert, Wayne Lukas, Steve Asmussen, and Todd Pletcher). And three more (Doug O’Neill, Chad Brown, Cox) are well on their way to hearing their names called one day.

The big-name jockeys that will ride the card include Irad Ortiz, Jr., Mike Smith, Joel Rosario, Luis Saez, Flavien Prat, John Velazquez, and Florent Geroux. Parx Hall of Famer Frankie Pennington will be prominent during the card, including a ride on Joe Besecker and West Point Thoroughbreds’ B Dawk in the Pa. Derby.

Speaking of B Dawk, his namesake Eagles Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins will be giving the rider’s up call for the Pa. Derby. Saint Joseph’s legend Jameer Nelson, the 2004 national college basketball player of the year and 2009 NBA All-Star, will be doing the rider’s up honors for the Cotillion.

Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, trained by Lukas, is the likely Cotillion favorite. The filly never runs a bad race and that includes solid efforts against males in the Arkansas Derby and Preakness. Lukas has won just about major stakes in America. The Cotillion is a rare exception, but this one will not be easy.

Pletcher has three live fillies in the race, including Green Up (in line for a $50,000 bonus if she wins after taking the Cathryn Sophia), Goddess of Fire (four times graded stakes placed) and Monmouth Oaks winner Shahama. Baffert brings Las Virgenes winner Adare Manor from California. Mother Goose winner Gerrymander (Brown) and Charles Town Oaks winner Society (Asmussen) are also contenders.

The Gallant Bob, Turf Monster, and Greenwood Cup are all wide-open stakes with large fields, perfect betting races in the middle of a card filled with races that will test players’ preparation, knowledge, and nerve.

The Gallant Bob will be shown a few minutes after the telecast (4:30-6:30) on PHL-17 begins. The Cotillion (5:20) and Pa. Derby (6:10) will also be shown live, with a few of the other stakes on tape.

The racing begins at 12:05 and ends at 6:40. Next year will mark the 50th year Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx has been in operation. Pennsylvania Derby Day 2023 will have a very difficult act to follow. 

FLIGHTLINE IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

By Dick Jerardi

“Champions,’’ a Daily Racing Form publication, subtitled “The Lives, Times and Past Performances of America’s Greatest Thoroughbreds,’’ is a wonderful resource that I have used countless times through the years. It chronicles America’s greatest horses from the 1890s to the 2000s.

When Flightline won the Pacific Classic by 19 1/4 lengths, it was time to take another look through “Champions.’’ Comparisons with some of the legends like Man o’ War, Citation, Native Dancer Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Spectacular Bid are really impossible. It was such a different sport from the 1920s into the early 1980s.

But this is certain: no horse at the top level of the sport has ever started a career with five performances like Flightline’s. Five wins by a combined 62 3/4 lengths, the last three Grade I stakes.

When Justify was gearing up for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, I did a study for DRF, looking back over 25 years to see how many horses had begun careers with at least three consecutive triple digit Beyer figures. The answer was 18, including Justify and Lost in the Fog (10 straight). A few of the horses were well known, others obscure.

None of those 18 had a five race series of Beyers that was anything close to Fightline’s 105, 114, 118, 112 and 126. That 126 in the Pacific Classic is tied for the second highest Beyer in the 30 years they have been published in DRF. Only Ghostzapper’s 128 Beyer in the 2004 Iselin is higher.

Obviously, there were no Beyer figures in the 20s, 40s and 50s. And none were published until the 90s. So there is no way to know how Flightline’s numbers would compare to the legends cited above.

Flightline did not begin his career until April 24, 2021 as his fellow 3-year-olds were gearing up for the Kentucky Derby. Then, the colt did not run again until Sept. 5. He was off again until the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26. Then, it was the Met Mile on June 11 and the Pacific Classic on Sept. 3.

The five races in little more than 16 months is strange even when compared to today’s cautious handling of America’s best horses. Flightline has had minor injuries which were part of the issue. But five races does not constitute any kind of campaign.

Still, Flightline did beat the Dubai World Cup winner by 19 lengths in the Pacific Classic. The Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner was nowhere in the Malibu.

It is Flightline’s margins that are so astounding. Very few American races are decided by 10 lengths or more. All but one of Flightline’s have been decided by 11 lengths or more.

Flightline will race next in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. As a son of superstar stallion Tapit, Flightline’s worth as a stallion is almost incalculable. $80 million? $100 million? More?

The colt’s ownership group is talking about racing him in 2023 as a 5-year-old. Let’s hope it happens and Flightline runs in races like the Pegasus World Cup, the Saudi Cup, the Dubai World Cup, the BC Classic again. But that breeding money is going to be very difficult to ignore. If Flightline wins the 2022 Classic like he has won all his other races and runs in those big races next year and keeps winning by huge margins, historical comparisons can, at least, be attempted.

In this era, what Flightline has done so far is unprecedented because of how fast he runs and the margins of victory.

“Champions’’ reveals what some of the legends did.

Man o’ War ran 10 times as a 2-year-old and 11 times as a 3-year-old. He won 20 and was second once after a terrible start.

Citation ran nine times as a 2-year-old with eight wins and a second. Then, he ran 20 times as a 3-year-old, with 19 wins, a second and a Triple Crown.

Native Dancer won all nine of his races as a 2-year-old. As a 3-year-old, the colt ran 10 times with nine wins and a second (an excruciating loss in the Kentucky Derby). He was 3-for-3 as a 4-year-old.

Secretariat set track records in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Next year will mark a half century since the greatest Triple Crown of all. Each of the stakes records still stands. So do the track records at Churchill Downs and Belmont which remains a world record.

Seattle Slew was a perfect 9-for-9 when he won his Triple Crown.

Spectacular Bid was 24-for-24 at distances from 7 furlongs to a mile and a quarter.

None of that would ever happen today. The stallion money is just too enticing and top horses just don’t race that much.

Whatever happens in the Classic or in 2023 with Flightline, let’s just enjoy what we have now _ one of the fastest horses in the history of American racing. 

MIKE BALLEZZI’S LASTING IMPACT AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

It’s been nearly a half-century so trainer Phil Aristone, who was a sophomore in high school, can be forgiven if his memory isn’t clear about whether Mike Ballezzi got his trainer’s license before he got his law license after graduation from Widener Law School in 1976.

The bottom line is the same. Ballezzi’s background in the law and horse racing were the perfect marriage during his 25-year run as the executive director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA).

“His passion was the horses,’’ said Aristone who called Ballezzi “like my big brother.’’

Ballezzi, 76, passed away Aug. 31, eight months after he retired following his incredibly impactful run with the PTHA.

“I would sit in the office with him and he would get an idea,’’ Aristone said. “It was unbelievable the innate ability he would have to get it from start to finish.’’

When the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act (aka Act 71, the slots bill) was being debated, Ballezzi was right there pushing alongside PTHA president Sal DeBunda. When it became law in 2004, Ballezzi was instrumental in implementing all those ideas Aristone spoke about.

There was the horsemens’ medical insurance and pension plan and the Granny Fund (scholarships for stable employees). Before that, there was the Horsemens’ Purchasing Association (great deals on feed, bedding, equipment). And there was the purse account negotiations with Parx management, support for the weekly television show Let’s Go Racing, creation of the Parx Hall of Fame and, in 2008, Ballezzi’s idea of a Parx-based horse retirement program came to life as “Turning For Home.’’

Fourteen years later, TFH has retired and rehomed more than 3.200 horses. It is recognized nationally as the gold standard for race track horse retirement programs.

Dani Gibson, the PTHA’s publicity director and the host of Let’s Go Racing, calls Ballezzi “the best boss I ever had.’’

“You felt supported, he had your back,’’ she said. “He believed in you so much you really felt like anything you dreamed could come true and he would lead you there.’’

Danielle Montgomery is the second TFH program administrator succeeding Barbara Luna. Aristone suggested to Danielle that she apply for the job.

 She didn’t really know Ballezzi. When she went for her interview, she found him “intimidating, but impressive.’’

Montgomery had a horse background and an office background. She was the perfect fit and Ballezzi knew it.

 “He taught me everything I need to know about this business,’’ Montgomery said. “With Turning For Home, it was always `do the right thing.’ He mentored me and taught me so much.’’

 It was, she said, “always do the right thing for the horsemen and the horses.’’

DeBunda and Ballezzi were a team at Parx. When asked for Ballezzi’s best characteristic, DeBunda did not hesitate.

 “He was a bulldog,’’ DeBunda said. “We would come up with things together and he was aggressive and assertive about the things we were trying to do.’’

When slots became a possibility, DeBunda and Ballezzi were relentless. They kept working until the law was passed. Then, they really got to work on all those programs for the horsemen.

“We felt we were a village and most of the other states did not have the permanency of our relationship,’’ DeBunda said. “They were more transient. We felt like we had to treat our people more like they were year round residents.’’

So they did exactly that with the medical and the pension and all the rest.

It was not just the ideas that became action. There was also Ballezzi’s behind the scenes work outside the spotlight.

“Guys would come in there for help completely unrelated to the horse business and it was like having a sitdown with a lawyer,’’ Aristone said. “He helped so many people in so many ways. If he thought somebody was in the right, he would go to the mat for them.’’

Ballezzi’s wife Artie was Roland Aristone’s personal

secretary for his construction company in South Jersey.

“Mike credits my dad with putting him through law school,’’ Phil Aristone remembered. “He would give Artie a bonus and that would take care of some of his college. Mike said he made up a job for him. He would have him take pictures of high schools in various stages of construction.’’

That was when the Aristones had 105 horses on their 350-acre farm in Indian Mills (Shamong Township), N.J.

  “He was part of our family,’’ Aristone said.

And the record shows that Mike Ballezzi took out his owner’s license in 1973, the same year he got his undergraduate degree from Rutgers. Racing under the stable name Balmora Farm, Ballezzi still owned horses in 2022 with Aristone as his trainer and when they spoke three days before Ballezzi died, he told his trainer that Snappy Ride “is going to break her maiden next time out.’’

The M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile was first run at Parx in 2019.  When the race is run again on Oct. 18, it will have special meaning for everybody who worked with Mike at the PTHA and knew him inside and outside of horse racing. It won’t be the same without Mike in the winner’s circle to present the trophy, but his memory will be there forever through the race named in his honor and the work he did for the horsemen all those years.

SMASHING RETURN FROM BREAK AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

Now, “that’’ is how you come back from a 19-day break: a total of 26 races and 10 stakes over two days and 12 hours of racing, a combined handle of $8.47 million ($2.31 million better than the same days in 2021), parking lots overflowing, so many powerful performances from the Pennsylvania breds on Pennsylvania’s Day at the Races Monday and during Tuesday’s three open stake prep races for Pennsylvania Derby Day on Sept. 24.

Last year’s Smarty Jones was won by Fulsome trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux. Tuesday’s $300,000 Grade III Smarty Jones was won by 5-2 Best Actor, trained by Cox and ridden by Geroux.

Best Actor turned what looked like an even race with Preakness third Creative Minister and Louisiana Derby third Pioneer of Medina into a 5 3/4 length blowout. The result was not in doubt when Gary and Mary West’s Best Actor took over on the far turn. Kissalot was second at 12-1 while favored Creative Minister was a never-in-it third.

“He relaxed very nicely, he was perfect,’’ Geroux said.

When asked if he thought Best Actor might return for the Pa. Derby, Geroux said: “I think he could for sure…(Cox) and the owner will make the call.’’

Violent Turbulence was entered as a Main Track Only for the $200,000 Parx Dash which was taken off the grass after providential overnight rains. Loose on the lead on the main track at 12-1, the perfectly named Violent Turbulence, ridden by Silvestre Gonzalez, looked the winner the entire trip, giving Parx Hall of Famer Kate DeMasi one of the biggest victories of her career. The trainer, who has 1,672 wins, was ill and could not make the race, but Sal Spedale, co-owner with Kate and Greg DeMasi’s Pewter Stable, was there for his first stakes win at Parx.

“Loved (off the turf),’’ he said. “I was happier when (favored Doc Amster) got left in the gate which made my life that much easier.’’

Spedale has been with DeMasi for three years and Gonzalez, who got the biggest win of his career, has been the regular rider.

Irad Ortiz, Jr. had a fun two days at Parx, topped off by 5-2 Green Up rolling by favored Interstatedaydream on the turn of the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia and going on to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Green Up, unbeaten in four starts for trainer Todd Pletcher, could not have been much more impressive.

“It’s been great,’’ Ortiz Jr. said of his Parx stay. “Had some winners.’’

The jockey brothers, Irad and Jose, drove down from Saratoga together and headed back after the Tuesday races.

 The quality of the $100,000 Pa. Day stakes races were so strong that the 2021 Parx Horse of the Year Chub Wagon and 3-year-old male champion Beren could do no better than second in their races.

The Pa. bred stakes bonanza began with the Mrs. Penny, which came off the grass much to the delight of trainer John Servis. He had a powerful one-two punch under any circumstance, but dirt was better.

Love in the Air, sent off at 1-2, was purchased for $130,000 in July 2021 at the Fasig/Tipton Kentucky racing age sale by Lou Bucky’s Main Line Racing Stables and Will Schwartz. The 4-year-old filly had the rail, the speed and Paco Lopez in the Mrs. Penny. So it was no surprise that she led all the way and won by a comfortable 6 lengths, with stablemate Midnight Obsession getting up for second.

“She’s gotten really good,’’ Servis said. “She’s grass or dirt which is tremendous. I was kind of hoping it would come off the grass because she struggled with this grass course last time.’’

Chub Wagon, going for win No. 13 in 14 races, was 3-5 in the Dr. Teresa Garofalo, ironically the only race she ever lost when second last year. Well, she finished second again, but the circumstances were quite different. Co-owner/breeder Danny Lopez had decided to switch barns from Lupe Preciado to Regina Brennan before the race and Chub Wagon did not show her customary early speed. And then when she finally started to move on the far turn, she was beaten to an open spot by a surging Remain Anonymous, a recent $32,000 claim at Saratoga by trainer Robert Falcone for owner Sanford Goldfarb.

Remain Anonymous won going away under Irad Ortiz, Jr. by 5 3/4 lengths. Chub Wagon, farther back than she had ever been, still came running in the stretch to finish a clear second.

`They kind of ran her off her feet the first part,’’ Chub Wagon’s jockey Silvestre Gonzalez said. “It was a little bit hard to make up the ground with the short stretch…We never had a couple of horses in front of us like that before. She had to overcome that, but the winner kind of exploded down the stretch.’’

 The Marshall Jenney was a rematch of the match race from the year before when the race came off of the grass and Admiral Abe led all the way and held off Smooth B. It was the same scenario this time with the two heavy favorites providing a different ending. Admiral Abe led, but Smooth B caught and passed his nemesis in the stretch, winning by 3 1/4 lengths, with Admiral Abe 8 lengths clear of third.

“He’s just a fun horse,’’ winning owner Glenn Bennett of LC Racing said. “He’s extremely competitive…I bring the family and all. That what it’s all about, the win and having the family here.’’

Smooth B, trained by Butch Reid and ridden by Frankie Pennington, upped his career earnings to $640,000 in 45 starts, with 9 wins, 9 seconds and 5 thirds. Prior to his second place finish in the 2021 Jenney, Smooth B had finished second in the 2020 edition and third in 2019, each time when the race was on grass. Now, the horse has his Jenney win.

The Miss Blue Tye Dye and Whistle Pig were new editions to the Pa. Day program, both races for 2-year-old Pa. sired and bred horses.

The Miss Blue Tye Dye went first and Flor de Sombra, a dominating winner of a maiden race, overwhelmed her field from the start, grabbing a clear lead at the break, widening to 7 lengths in the stretch and easing up late to win by 2 lengths.

“She’s got a lot of ability,’’ winning rider Gonzalez said. “I can’t wait to see what’s next for this little filly…She’s up there with some of the best (2-year-olds) I’ve gotten on…I think she’s got plenty of ability to go with an open company, no problem.’’

Flor de Sombra is owned by Joe Imbesi and trained by Lupe Preciado. The filly would appear to be very difficult to beat in any upcoming Pa. Bred stakes.

Marion Grace, a first-time starter for Bob Hutt’s Uptowncharlybrown Stud and trained by Ed Coletti, came on very nicely to be second at 14-1.

It was Reid and Bennett again in the Whistle Pig with 6-5 favorite Ninetyprcentmaddie, one of the first horses Bennett actually bred. The colt stalked the early pace and won comfortably by 3 1/2 lengths, with that man Pennington riding.

 Reid, who won three races on the card, has dominated 2-year-old racing at track the last two years.

“It’s just fantastic,’’ Reid said. “With owners like Chuck (Zacney) and Glenn (Bennett) and Tom McGrath, they keep bringing me the raw material and it’s just a matter of getting them over here.’’

Keithsendshelloooo, named after retired Parx announcer Keith Jones, was a very game second at 57-1 for Hutt and Coletti.

Trainer Mike Pino claimed Fortheluvofbourbon for Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle on May 29, 2020 in Kentucky. That $50,000 investment has now returned $429,210 after Fortheluvofbourbon won the Banjo Picker Sprint for the second straight year, each time with Lopez riding.

It was a strange race as 6-5 Beren did not show his customary speed and was well back early. But like Chub Wagon, he still closed nicely to be second, but was no threat to the 3-2 winner who was 4 lengths clear.

“He’s been a solid horse, really fun to work with, happy for the owner, the way the horse is doing,’’ Pino said.

Too Boss had three career wins for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Michael Cascio. Each time, he had been ridden by Parx legend Kendrick Carmouche. So when Carmouche returned from Saratoga to his home away from home to ride Too Boss in the Storm Cat, the public made him the 6-5 favorite. They were rewarded when Carmouche kept the horse out of trouble, cruised into contention on the far turn and won it by 1 3/4 lengths. Far Mo Power closed to be second for trainer Lou Linder and owner Joseph Sutton.

“He’s just a horse that runs for me,’’ Carmouche said. “I kind of know him by now. Just glad Todd and the owners keep picking me to ride him because I try to make it count every time I ride him.’’

THE HUGE PRELUDE TO THE RETURN

Prior to Monday, horses with Parx connections won out-of-town stakes on the preceding Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was 33-1 Golden Rocket (trainer Patricia Farro) in the New York Stallion Series at Saratoga, 6-1 Leader of the Band (John Servis) in the Summer Colony at Saratoga, 14-1 Informative (Uriah St. Lewis) in the Grade III Iselin at Monmouth Park and 9-1 Vedareo (Butch Reid) in the Sorority Stakes at Monmouth.

A $2 win parlay on the four horses would have returned a cool $62,380.      

THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR AT PARX

by Dick Jerardi

When the annual August break at Parx ends on Monday Aug. 22, it will mark the beginning of the best month of racing at the track, culminating on Pennsylvania Derby Day Saturday Sept. 24. Pa. Derby Day has become not only the highlight of the racing calendar in the Commonwealth, it has become recognized around the country as a must-see event.

This year, the program, which will be anchored by the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and $1 million Cotillion, will feature 10 stakes, five graded and two new stakes for Pa. bred and sired 2-year-olds (the Prince Lucky and Imply). The Gallant Bob, Turf Monster, Greenwood Cup, Alphabet Soup, Plum Pretty and Parx Dirt Mile have all become serious races of their own. Put them together with the Grade I headliners and the new stakes, you have a card that may attract enough betting attention to break last year’s record $13.2 million handle.

The two big races and several of the undercard races will once again be shown on PHL-17 from 4-6 p.m. Fields are still taking shape, but trainer Bob Baffert said he is sending stable star Taiba, Santa Anita Derby winner and Haskell runner-up, for the Pa. Derby, a race he has won three times – Bayern (2014), West Coast (2017) and McKinzie (2018).

Pa. Derby Day is the main course, but the appetizers are served on the day live racing returns with Pa. Day at the Races, followed the next day by three preps for the Pa. Derby, Cotillion and Turf Monster – the $300,000 Smarty Jones, the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia and $200,000 Parx Dash.

Pa. Day is just like it sounds – races for Pa. Breds. There will be seven stakes on the card for horses in different divisions on varying surfaces and at several distances, all for $100,000. The Mrs. Penny, Storm Cat, Marshall Jenney, Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial and Banjo Picker  are back. New this year at the Whistle Pig and Miss Blue Tye Dye, races for Pa. bred and sired 2-year-olds which will also serve as preps for the 2-year-olds stakes on Pa. Derby Day.

No horse has yet won the Smarty Jones, first run in 2010, and come back to win the Pa. Derby. 2019 Smarty winner Spun to Run ran really well in the Pa. Derby before coming back to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile two months later at Santa Anita.

However, “the’’ month plays out, it will be memorable. Each year, it somehow gets bigger and better. No reason to think 2022 will be any different.

By Dick Jerardi

Some time into their relationship, Regina Brennan relayed that she thought Donnie Reeder was from Oklahoma. He explained that he was actually from Beaver Falls, Pa. and said “that only crooks and thieves come from Oklahoma.’’

“Yeah,’’ Brennan replied, “and so does my mother.’’

Such was their wonderful time together that lasted several decades. After Reeder, 81, passed away on the last day of July, Brennan remembered a horse trainer who loved the game and the people in it.

Parx Hall of Fame trainer John Servis, then a jockey’s agent, first met Reeder in 1979 at Penn National when he shipped a horse in from Waterford Park. He’d heard he was a terrific horseman.

“I made it a point to introduce myself to him,’’ Servis said. “We hit it off and we’ve been friends ever since.’’

Brennan wonderfully described Reeder as “good time Charlie, he lived the dream with no money in his pocket.’’

Servis concurred that Reeder loved to have a good time.

“He worked hard, taught me a lot watching what he did,’’ Servis said. “He was great working on horse’s legs. And he got results with horses he was holding together.’’

Parx HOF trainers Scott Lake and Phil Aristone were regulars by the rail with Reeder. Brennan, a trainer at Parx with such good horses as Promised Storm and Rock On Luke, said: “I’d be doing all the work. They’d just be up there laughing.

“`Did you see that horse work,’ she would ask.  `Ah, I missed it,’’’ Reeder would say.

Lake called Reeder: “the classic definition of a race tracker, have fun, good guy.’’

Reeder had some solid horses in a career that spanned four decades and included 978 winners.

“He didn’t have the good horses either, he had the ones you had to work on,’’ Brennan said.

Heart’s Cry and Stephan’s Prize raced a combined 152 times, the vast majority of them with Reeder. They combined to win nearly $500,000 with Reeder, a few years before the slot-infused purses came to Parx.

Reeder’s best horse was the wonderful sprinter True Passion, winner of the 2002 Grade III Philadelphia Park Breeders’ Cup Handicap, the end of a six-race winning streak. True Passion, owned by Eliott Krems, was later named PhillyPark Horse of the Year for 2002.

True Passion, like many of Reeder’s top horses including Tizagal, raced in Southern California with limited success until they came east and Reeder got them to the winner’s circle over and over again. Tizagal won seven races from September 2001 until May 2002.

Brennan remembers putting $9,000 on her credit card for Tizagal before she saw her past performances and noted that “she had been beaten for $6.500 at some fair.’’ Then, she won all those races for them and was claimed for $50,000.

“Well, I guess you’re off the hook,’’ she told Reeder.

Even as he had a few horses of his own to train, Reeder was an assistant to Parx Hall of Fame trainer Dennis “Goose’’ Heimer. When Heimer died in 1989, Reeder got some of his owners and horses. His best years were 1999 with 85 winners and 2004 with 80.

Reeder served as PTHA president from 2009-2011. His preference was to remain in the background, but when needed, he was there.

 “He was all about race trackers,’’ Brennan said. “Whatever they needed, he would try to get it done.’’

Reeder retired from training in 2012. According to Brennan, after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, Reeder had been cancer free until the past couple of months when the cancer returned. He was in hospice when he died.

“I knew Don before we ever started dating,’’ Brennan said. “Just from being race trackers.’’

Reeder, she said, “just had that charisma. He always had something funny to say.’’

And he had stories, especially about riding in rodeos before becoming a trainer.

“His father got him a pony as a little kid,’’ Brennan said. “They’d go to the fairs…Every time something came on TV and I’d say `I’d like to go there,’ he’d say, `yeah I rodeoed there, I’ve been there, done that.’’’

True at the rodeos, true at the race track; Donnie Reeder has been there, done that.