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.


PARX AWARDS FOR 2021

By Dick Jerardi

When I went over each of the horses listed for all the categories on the 2021 Parx Horse of the Year ballot, it was hard not to relive all the wonderful performances we saw at the track last year.

The winners in all the categories and Horse of the Year will be announced at the annual Awards Banquet on Saturday, Feb. 19 (5:30-10 p.m.) at Celebrations. Many of the winners are fairly obvious, others less so. Be interesting to find out what the 15 voters decided.

I voted for Disco Ebo as best 2-year-old male. The Pennsylvania bred, owned by Richie’s World Stables LLC and trained by Juan Vazquez, finished off a terrific season by wiring the $100,000 Parx Juvenile on Dec. 29. Earlier, the son of Honor Code, had finished third in the Grade III Saratoga Special in July just after breaking his maiden at Parx in June. The colt also won a Parx allowance in November and had earnings of $157,260.

Impressive Pennsylvania Nursery winner Witty was also likely to get some support from voters as he was dazzling in victory that day.

I went for Pa. Bred Disco Ebo as the top 2-year-old filly. Before unsuccessfully trying the boys in the Nursery, she had won three straight by a combined 26 3/4 lengths. One of those wins was in the Shamrock Rose Stakes at Penn National. In her first two races, Disco Ebo, owned by Cash Is King LLC and LC Racing LLC and trained by Butch Reid, finished second. She earned $210,460.

Pennsylvania Bred Beren, also trained by Reid and owned by St. Omer’s Farm and Christopher Feifarek, had an incredible 2021 and was an easy selection for me as top 3-year-old male. Both Disco Ebo and Beren are by Weigelia, one of Reid’s favorite sires. All Beren did in 2021 was go 7-for-12 with 2 seconds, win five stakes and earn $469,790. The colt won two stakes at Belmont Park, two at Parx, one at Penn National and then did everything but win the $250,000 Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley before settling for second. It was a brilliant campaign that began in early January and ended in late November.

Hollywood Jet (five wins) and I Am Redeemed (four wins, including the $100,000 Storm Cat) had really good years. Mavalous Mike won three times and had the misfortune of running into Beren three other times.

Leader of the Band, another Pa. Bred by Bandox, was an obvious choice as top 3-year-old filly. She never ran a bad race in seven starts. She won the Grade III Monmouth Oaks, finished third in the Grade III Delaware Oaks and second in the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia at Parx. Racing for SMD Ltd and trainer John Servis, she tried the Grade I Cotillion against some of the best fillies in the country, but never had much of a chance with her come-from-behind style when the pace was so slow. Leader of the Band earned $284,700 last year.

There were some really good and consistent older male horses that ran at Parx in 2021 – Admiral Abe (five wins, $266,872), Magic Michael (seven wins, $307,560), Sevier (11 wins, $257,150), Sheer Flattery (seven wins, $166,060) and Why Why Paul Why (five wins, $155,250) among others. I found this one of the tougher categories, but ended up voting for Magic Michael. His win the $200,000 Greenwood Cup on Pennsylvania Derby Day and the fact that he raced in every month but October put him over the top for me. And this horse, with nine wins and a second ar Parx, loves his home track. Magic Michael is owned by Morris E. Kernan, Jr., Yo Berbs Racing and Jagger Inc. The now 5-year-old is trained by Jamie Ness.

In another year, horses like Precious (won a stake and placed in two others) and Sweet Willemina (PTHA President’s Cup and Claiming Crown winner) would have received serious consideration as top older female, but not in a year with the amazing Chub Wagon. All the Pa. bred filly did in 2021 was go 8-for-9 with one second. She won three stakes at Parx, two at Pimlico and one at Delaware Park. She also won an allowance at Aqueduct. She is barely a length from behind unbeaten in 11 career starts, that lone loss coming on a sloppy track that she may not have liked.

Trained by Lupe Preciado and owned by Danny Lopez and George Chestnut, Chub Wagon was simply amazing from March to September and I can’t wait to see her back on the track in 2022.

So many great claims at Parx in 2021, but hard not to vote for Thorny Tale, claimed by Ness and Jagger for $12,500 in January. She won the day she was claimed and five times thereafter, the very definition of a great claim.

So many good candidates for Claimer of the Year, including 11-win Sevier, seven-win Flattery and six-win Shero. I went with Sweet Willemina. Scott Lake claimed her for $32,000 in June at Churchill Downs. She came to Parx and had an incredible run from late June until late December for Rich Ciavardone and Lake’s Home Team Stables, winning seven times, including a stake at Parx and the Glass Slipper at Gulfstream. Lake has made some amazing claims in his career, but Sweet Willemina must be one of the very best.

One could certainly make a case for Beren or Leader of the Band as the 2021 Parx Horse of the Year, but I can’t get past Chub Wagon. During a year when he won his 2,000th race, Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado was entrusted with the care of his horse of a lifetime. She was managed perfectly and nearly had a perfect season. She is my 2021 Parx Horse of the Year.

JEFF MATTY’S LOVE OF HORSE RACING COMES TO THE PTHA

By Dick Jerardi

Jeff Matty fell in love with horse racing at Philadelphia Park. His father, who always had a few horses, would take him to the track on Saturday mornings to watch the horses train. Then, they would go out to breakfast, discuss race strategy and stable management strategy.

When the Saint Joseph’s University graduate, after a decade working in various aspects of the sport, was offered an opportunity to interview for the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemens’ Association (PTHA) executive director position upon Mike Ballezzi’s retirement, he was honored to be considered. When he was offered the position, he was thrilled to say yes.

Now that he has been on the job for two weeks, he has some fascinating insights into what he has experienced so far.

“Our staff has been second to none,’’ Matty said. “They’re getting me up to speed on everything. (PTHA president) Sal (DeBunda) is just a phone call away. He’s been great. Almost every single one of the board members has called, if not every other day, every third day just to check-in and see how I’m doing. You can tell how passionate they are about this place, how supportive they are of me, and how they want this to be a success. It’s really been great.’’

Matty became a racing official at Parx right after college graduation. He credits longtime Parx official Albert Ott as showing him the ropes. From Parx, he went to Monmouth Park also as a racing official. He learned how the racing office works and saw what he calls “behind the ropes.’’

The day after the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby (aka the California Chrome Pa. Derby),  Joe Besecker also a St. Joe’s grad hired Matty as his stable manager.

“Joe taught me everything, how to operate at Parx, how to operate at Penn National,’’ Matty said “We’ve had horses all the way from Philadelphia to California to Florida to Saratoga.’’

Besecker’s stable won its 1000th race this summer, Matty was there for 750 of them.

“It was a great run and I enjoyed every single day and the most important part, the part I liked the best was the interactions with the horsemen,’’ Matty said. “This position is a great transition to that. Dealing with all of Joe’s trainers, we’ve had as much as 15 to 20 on the payroll at one time. So I understand the challenges. I understand what they go through on a daily basis and for me to now accept this position, I think it gave me the experience necessary to sort of go to bat for them on a daily basis knowing what they go through.’’

From his first interview with DeBunda until he was offered the job, Matty also worked on Besecker’s second dispersal sale in two years. It was a whirlwind, but now the new executive director is settled in at his new job.

“I knew there were many different facets to the office,’’ Matty said. “I didn’t know just how many…The part I didn’t expect was just how passionate and involved that our staff is. They each have their specificial roles and duties. This is more than a job to them and it’s going to be more than a job to me.’’

 The PTHA is unique in the sport with its pension plan, medical insurance and Turning For Home program, the industry model for how to retire race horses.

“We have people dedicated to those areas,’’ Matty said.

In his first two weeks, Matty has had several horsemen stop by his office to tell him “our healthcare plan not only has helped them, it saved their life.’’

Parx, Matty said, is where “a lot of our horsemen have dedicated their lives and their careers to being here. If we can provide them healthcare, the pension plan, we need to provide it because without them, we are nothing.’’

Every race track has racing, Matty said, but few have what Parx has in the medical coverage, pensions and Turning For Home.

TFH Program administrator Danielle Montgomery and her sidekick Dani Gibson are two of those passionate PTHA staff members Matty spoke of with gratitude.

“I think we’re the gold standard in retirement programs so we’re going to take what Mr. Ballezzi formed and continue it,’’ Matty said. “I think that’s what we can be most proud of, our aftercare program.’’  There is no question about that, just as there is no question Jeff Matty is the right man at the right time in the right place as the PTHA begins a new chapter.

THE GREAT DA HOSS

By Dick Jerardi

It was the early evening of Nov. 6, 1998. A few of us were walking the entirety of the Churchill Downs Turf Course, led by Michael Dicksinson and his constant companion/assistant Joan Wakefield. They were looking for the best and worst parts of the course, leaving absolutely nothing to chance.

And why would they? Two years before, they were in Toronto to see Da Hoss win the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Woodbine. This was the eve of the 1998 BC Mile. And Da Hoss, improbably, was back for another go.

Dickinson was Da Hoss’s trainer of record, but this was a partnership in every sense of the word. Along with exercise rider John Ferriday and groom Miguel Piedra, Dickinson and Wakfield were just hours away from seeing if their miracle horse, now 6–years-old, could come all the way back to his very best and beat the best grass milers in the world.

Da Hoss did not race from Oct. 26, 1996 until Oct. 11, 1998 when he won an allowance race at Colonial Downs by three-quarters of a length. If you just saw the past performances, you would figure no way the horse was anywhere near his best. I remember watching it in the press box at what was then known as Philadelphia Park. And smiling in the final yards. Jockey Carlos Marquez was barely asking Da Hoss to run. This was a prep race in every sense of the word.

After stopping and starting and stopping and starting with Da Hoss because of an arthritic condition, Dickinson and his team had timed it all up perfectly. Da Hoss, Dickinson told anybody who would listen, was going to run the very best race of his life. And he was going to win.

I believed. And bet accordingly.

When I heard that Da Hoss, who lived out his life at the Kentucky Horse Park, had died on Jan. 2 a day after his 30th birthday, all the memories from that week, that night on the grass course and the day of that Breeders’ Cup came flooding  back.

“He had a good ride,’’ Dickinson said. “They looked after him well at the Horse Park. When Joan used to take Miguel and John Boy (Ferriday) to see him, it was very highly charged. They’d all cry.’’

Which was not unlike the aftermath of race 7 at Churchill on Nov. 7, 1998. Da Hoss, ridden by a young John Velazquez and sent off at 11-1, was always in good position. When Da Hoss started to pass horses on the far turn and move toward the lead, it all became very real.

At the eighth pole, Da Hoss was in front. At the sixteenth pole, he was second, passed by Hawksley Hill. Once horses take the lead in the stretch and are passed, they don’t come back to win much. So what were the odds on a horse that had raced just once in two years coming again to win the BC Mile?

Incalculable, unless, of course, the horse was Da Hoss. The horse simply wanted to win so he came back on Hawksley Hill and put his nose and then his head in front just as he hit the wire, the miracle comeback completed.

“He was our horse of a lifetime,’’ Dickinson said.

That 1998 Breeders’ Cup was Da Hoss’s final race. It was a perfect ending for a horse that ran at Turf Paradise, Aqueduct, Garden State Park, Sportsman’s Park, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, the Meadowlands, Belmont Park, Saratoga, Penn National, Woodbine, Colonial Downs and, finally, fittingly, at Churchill Downs. There were 20 starts, 12 wins, 5 seconds and nearly $2 million in earnings over 4 years of racing. On grass, Da Hoss started 11 times, with 8 wins, 1 seconds and two thirds.

Dickinson trained at Fair Hill (Md.) Training Center when he first came to the United States from his native England. By 1998, his operation had moved to Tapeta Farm in North East, Md. and Da Hoss was one of the first horses to train on the revolutionary Tapeta surface. There was never a better advertisement for a surface that is now used the world over and was recently installed at Gulfstream Park.

It took the entire team and the surroundings to get Da Hoss ready again. But, in the end, it was about the horse,

“The single most important thing in winning a race is to have the  best horse,’’ Dickinson said that unforgettable November day.

And Da Hoss was simply the best horse they ever had.

PARX 2021 HANDLE NUMBERS UP DRAMATICALLY

By Dick Jerardi

When the decision was made to go exclusively with a Monday,  Tuesday, Wednesday schedule at Parx in 2021, the hope was that Wednesdays, without so much competition, would be much more successful than Saturdays with all the competition.

Hope became reality. The average daily simulcast handle on Parx races in 2021 was $2,644 million. In 2020, it was $2,043 million. In 2019, it was $1,546 million.

“So we are up this year over 2019 by 71 percent,’’ said Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson. “Without a doubt, the Wednesday far out does the Saturday.’’

In 2019, the track ran a mix of three-day weeks and four-day weeks.

“Probably the biggest factor and I think it’s equal, Wednesday instead of Saturday, also running three days as opposed to four days, that’s just as big,’’ Wilson said. “The four days, we can’t handle it anymore. We just can’t do it.’’

The track’s fiscal year ended Dec. 26 so the numbers Wilson cited don’t even count Dec. 27, 28 and 29 when the track handled nearly $14 million.

“The other thing with this three-day-a-week schedule, I run more races per day,’’ Wilson said. “So back in 2019, we were running four days a week, there were some days I could only card eight races.’’

The way the game is delivered to players has changed dramatically in the last decade. Back in 2005, Parx had six OTB’s and a national phonebet system. So the on-track handle was the thing.


Then, casinos came to Pennsylvania and account wagering systems became the thing for horse players. Parx is down to one OTB (South Philly). Wilson said the new model will be on display soon at a new Chickie’s and Pete’s in Malvern where Parx will have a small space for horse and sports betting.

“Back then, you might have had 10 percent of your handle was

done through account wagering,’’ Wilson said. “Now, it’s probably north of 75 percent done through account wagering.’’

The on-track handle model is now a relic from another era as more than 90 percent of the national handle is bet somewhere other than at race tracks. So the play in the 2020s is to make your betting product as appealing as possible to generate handle on your live races wherever those bets come from.

“Everybody is trying to do this marketing thing, that marketing thing, got to bring people to the track, you’ve got to generate on-track handle,’’ Wilson said. “It ain’t going to happen. Unfortunately, that’s over. So you really want to key on some big days.’’

To that end, the track is going to schedule six Saturdays instead of Wednesdays in 2020. Parx will run live on the Saturdays of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Father’s Day Weekend, July 4th Weekend and Pennsylvania Derby.

Big days are their own entities and attractions as 2021 Pa. Derby Day clearly demonstrated. The best racing card in the history of the race track generated a record $13.2 million handle.

“We’ll try to make each one of those days as big of an on-track event as we can to get people out,’’ Wilson said. “There are people that miss that racing on Saturday, that racing on a weekend.’’

Longtime Parx fans really enjoy the picnic area so that will get more play in 2022 with the six Saturdays.

With those final three days of 2021 to get the track flying out of the 2022 fiscal starting gate, it will be interesting to follow the handle numbers this year.

The Philly Big 5 with the Jackpot carryover began May 10, 2021. It was hit with a single ticket twice  ($326,000 on June 14 and $245,000 on Nov. 2). Three times, including on Dec. 29, the entire pool was paid out as part of mandatory distribution.

The carryover heading into last Wednesday was nearly $400,000. Wilson expected some large wagering, but admitted he was not prepared for what happened.

“Generally, things don’t surprise me anymore,’’ Wilson said. “That surprised me. There was $400,000 in that jackpot and they bet $2 million to get that out. If I had to guess, I would have said it would be $1 million, maybe a little bit more than a million. But not $2 million.’’

When he was asked how many times Parx had a $2 million pool ($1.997 million to be exact) for one bet, Wilson knew that instantly: it was a first.

“I don’t even have to look that up,’’ Wilson said.

Nor does he have to look up the quality of the daily product at Parx. It’s just better and that attracts bettors.

Now, with 10 races per day, it’s 30 races per week. With four-day weeks and sometimes eight races daily, that was 32 races per week.

“Three tens works out a whole lot better than four eights,’’ Wilson said.

The proof is right there in the numbers.

PARX POST-CHRISTMAS STAKES TREAT

Dick Jerardi

When those five new stakes, worth $100,000 each, were announced for the Tuesday and Wednesday after Christmas at Parx, the anticipation from owners and trainers was an older version of kids waiting on Christmas presents. The difference was that, yes, it was new money, but it would have to be earned.

And there were the bettors who responded by generating a handle of $4.3 million Tuesday, followed Wednesday, with the aid of a $389,200 carryover and mandatory payout in the Big 5, a handle of $6 million, $2 million of which was bet into the Big 5. That payout was $7,875.40 for each winning ticket.

All five stakes winners earned the cash by beating large, competitive fields. The three Tuesday stakes were all won by former Parx champion jockeys, each of whom took advantage of in-race circumstances to get to the wire first.

Jakarta was 18-1 in the Mrs. Claus for fillies and mares going 7 furlongs. Her published lines were all on grass, except for her most recent start on Tapeta at Turfway Park. She had not won a race all year.

The 6-year-old mare was 8-for-26 lifetime, but she was 5-for-8 on fast dirt tracks. And this was a fast dirt track. Just as she did at Penn National in 2019 when she had four wins, two seconds and a third in nine starts, Jakarta came out running from her inside post and never stopped, winning by 3 lengths in the end.

“She broke so good, I put my hands down and she was awesome,’’ said jockey Mychel Sanchez. “I felt like I was just galloping.’’

The jockey was very confident because he had gone back on Jakarta’s form and saw she “was destroying those fields on dirt.’’

Making her Parx debut after racing in Kentucky, Florida, New York and Canada for Three Diamonds Farm during the year, Jakarta won by a comfortable 3 lengths in her first start for trainer Michael Trombetta.

Kendrick Carmouche, finishing off the best year of his career  between New York and Parx, rode the final three Parx cards of the year. He gave a classic KC ride  in The Kris Kringle for 3-year-olds and up going a mile and 70 yards. With 3-1 Rock on Luke and 5-2 favorite Davidic Line engaged in a long battle for the lead, Carmouche, riding 3-1 Why Why Paul Why, sat just off those leaders.

When the jockey gave the signal, Why Why Paul Why was there for him and raced away to win by 2 1/4 lengths for trainer Penny Pearce and owner JKX Racing. Davidic Line held on for second.

“They had a very tough pace in here,’’ Carmouche said. “I thought they would go pretty quick up front. The two horses up front hooked up. I just sat the trip and when I was ready to go, the horse did most of the work and I just had to guide him, keep him clear.’’

The first two finishers had been claimed earlier in the year at Churchill Downs. Davidic Line had improved dramatically for trainer Jamie Ness, winning twice in two starts at Parx.  Why Why Paul Why now has five wins and a second at Parx.

Trainer John Servis thought so much of Dreams Untold last year that he was thinking of running the son of Smarty Jones in the Preakness. That did not work out, but the now 4-year-old showed his talent in The Blitzen for 3-year-olds and up going 6 furlongs. Positioned perfectly by Frankie Pennington in third behind dueling leaders, Dreams Untold, owned by Pat Chapman’s Someday Farm and sent off at 5-1, exploded on the turn and cruised home by 3 3/4 lengths.

“John Servis really got him ready for this race,’’ Pennington said. “John told me `sit in a good spot and he’ll give you everything.’ Sure enough, he was right.’’

Pennington was thrilled to win but especially so for Pat Chapman.

“She’s the sweetest lady you will ever meet in horse racing,’’ the jockey said. “You’ve got to love her.’’

The 2-year-olds took center stage Wednesday with The Parx Futurity for fillies and The Parx Juvenile for colts and geldings.

Trainer Butch Reid added to his career year when 5-2 Stand Up Comic remained perfect in three main track starts by running away from the field in the Futurity to win by 4 lengths. Frankie Pennington gave her a dream trip over the 7 furlongs for Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing.

The filly, a half sister to the stable’s solid runner Dr B, was purchased privately and appears to have a very good future.

“I went down (to Florida) last spring and we were able to strike a deal,’’ Reid said.

Stand Up Comic had not raced in nearly two months. That she was pulling away at the finish gave Reid the confidence that more distance will not be a problem.

The final of the five stakes went to 3-1 Dance Code who wired the field in the 7-furlong Juvenile for trainer Juan Vazquez and owner Richies World Stables LLC. The son of Honor Code was ridden expertly by Nik Juarez.

After breaking his maiden in a June debut at Parx, Vazquez immediately sent the colt to Saratoga to run in the Sanford and Saratoga Special. That didn’t work out very well, but it was a strong indicator the trainer thought he had something special.

Vazquez was between Saturday’s Jerome at Aqueduct and the Juvenile for Dance Code

“I waited until almost 11:15,’’ he said with a smile. “I was supposed to go to The Jerome. I don’t want to scratch at Philly. Philly is my house. I like him a lot. I made the right decision.’’

Yes, he did.

MY 2021 ECLIPSE AWARDS BALLOT

Got my 2021 Eclipse Awards ballot the other day and, as I began to pour over the past performances of the horses and humans in various categories, I began to marvel at what a great year it was on the track. If that was the only story…

Let’s start at the end. Knicks Go is going to be the Horse of the Year after winning the Pegasus, Whitney, Breeders Cup Classic and $7.3 million. That the 5-year-old held his form from January to November is a rarity these days.

Speaking of holding form all year, how about Medina Spirit and Essential Quality? The most difficult category for me and I suspect most other voters will be the 3-year-old male champion. Almost impossible to separate the two colts. Essential Quality raced from February to November and never failed to fire, his two biggest wins being the Belmont Stakes and Travers. Medina Spirit stayed in form from January to November, his biggest win being the biggest race we have, the Kentucky Derby.

I think Essential Quality has a slightly better resume in terms of races won. I think Medina Spirit’s resume would look much better if he did not have to run against then stablemate Life is Good twice. (By the way, I think Life is Good is better than both of them, but, because of injury and time away, he just does not have the resume.) The tiebreaker for me is going to be that the two colts ran against each other twice in the biggest race for 3-year-olds and “the’’ championship race, the BC Classic. Medina Spirit finished in front of Essential Quality both times. I am not considering the betamethasone positive for Medina Spirit in the Derby because it has not been adjudicated and I don’t think it had anything to do with him winning anyway.

Corniche and Echo Zulu are easy choices as 2-year-old colt and 2-year-old filly champions respectively. Malathaat is a no-brainer as the 3-year-old filly champion.

Knicks Go and Letruska (a 2021 record four Grade I wins) are locks as older male and female respectively.

Even though Jackie’s Warrior’s only bad sprint race was in the biggest race (BC Sprint), I still like him as the sprint champ based on overall resume. Ce Ce upset Gamine in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint and should be the female sprint champion.

I found the resumes of the male grass horses underwhelming, but likely will vote for Domestic Spending. War Like Goddess was an easy choice for the female turf champion.

Hard to believe Joel Rosario has never won the Eclipse Award as champion jockey. That should change. He has nearly $33 million in earnings and had a real chance to break Jerry Bailey’s record for graded stakes wins in a year until a recent injury paused him at 49 graded stakes wins in 2021.

Despite missing the entire Saratoga meet and the final month and change of the Belmont Spring meet after being injured on Belmont Stakes Day, Parx legend Kendrick Carmouche has more than $9 million in earnings, closing on the best earnings year of his career.

Hard to separate Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen for Trainer of the Year. Each is over $30 million in earnings. With Essential Quality and Knicks Go, Cox obviously had the higher quality talent, but Asmussen is going to win close to 500 races and had an incredible Saratoga meeting. Slightest of edges to Asmussen.

Jamie Ness, who will win the Parx training title for the second consecutive year, is third nationally in wins (298 through Dec. 17) and 12th in earnings (nearly $8 million).

Special achievement award to the incredible trainer Charlie Appleby who had 18 starters in North America in 2021 and won with nine of them, including eight Grade I Stakes and three BC winners (Modern Games, Space Blues, Yibir). His nine winners earned almost $6 million.

It helped, of course, that he was training for Godolphin which dominated in North America, Europe, and Dubai. In addition to all those grass winners, Godolphin also had Essential Quality, Maxfield, and Mystic Guide on the main track. They had 11 Grade I wins. That outfit will certainly be named leading owner and breeder for 2021.

Joe Besecker, who runs horses at Parx regularly, is in a battle for the second-leading owner in terms of wins. He has 114 wins with a few days left in the year. Jagger, Inc, easily the leading owner at Parx, is No. 6 nationally with 82 wins.

One fun category that is not an Eclipse category is the horse with the most wins. Shinny (12), Greeley and Ben (11) and Free to Fly (10) had a combined 33 wins in 43 starts. The wonderful Chub Wagon, representing Parx, had the best overall record with 8 wins and 1 second in 9 starts.

THE SAD ENDING TO THE MEDINA SPIRIT SAGA

By Dick Jerardi

When it was announced on Friday, Dec. 3 by Bob Baffert’s attorney Craig Robertson that Dr. George Maylin, the director of the New York Drug Testing and Research Program, had determined that the anti-inflammatory betamethasone present in Medina Spirit’s split urine sample from the Kentucky Derby came from the topical ointment OTOMAX and not an injection, there was a fleeting thought that this could actually have a feel better, if not, feel-good ending.

Then, right after a workout at Santa Anita on Monday, Dec. 6, Medina Spirit, who finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, collapsed on the track and died.

All of which led to wild internet speculation, due process, and the facts be damned. Everybody thinks they know, but the reality is nobody really knows much of anything.

What hit me the most was we would never get to see Medina Spirit run again. Purchased for just $35,000 as a 2-year-old, Medina Spirit started 10 times, with five wins, four seconds, a third, and earnings of $3,545,200. This was one tough, consistent, overachieving racehorse.

In addition to the Derby, Medina won the Robert Lewis, Shared Belief and Awesome Again. The horse was second in the Sham, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Classic. His “worst’’ finish was a third in the Preakness.

Each of Medina Spirit’s four-stakes wins came when he was loose on the lead and controlled the pace. There was nothing at all atypical about his Derby win in relation to his other wins.

The betamethasone, which was originally detected in a post-race sample and made public by Medina Spirit’s trainer Bob Baffert a week after the Derby, did not make Medina Spirit run faster. But, because Baffert had had a series of recent positive drug tests (all for therapeutic medications that are legal to use in training, but not on race day), it made the positive test “look’’ really bad. That, of course, is on Baffert and his team since it is right on the OTOMAX label that betamethasone is one of the ingredients. How that absurd mistake could have been made has never been explained.

The Kentucky Racing Commission has neither announced a positive test for Medina Spirit nor scheduled a hearing on the matter. If there is ever actually a proceeding and Maylin’s findings are accepted, my guess is Medina Spirit still will be disqualified from the Derby because of the presence of the betamethasone. Not sure how they can get around that regardless of how the drug got there. The arguments, however, will be fascinating. Robertson, for instance, is already saying that because it did not come from an injection, it did not break the rules and there should be no DQ. The commission may not see it that way.

At the very least, again if Maylin’s findings are accepted, Baffert may be able to regain some of his lost reputations from those who are willing to accept that it was a mistake and not intentional. Many will not be able to go there and I get that. Just too much smoke for there not to be a fire is an understandable reaction.  The results of a necropsy hopefully will be the definitive word on how Medina Spirit died. Sadly, that will not change the fact that a really cool horse, who was being readied for a 4-year-old campaign that was to include a run at the $20 million Saudi Cup, has run his last race. And, regardless of all the conspiracy theories surrounding the horse, his trainer, and what may have contributed to the death, that awful ending to the horse’s career and life is one fact not in dispute.

SCOTT LAKE WINS CLAIMING CROWN RACE, WITTY WINS PA NURSERY FOR A PA RACING FAMILY

 By Dick Jerardi

Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Tuesday at Parx Racing: it was quite a few days for a Parx Hall of Fame trainer and a Pennsylvania racing Hall of Fame family.

Scott Lake has no idea how many horses he has claimed in his career. Has to be in the thousands. He does know Sweet Willemina has to be right near the top of his list.

“When you run a horse eight times and win seven, she’s got to be on your favorite list,’’ Lake said.

When he reached in to claim the 4-year-old filly for $32,000 on June 17 at Churchill Downs, he said to himself: “we’re overpaying by about $7,000 and we’re coming to Parx and you’re going to win me a two life starter for ($16,000), three life starter for ($16,000), have a shot at the four life starter for ($25,000) and maybe an a other than at Penn, Delaware, maybe if you catch a soft spot at Parx.’’

Well, Sweet Willemina blew right through all those conditions and Lake perfectly recited what she has done since coming to Parx after the claim which “was way more than we ever dreamed.’’

She won three races at Parx and one at Delaware Park. She won the $100,000 Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup at Parx and then “got beat on an overconfident ride’’ before winning the Dec. 4 Glass Slipper on Claiming Crown Day at Gulfstream Park with a perfect ride from Silvestre Gonzalez.

Sweet Willemina really looked like she was in trouble on the far turn at Gulfstream. Lake thought it was a good thing because of what he saw on replays before he claimed her.

“One thing I loved about her, she got into trouble in like five out of seven races and then she kept coming at them again like she thrived on it,’’ Lake said.

At the quarter pole in the Glass Slipper when Sweet Willemina was kind of stuck in traffic, Lake’s finance said “oh, no’’ and Lake said “oh yeah.’’

Sweet Willemina got away from the traffic, split horses late and got there just in time to win by a head.  The filly has won slightly more than $200,000 since the claim for Lake’s Home Team Stable and Rich Ciavardone.

“(This win) ranks pretty high,’’ said Lake about win No. 6,225 in his amazing career. “I haven’t run in the Claiming Crown since it left Canterbury Park. The purses were so good everywhere else there was no reason to ship that far. To go back to the Claiming Crown with one horse that ended up jumping up and winning it, having all the people we had there…It was pretty special.’’

Lake gives Ciavardone major credit for the stakes win at Parx and the Claiming Crown. He said he: “would not have won the stakes because he would not have nominated her and I wouldn’t have taken her to the Claiming Crown because the $12,500 starter went here a couple of days before we were leaving. I would have ran her here.’’

The Claiming Crown is special for Lake because he is a claiming trainer.

“You’re honoring the horses that are the backbone of the sport, ’’ Lake said. “Seventy percent of the races that are run are claiming races. The Claiming Crown gives those owners an opportunity on a big day to see what it feels like.’’

Tuesday afternoon at Parx, the $200,000 Pa. Nursery, the race that Smarty Jones won in 2003, produced a dazzling winner named Witty for owner/breeder Lizzie Merryman, her son, trainer McLane Hendriks and jockey Carol Cedeno. It was the biggest purse Merryman has ever won and the first win for her son as a trainer.

Merryman laughed when she said she “bred them both,’’ horse and trainer.

The horse and trainer will be winning some more together, those Pa. Bred stakes in 2022 looking very appetizing for a soon-to-be 3-year-old.

“It’s so fun when you raise them from Day One and they just turn out like that,’’ said Merryman, whose farm has a Coatesville address. “It’s such a dream come true. It’s amazing.’’

That her son has taken over the training for her made it even more special.

“What a way to break your maiden,’’ Merryman said. “He’s doing such a great job. He so deserves this. He lives and breathes this horse every minute. I’m so proud of him and the horse.’’

Witty is a half brother to Caravel, the turf sprint specialist that Merryman trained and owned until she sold a piece to Bobby Flay this summer.

“It’s a very special win because obviously, my mom raised him as a foal,’’ Hendriks said. “Just a family connection and delighted to see how impressive a horse he was from the day we put tack on him. Everything he does just keeps impressing us.’’  Witty sat in mid-pack behind some very fast horses, but when Cedeno asked the horse to move up on the turn of the 7-furlong race, he got to the top quickly and ran away from the field in the stretch, winning by 5 1/2 lengths. It may not have been Smarty by 15 lengths, but it was quite impressive visually as if there is much more where that came from. 

BUTCH REID FINISHING OFF CAREER YEAR

By Dick Jerardi

So what do you do for an encore after training the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old filly in 2020? Just have the best year of your career.

With just a month to go in 2021, Butch Reid needs a bit more than $100,000 in earnings to surpass 2011 when his stable earned $2,275,592.

“I’d be very disappointed if we don’t surpass that,’’ Reid said.

Reid thinks Morning Macha will be favored in a $500,000 New York Stallion race to be run at Aqueduct. Eloquist runs in the Remsen at Aqueduct.

Beren has been the stable star this year, but the 3-year-old Pennsylvania bred is far from the only stakes-caliber horse in the barn. The brilliantly fast 2-year-old filly Disco Ebo just won the $200,000 Shamrock Rose at Penn National. And she is just the latest in the barn from that same family. Reid has three other full sisters or brothers in training. And has trained eight of them altogether.

“She’s pretty good,’’ he said. “I’ve had this whole family.’’

 By Weigelia out of  Katarica Disco, Disco Ebo, who was purchased as a yearling for $52,000 by Chuck Zacney’s Cash is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, will be pointed for the Parx Futurity, one of the five newly announced $100,000 Parx stakes to be run Dec. 28 and 29. Reid thinks he will have horses in four and possibly five of the stakes. Disco Ebo’s full brothers and sisters include Smooth B, Fat Kat, and Disco Rose.

 “We’ve had a ton of them and they’ve all been moneymakers,’’ Reid said.

 Reid thinks he has had around 20 horses by Weigelia. He has 22 horses in his stable at the moment with plans to take five of them to Florida while the rest remain at Parx.

 What has made his 2021, with 174 starters, 45 wins 39 seconds and 22 thirds, more amazing is that he had done it all without what he was certain was going to be the stable star – 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Vequist. After racing just once this year, she was not able to overcome several issues and never made it back to the races. She was sold for $3.4 million at the “Night of the Stars’’ sale.

“Imagine if (Vequist) was still going,’’ Reid said. “I lost my best horse and her little sister Mainstay. They were like the superstars at the beginning of the year. And they’re both on the farm.’’

So why all this success?

“It’s all about having the right owners, Chuck and Glenn and Tom McGrath,’’ Reid said, “They got to the sales, they’re enthusiastic and they do the right thing by their horses. We give them time. Coincidentally, I’ve got a lot of fast horses this year. I’ve never won this many races with 2-year-olds in my career. I’m over a dozen, I think. Talented young horses is the key.’’

That and a great help in the barn.

“I’m lucky enough to have fantastic help this year,’’ Reid said. “They’re really done a great job. The barn is enthusiastic. It’s good when it’s going good. It just seems to build on itself.’’

Reid and wife Ginny have been in a great partnership at the barn for decades. That they are enjoying such success now is a fitting reward for all that work for all those years. And, with all those 2-year-olds running so well, 2022 will start with the potential of even more success.

YOUNG ANDY HERNANDEZ RIDING LIKE A VETERAN

By Dick Jerardi

Andy Hernandez rode his first race on April 1 at Gulfstream Park. He rode race No. 130 last Wednesday at Parx. Hernandez does not ride like an inexperienced jockey. He looks good on a horse, makes smart decisions and rides with confidence.

His 130 mounts have yielded 11 wins, 11 seconds, and 17 thirds. After three rides at Gulfstream Park, he headed north to Delaware Park where he rode his first winner on August 8. He began to ride at Parx in late September. Now, he is a regular, his 7-pound apprentice allowance and obvious skill getting him live mounts with better chances to win. He models how he rides after Mike Smith.

“He’s very intelligent in the races,’’ Hernandez said.

He had no family in racing, but when he came to Florida from Cuba, he lived not that far from Gulfstream. He had a friend who was a trainer. He took him to the track where he started off as a hot walker. Eventually, he graduated to galloping and then to ride in races.

He won that first race on his 20th try. The second came after 14 more losing mounts. He won another right after that and then went 36 races between wins, not atypical for a young rider trying to find a niche. Now, the wins are coming much more frequently.

“I love it,’’ Hernandez said. “The moment inside the gate, that’s a beautiful moment.’’

Like any good jockey, he has a pre-race strategy but is ready to call an audible.

“I have one plan before the race,’’ Hernandez said. “When they open the gate, the race does change. You need a good plan at the moment; get a good position in the race.’’

When he is not at the track, Hernandez likes to fish.

“I love it, same as my agent, ’’ Hernandez said.

His agent is Jim Boulmetis who knows what a good rider looks like and could not wait to get Hernandez to Parx.

It’s still early in his career, but the results so far are quite positive.

Hernandez rode some quarter horses in Cuba, but that’s much “different than here, that’s no saddle, no track, nothing.’’

Hernandez has been in the United States for a bit less than five years. He could not speak English when he first arrived. Just as in the saddle, he has been a quick study with English.

There have been some wonderful apprentice jockeys who have come through Parx over the years and gone on to great careers. Is Andy Hernandez next? Time will tell.