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.


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.

RIDIN WITH BIDEN DOMINATES IN MARYLAND

When Ridin With Biden finished a very strong second to First Captain a year ago in the Grade III Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park, it really looked like the son of Constitution had the potential to finish off his 3-year-old season with a flourish. But it did not happen.

“I don’t have a real good explanation for why he wasn’t as good I thought he was moving forward last summer other than that he was so tough on himself last year,’’ trainer Butch Reid said. “He was a bad stall walker. He would use himself up a lot before he would go to the race track.’’

So, the decision was made by owners Chuck Zacney (Cash Is King) and Glenn Bennett (LC Racing) to have the horse gelded when he went to Florida in January.

“That’s made a world of difference,’’ Reid said.

After his return to Parx, Ridin With Biden has been everything the owners and trainer had hoped for and maybe even more than they could have imagined. The gelding’s Beyer speed figures became consistent and then took a giant leap to a 94 when second to the highly-regarded Tax in a stake at Delaware Park.

And then came Saturday in the $100,000 Deputed Testamony at Laurel Park. Jockey Frankie Pennington put Ridin With Biden on the lead in the 9-furlong race and the horse ran away from the field in the stretch to win by 6 1/4 lengths, earning a 100 Beyer.

Now, Reid is considering the $1 million Charles Town Classic on Aug. 26.

`It’s a mile and an eighth and he proved that he can certainly do that,’’ Reid said. “And that’s a lot of money.’’

There is also the Parx Mile and the PTHA Presidents’ Cup in September at his home track. Suddenly, Ridin With Biden is a player with options.

DAZZLING AT THE SPA

Trainer Steve Asmussen, 150 wins from the magic 10,000 mark, unleashed two of his stable stars within an hour Saturday at Saratoga. We got to see the amazing Jackie’s Warrior at Parx last September when he overwhelmed the field in the Gallant Bob. And there is a chance we might see Epicenter this September in the Bet Parx Pennsylvania Derby.

If there were not other horses in the Alfred Vanderbilt, one could have been fooled into thinking Jackie’s Warrior was on the track for a workout. At no time did jockey Joel Rosario ask the 2021 Sprint Champion to run. Still, Jackie “ran’’ 6 furlongs in 1:09.74 and won with total ease, the 4-year-old’s fifth Grade I win and 11th graded stakes win overall.

By winning the Vanderbilt, Jackie’s Warrior became the first horse in Saratoga’s history to win a Grade I in three straight years. Last year, it was that memorable win in the Jerkens over Life Is Good. In 2020, it was the Hopeful.

All Jackie’s resume lacks is a Breeders’ Cup victory. Two years ago, the colt got in a speed duel at a distance that was not his best. Last year, another speed duel and a dead rail at Del Mar.

This year, Jackie’s final race will be in the Sprint at Keeneland before he is retired to Spendthrift Farm. His final BC prep will be in the Forego on Travers Day when his fans at Saratoga will be able to see him off in style.

Epicenter was favored in the Kentucky Derby and ran a race that would have won just about any other year. Epicenter was favored in the Preakness and ran another terrific race. But just did not win.

The Jim Dandy had just four horses in it, but the four included the winners of the Preakness, Blue Grass, Louisiana Derby and Ohio Derby. Epicenter was favored again, ran great again and finally got rewarded.

The pace was moderate and Epicenter was last for much of the race. It did not look good – until Epicenter exploded in the home stretch and ran by Early Voting, Zandon and Tawny Port.

Epicenter has now been first or second in each of his eight route races. The colt still does not have a Grade I win, but that was more because he stayed in Louisiana where there are no Grade I Derby preps. Epicenter is absolutely a Grade I horse.

The Travers is next. Epicenter will be favored again. However the colt does, Asmussen will have a decision to make. Does he train Epicenter up to the BC Classic in November? Or get him a final prep in the Sept. 24 Pa. Derby, the colt’s final chance to run against straight 3-year-olds.

It was great to see Jackie’s Warrior at Parx last year. Would be quite nice to see Epicenter here this year.

LEADER OF THE BAND LEADS STRONG PARX SHOWING ON HASKELL DAY

By Dick Jerardi

The national story was how it was all Chad Brown all the time at Monmouth Park Saturday – until it was time for the $1 million Haskell. As Brown and jockey Flavien Prat were winning all the graded stakes races before the Haskell, Parx horses were giving giant efforts all afternoon long.

And none was more impressive than Will Schwartz’s (SMD Racing) Leader of the Band in the Grade III $400,000 Molly Pitcher. The day before the race, trainer John Servis said the 4-year-old filly had never been better. He expected her to run the best race of her life. And she absolutely did.

There was no beating 3-5 Search Results (winner of a Grade I, Grade II and Grade III and most recently a hard luck third in another Grade I). The race really was for second and 16-1 Leader of the Band won that decisively after a typically smart rail ride from regular jockey Frankie Pennington.

Servis kept the Pennsylvania bred Leader of the Band with his string at Monmouth Park this summer because that is where she would be racing. She won the Grade III Monmouth Oaks a year ago and the Lady’s Secret there last month. She got a career-best 92 Beyer in the Molly Pitcher and, with 14 races, 5 wins, 4 seconds, 3 thirds and earnings of $578,690, appears to be getting better as she gets older.

Informative has raced 34 times for owner/trainer Uriah St. Lewis, with just three wins. But wins are not the right metric to judge his horses. It is earnings. After finishing third in The Monmouth Cup (behind two Chad Brown-trained horses), Informative has now earned $357,040. His only win in 2021/2022 came in the Salvator Mile at Monmouth when he was a mere 79-1. Meanwhile, the horse keeps grabbing checks and the earnings multiply.

The amazing Admiral Abe finished third in the Wolf Hill Stakes at 23-1. Claimed for $25,000 on Jan. 6, 2021 by trainer Bobby Mosco for Stefcon Racing (Ed Stefanski and Bill Conlin), The Admiral has won eight races and $449,012 since the claim.

No Parx horses in the Haskell, but we could certainly see a few of the Haskell horses at Parx on Sept. 24 for the Bet Parx Pennsylvania Derby.

Unbeaten and essentially untested Jack Christopher was the odds-on favorite to finish off a perfect day for Brown. The colt was always in great position, but just got tired in the final 100 yards. Cyberknife, racing for Al Gold who grew up in the area and spent countless days at Monmouth, ran, by far, the best race of his career, coming up the rail and holding off the late charge of Taiba who looked lost on the far turn and then came flying down the center of the track to lose by just a head. Jack Christopher had to settle for third.

Cyberknife set the mile and an eighth track record (1:46.24), a record that had stood for 2 1/2 hours after having stood since 1985 when the great Spend A Buck set it. The records were due to the insanely fast main track surface.

Regardless, Cyberknife was really good. So was Taiba. Cyberknife will go on to the Aug. 27 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Taiba seems likely to run in the Pa. Derby as his trainer Bob Baffert is still banned from running his horses at NYRA tracks, even though his 90-day suspension is up.

The 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner is the sire of the 1-2 Haskell finishers. As good as he was on the track, Gun Runner looks to be as good as a sire as his offspring are winning major races everywhere.

The Travers should be great with the possibility of Cyberknife, Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, Preakness winner Early Voting, Derby and Preakness runner up Epicenter and Derby third Zandon all pointing for the race.  Then, it will be a month until the $1 million Pa. Derby, with its $50,000 owner/trainer participation bonuses for any horse that won the Derby, Preakness, Haskell or Travers. Belmont Stakes winner Mo Donegal is out for the year, but Parx is going to get several of the big names in the last Grade I race of the year for 3-year-olds. 

CHUB WAGON, BEREN INVADE MARYLAND, DOMINATE

Dick Jerardi

Lupe Preciado and Butch Reid have trained some very good horses in their careers. Favorite Tale won more than $1 million for Predicado and finished third in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Vequist was the 2020 2-year-old filly champion, Afleet Again a BC Marathon winner and Poseidon’s Warrior a Grade I winner for Reid.

But the two Parx Hall of Famers now have the most consistent high class performers they have ever had and who knows what the final accomplishments will be for Pennsylvania breds Chub Wagon and Beren? They both shipped to Laurel Park Saturday for stakes and absolutely dominated the competition.

In many other years, Beren would have been the 2021 Parx Horse of the Year. Unfortunately, Chub Wagon was also running last year at the track. Beren was an overwhelming choice as 3-year-old male champion, just as Chub Wagon was for Horse of the Year.

Chub Wagon was 4-5 in the Alma North. The 5-year-old mare broke perfectly under Silvestre Gonzalez and was just outside the speedy Cheetara. Chub Wagon ran away from her at the top of the stretch and the high-class closer Kaylasaurus was never a threat in the stretch as Chub Wagon won by a comfortable 3 lengths, running the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.03.

“She does everything right,’’ Gonzalez said. “She’s got a lot of class and she loves to run. She showed her grit today on a sloppy track. She overcame that and she ran well.’’

Chub Wagon is now 12-for-13, her lone loss being a second when she was beaten by a horse running the race of her life. She now has 8 stakes wins and earnings of $648,600. She is very simply one of the best horses ever based at Parx.

Co-owner/breeder Danny Lopez said via text that Chub Wagon’s next race likely will be at Colonial Downs or Presque Isle Downs. Like the Alma North, the Aug 16 Colonial race is part of the Match Series which concludes Oct. 3 at Parx. The Presque Isle race is Aug. 15.

Beren had a much more difficult assignment in the
$150,000 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash, his post position between graded stakes winners Special Reserve and Wondrwherecraigis. Sent off at 6-1, Beren, ridden by Frankie Pennington, was stuck in between those two for a time as the field took off down the backstretch. It was the kind of trip where a lesser horse might have backed out and not gutted it out. Beren actually seemed to relish the competition and when the field hit the top of the stretch, it was Beren who was rolling to the lead and he finished it off with a 2 3/4 length win, the 6 furlongs in 109.66

“He loves that wet, sealed track,’’ Reid said.

Beren has now raced 18 times with 8 wins, 5 seconds and earnings of $609,420. He has won six stakes. Reid thinks Beren, owned by St Omers Farm and Christopher Feifarek, will run next on the Aug. 22 Pa. Day at the Races card at Parx.

The DeFrancis has a great history with winners like Housebuster, Smoke Glacken, Thor’s Echo and Cherokee Run. That the race was run at Laurel, just 10 miles north on Route 1 from the University of Maryland campus where Reid went to college, also had special meaning for the trainer. So does Beren.

“He tries every time,’’ Reid said. “He’s such a nice horse. He stood there in the paddock like he was going for a stroll in the park.’’

And Beren ran like he always runs – hard from the start and right through the wire.

PRINCESS GRACE WINS DOC PENNY AGAIN

By Dick Jerardi

Princess Grace has won races at Colonial Downs, Monmouth Park, Churchill Downs, Del Mar and Kentucky Downs. The only track where she has won twice is Parx. The only race she has won twice is the Dr. James Penny Memorial.

The brilliant 5-year-old mare won the 2021 Penny after a nearly 8-month layoff. She won the 2022 version on July 12 in just her second race of the year. Princess Grace has won for five different jockeys, but Florent Geroux, who came up from Kenutcky for the race, is the only one to win on her more than once. In fact, he is now 3-for-3 with Princess Grace.

The Grade III Penny, run at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, was essentially over in the first 100 yards as Princess Grace cruised to an uncontested lead.  When fractions of 24.51 and 49.08 were posted, it was just a question of the winning margin. It was 3 lengths at the wire for 8-5 Princess Grace, with 3-2 favorite Flirting Bridge’s late run good for a clear second, but never a threat to the winner. Main Line Stable’s Love in the Air, owned by Main Line Stable and trained by John Servis, chased Princess Grace the whole trip and held on nicely for third.

Did the jockey think he was going to get such an easy lead?

“See how she breaks and go from there,’’ Geroux said. “I tried to get out as fast as I could. If somebody else wanted the lead, I was fine letting them go. I thought I had the best horse in the race, good tactical speed and I took it from there.’’

Princess Grace was just one-half length from winning her first seven starts. Then, she went west and ran two solid thirds against serious grass horses last November. The plan had been for her to run in January’s Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf, but a jaw abscess derailed that plan. So trainer Michael Stidham finally got her back to the races in the June 18 Eatontown at Monmouth Park. That turned out to be a nightmare trip for her after a nightmare trip for Geroux who never made it to the track for the ride.

“He was scheduled to ride four or five horses at Monmouth, most of the stakes and a couple of the supporting races,’’ Geroux’s agent Doug Bredar said.

Geroux was supposed to fly from Louisville to Newark the morning of the races. That flight got delayed for hours and Bredar is not sure if it ever took off. So Geroux drove to Cincinnati to get a flight to Philadelphia. That flight got canceled. He drove back to Louisville and caught a flight to Philadelphia. It actually got to Philly, but it took 45 minutes for the gate crew to open the door. He had an Uber waiting to take him to Monmouth, but, by then, it was too late so he had the Uber take him to Newark Airport where he caught a flight home.

“He tried everything known to mankind,’’ Bredar said.

Mike Smith ended up riding Princess Grace at Monmouth and whatever could go wrong did go wrong. She was wide, stuck behind a very slow pace, never got comfortable and finished last of 7.

Well, Princess Grace got very comfortable at Parx and ran to her normal top class form. Interestingly, Princess Grace’s dam Masquerade broke her maiden at Parx on June 9, 2012. She was trained at that point of her career by Steve Klesaris and was ridden by Parx Hall of Famer Stewart Elliott. She ran nine times at Parx before heading out of town.

Princess Grace earned $112,800 of the $200,000 Penny purse for owners John and Susan Moore. That made her racing’s newest millionaire with earnings of $1,086,160. In 11 lifetime starts, she has 7 wins, a second, two thirds and five graded stakes wins.