By Dick Jerardi
If something happens once, perhaps it’s a coincidence. If it happens twice, you start to wonder. If it happens three times, it starts to become a pattern.
It is no secret that Parx-based horses have headed out from the track to win major stakes in the last three years – in 2018 Jaywalk won the Frizette and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies while Maximus Mischief won the Remsen Stakes. In 2019, Spun to Run won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. In 2020, Vequist won the Spinaway and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
When 2019 began, Maximus Mischief and Jaywalk were among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks respectively. When 2020 began, Spun to Run was aiming for the Pegasus World Cup. When 2021 started, Vequist’s goal was the Kentucky Oaks.
All four horses were sent to South Florida so they would not miss any training time due to weather in the northeast _ Jaywalk, Spun to Run and Vequist based at Palm Meadows Training Center, Maximus Mischief at Gulfstream Park.
Jaywalk went 4-for-5 in 2018, but just 1-for-6 in 2019 before being retired. Maximus Mischief was 3-for-3 in 2018, but raced just once in 2019, a dull third, before being injured and retired to stud. Spun to Run appeared poised to run in and win some of the best races in the country, but, after sustaining an injury, never ran in 2020 and was retired. Now, Vequist, brilliant in 2020, with two wins and two seconds in four starts, began her 3-old season last Saturday as the 1-2 favorite against an undistinguished field in the Grade II Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After getting great position early under champion jockey Irad Ortiz, Vequist could not keep up on the turn and eventually finished ninth, beaten by 26 lengths as a 52-1 shot won the race.
If Ortiz had asked Vequist in the stretch, she probably could have finished closer. But she was never going to come closer to winning and the jockey eased her up late to protect her.
So what is going on here?
The three trainers of the four horses are among the very best at Parx – John Servis (Jaywalk), Carlos Guerrero (Spun to Run), and Butch Reid (Maximus Mischief, Vequist). They did not forget how to train horses because they were in Florida. Servis, of course, trained Cathryn Sophia in Florida to win the 2016 Kentucky Oaks and famously trained Smarty Jones in Arkansas before the Parx legend won the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
“She came back and scoped a little dirty and had some mucus and stuff like that,’’ Reid said the morning after Vequist’s inexplicable defeat.
“You’ll get a lot down here in South Florida, but other than that she was sound, jogging around good this morning. We’re going to kind of give her a mulligan on that one. I appreciate that Irad didn’t really beat her up the last part of it. He could have made her fifth, beaten 5 (lengths), but that doesn’t prove anything.
“That’s why we have first races. We were looking for much better than that obviously. The horse is still sound. We’re happy with her. We’ll fall back with her, regroup, and go on the next.’’
Next is to be determined, but, for now, the goal remains the April 30 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. Perhaps, a decision will be made to get Vequist out of the Florida heat to Keeneland where she won her Breeders’ Cup race. She could then run in the April 3 Ashland at Keeneland where, obviously, a much-improved performance would be needed. And if she is back to the old Vequist, the Oaks will be just 27 days and a short van ride away.
It’s become an accepted fact that training on the Parx surface gets horses incredibly fit, one of the reasons so many have been so successful out of town in recent years. Is it the old what happens at Parx only works if the horse stays at Parx?
Don’t know the answer, but, at least, it is a question that needs to be asked.