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.


BOB BAFFERT WINS RECORD SEVENTH KENTUCKY DERBY

By Dick Jerardi

When Bob Baffert came to Parx in September 2017, he was unfailingly polite and accommodating. He posed for photos and signed autographs for anybody who asked.

The biggest name in horse racing was there to run West Coast in the Pennsylvania Derby. The colt dominated the race, winning with ease. But it was the trainer who made the most lasting impression.

Baffert arrived at Parx that year as the winner of four Kentucky Derbies and one Triple Crown. Less than four years later, he is the winner of a record seven Kentucky Derbies and two Triple Crowns.

This time, Baffert won the Derby with a horse that cost $1,000 as a yearling and $35,000 as a 2-year-old. He did it with a horse that was essentially used as a first-turn blocker for his faster and more celebrated stablemate Life Is Good in the March 6 San Felipe Stakes, eventually finishing second by 8 lengths. A month later, after Life Is Good was sidelined with an ankle injury, that colt, Medina Spirit, was the odds-on favorite to win the Santa Anita Derby.  Only he got outrun for the lead by Rock Your World, could never catch up and lost ground in the stretch.

So Medina Spirit, the second string, showed up at Churchill Downs way under the radar. Baffert himself did not appear overly confident, just not sure if Medina Spirit was good enough.

Buffert and his team are so good as so much that is required to succeed at the top levels of the sport that it is often overlooked how good they are reading races and formulating the proper strategy.

And it was that strategy that was the key to 12-1 Medina Spirit’s Derby triumph. The colt’s best win came in the Robert Lewis Stakes when he took the lead immediately and, despite good horses running at him the whole way, refused to give up the lead, even when he looked beaten numerous times.

So the plan was for John Velazquez to put Medina Spirit on the lead, if he was fast enough to get there. Providentially, two other potential speed horses, Midnight Bourbon (missed the break) and Rock Your World (sandwiched at the break) were essentially eliminated at the start. Then, when Florent Geroux, just to the inside of Medina Spirit on Mandaloun, chose to ride passively into the first turn and cede to lead to Johnny V. and Medina Spirit, the race set up just as Baffert had hoped.

Medina Spirit was alone in front, going comfortably in fractions of :23.09, :46.70 and 1:11.21, not at all fast on a track surface that was quite quick. Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie and favored Essential Quality were each just a few lengths behind, all within striking distance.

Those four separated from the field by the quarter pole and all flew home in about 25 seconds for the final quarter-mile. But when they are all running fast, the horse in front always has the advantage. Medina Spirit just kept running through the wire, with Mandaloun a half-length back and Hot Rod Charlie another half-length behind.

It was a wonderful horse race with a familiar result for a trainer who can rightly be described as an American sports legend.

Earlier on the Churchill Downs card, the 4-year-old filly Gamine won the Derby City Distaff, giving Baffert a record 220 North American Grade I wins, one more than D. Wayne Lukas. The Derby made it 221.

So, it’s on to the May 15 Preakness at Pimlico in Baltimore where the first five of Baffert’s Derby winners won. Authentic, the 2020 Derby winner did everything but win the Preakness last year as the brilliant filly Swiss Skydiver held off the eventual Horse of the Year.

Baffert also won the Preakness with non-Derby winners Point Given and Lookin at Lucky. So that is seven Preakness winners to go along with the seven Derby winners. Point Given and Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify each won the Belmont Stakes for Baffert, giving him a record 17 Triple Crown race wins, a record that is likely only to be surpassed by one man – Bob Baffert.

THE PARX CONNECTIONS

When Brooklyn Strong left Barn 9 at Parx the Monday evening before the Derby, the colt was, in every way, a last-minute addition to the Derby field. Trainer Danny Velazquez would certainly have preferred a chance to make a detailed plan, but the opportunity to run came up at the last minute. So there was no time for a real plan as the colt headed out on his 12-hour van ride to Louisville.

Whatever small chance 43-1 Brooklyn Strong had to be a Derby factor was gone when the colt hesitated at the start. Never in contention, the Brooklyn Strong checked in 15th, beaten by 18 1/4 lengths.

Parx Hall of Famer Kendrick Carmouche got his first Derby ride on Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic. It did not help that the colt drew the 20 post, 19 after King Fury scratched. Bourbonic, who went off at 30-1, has no speed and from that post, Carmouche had little choice but to head for the rail and the back of the pack where all that flying dirt must have felt like he was riding through a desert. Second to last early, Bourbonic passed a few late to finish 13th, beaten by 16 lengths.

KENDRICK CARMOUCHE GOES FOR THE ROSES

By Dick Jerardi

He has been riding for two decades now. Has won more than 3,400 races. Got his first Grade I win last year.

Saturday, Kendrick Carmouche, unquestionably one of the best jockeys in the near 50-year history of Parx Racing, will ride in his first Kentucky Derby.

His earliest Derby memory is watching the race with his family, “just us sitting around, betting the race between the family. I never won. I didn’t know what I was doing then.’’

He knows what he is doing now.

That was Carmouche coming from last to win the Wood Memorial on 72-1 shot Bourbonic for trainer Todd Pletcher and Calumet Farm.

“There was one person that thought that horse was going to win,’’ Pletcher said. “Kendrick.’’

The jockey has an incredible talent to go along with a great attitude and self-confidence. He just believes he will find a way.

Put him on a live horse and he will give the horse every chance.

Carmouche has ridden at Churchill Downs “four or five times,’; but this will be different, very different.

Carmouche will ride Gazelle Stakes runner-up Maracuja in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks for trainer Rob Atras. He is on Parx-based Three Two Zone for trainer Marya Montoya in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard.

“The only time I really think about the Derby is when I’m going to sleep,’’ Carmouche said. “I think about it a lot when I go to sleep.. Whenever I’m riding, I’m locked in. When that day comes, I’ve got to be ready for that day. But for right now, I’ve got to be grinding it out. Having a clear mind about everything.’’

He is, he said, “more of a Bob Marley, just chill, think about one thing. If the other thing pops up later, we think about that one. You don’t overthink situations.’’

When Carmouche left Parx for New York in 2015, it was for moments like this. He just wanted to give himself a chance to get into the barns that have the horses that run in the major stakes races around the country.

“Man, I’m hungry,’’ Kendrick Carmouche said. “I see the tide is turning.’’

Bourbonic won’t be 72-1 in the Derby, but he will be very long odds again. Carmouche, however, does not read the tote board. He reads the race and cautions not to assume his horse will be so far back this time.

“Just because that was my strategy last time does not mean it will be my strategy this time,’’ he said.

Some jockey is going to win this race.When it was suggested, why not you, Carmouche readily concurred.

“That’s the way I’m thinking,’’ he said. “I ain’t thinking no other way. I’m going to get them roses. I’m going to get the pink ones before too. Don’t count my filly out.’’

And that right there is the essential Kendrick Carmouche. He is a believer.

NEW ANNOUNCER CHRIS GRIFFIN ARRIVES AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

He has called horse races at 10 tracks around the United States. He has traveled the world as the announcer for the Globetrotters. On April 12, Chris Griffin called his first race at Parx.

Keith Jones retired in December after 34 years as the track’s announcer. After a search, Griffin, a native of Santa Monica, Calif and most recently the announcer at Sam Houston Race Park, was chosen to be the track’s voice.

“You don’t replace Keith Jones, but you try to emulate him, his professionalism, the way he went about things,’’ Griffin said. “I’m excited about it. It’s a great opportunity.’’

An earned opportunity.

“My story starts, my dad used to take me to the track,’’ Griffin said. “I’m a west coast guy so I grew up at Santa Anita and Pomona (Fairplex). Some of my early memories as a kid, just picking colors and horses…

The journey for me has been really interesting. I actually thought I was going to run restaurants for a long time…I got out of that business.’’

And he got into drag racing and then, for six years, became the announcer for the Harlem Globetrotters.

“I always loved horse racing, very passionate, loved watching it, always kept track of it,’’ Griffin said. “You would find the one or two guys who were in your age range at that time that really like horse racing and we’d just cruise up to Hollywood Park on Friday nights and the whole deal.’’

Griffin met up with now Santa Anita announcer Frank Mirahmadi one meet at Los Alamitos, ended up in the booth and asked Mirahmadi: “what does it take to do this?’’

Mirahmadi said: “I’ll get you a job.’’

So he did.

Larry Swartzlander, the executive director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, called and, despite never having heard Griffin call a race, hired him to be the announcer at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, Calif. because Mirahmadi said he could do it.

So he did it.

“Frank says you can do it so let’s give you a shot for 7 days,’’ Swartzlander told him.       

 Griffin remembers that first call vividly

“I shaking, I was nervous,’’ Griffin said., “I was thinking `okay thoroughbreds, the backstretch, they’re going to go into the turn’ and my first race was a 220-yard mule race during the fair circuit with a 1-9 shot on the rail that broke last that I was prepared to call the winner the entire way.’’

If you can survive that, you have a chance.

Griffin’s race track journey has taken him to call races at Portland Meadows. Los Alamitos, Gulfstream Park West and Monmouth Park among other tracks. He was the regular announcer and marketing manager at Sam Houston from the fall of 2018 until its meet that just ended.

His life journey included all those trips around the country and the world with the Trotters. It was seven months on the road (six and sometimes seven days a week, with doubleheaders on many weekends), five months of PR appearances. They were sponsored by Greyhound so Griffin saw the country by bus.  He also thinks he visited 23 countries.

“To see the world and not have to pay for it, it’s a fantastic thing,’’ Griffin said.

So why Parx?

“I think it was the region for me,’’ Griffin said. “I think it was the appeal for some great quality racing. For me, it was time to make a move. I really appreciated my time in Houston and in that region and was proud of what we built there.

“But I know that the east coast, this is a market that I wanted to be in. I wanted to be at Parx Racing because there are big races, just the feel of you’re stepping up to a bigger moment for me. When I’m doing that, that’s where I want to be career-wise. I think we always want to strive to reach the top of the game. That’s why I’m here.’’

TEN STRAIGHT FOR NESS AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

It began on the last Tuesday of March and ended on the first Tuesday of April. As it took a week, Jamie Ness did not realize it was happening until it was almost over.

Since Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx opened in 1974, an estimated 100,000 races have been run. There is no record of this exactly, but it is safe to say until Ness did it over four racing days, no trainer had ever won 10 straight races at the track.

“I had five in on Monday,’’ Ness said. “One of my buddies called me from California. He was betting Parx, said `you like anything today.’ I said `Troy, you know what, everything’s got to go right, but I think I’m dead on in all five races today.’ I’ve been there before and been 0-for-5.’’

Ness went 5-for-5. He had won with his only starter the previous Tuesday and then went 2-for-2 on Wednesday. After five days off, he won those five. And the next day, he went 2-for-2 until the streak finally ended when Love In Her Eyes ran into 1-5 Dr. B (named for First Lady Jill Biden) in Race 9 last Tuesday.

The trainer did not know about the streak until somebody said: “man, are you going to lose a race?’’

When somebody wondered how many he had won in a row, they had to look it up and Ness said: “Holy Bleep.’’

“You’ve got to have a little luck,’’ Ness said. “I win two races by a last bob.’’

Factor This In was the fourth of the five winners on Monday. When speedy Petulant Delight missed the break, Factor This In was left alone on the lead. The horse went all the way, holding on to win by a head at 11-1.That was the biggest price among the 10 as the others were so well spotted, they were: 8-5, 3-2, 2-1, 2-5, 2-1, 1-2, 4-5, 3-5 and 3-5. Ruben Silvera, the leading jockey at Parx with 49 winners in 2021, rode seven of the 10 winners.

The horses won at 6 furlongs, 7 furlongs (three times), a mile (twice), a mile and 70 yards (twice), a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and a half. The horses earned $135,000. Four were claimed for another $41,000.

And Ness wasn’t just winning at Parx. He went 4-for-4 over two days at Laurel last week and won two more at Penn National.

One horse ran second at Laurel and got put up. Another is “a stake horse in the mud, 25 claimer on the dirt. I’ll be damned if it didn’t pour raining. He win easy.’’

 It was just one of those rolls that you hope never end.

“A lot of times, everything can go wrong,’’ Ness said. “This time, everything went right.’’

Ness has won 3,255 races and his horses have earned $56 million. Today, he has 52 horses at Parx, 21 at Laurel, 22 at Delaware, some layoff horses and 2-year-olds at a Delaware training center. 

“Never have we been on a streak like we’ve been on right now,’’ he said.

“I’ve got pretty good horses right now, the best stable that I’ve ever had. It’s like the old saying goes: `I’ve got a good feed program. I feed good horses.’’’

Ness is putting the miles on his car. When gas went up, Ness figured he had to win another race a week. He is doing that and then some.

After easily winning the 2020 trainers’ title at Parx with 109 winners, Ness already has 39 Parx wins in 2021, 22 clear of second-place Scott Lake.  Ness has those Parx milestones and now he has a record that should stand the test of time.

KENDRICK CARMOUCHE IN FIRST DERBY

By Dick Jerardi

When 2021 began, there were serious hopes that a Parx-based horse would make the Kentucky Derby.

Well, there won’t be a horse, but there will be a jockey (albeit a graduate), one of the very best in the nearly 50-year history of the track.

Kendrick Carmouche rode 72-1 shot Bourbonic in the Wood Memorial for Calumet Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher. The horse was so far behind during much of the race that it was hard to see him watching the video.

But there the colt was, passing horses one by one, until finally only stablemate Dynamic One was in front of him. In the final strides, Bourbonic got by Dynamic One, winning by a head.

 And Carmouche, a member of the Parx Hall of Fame, had his first Derby mount.

“I’m thrilled for Calumet Farm. I won my first Grade 1 with True Timber in the Cigar Mile for them and now I won the Wood for them,” Carmouche said. “These past six months of my career have just been what you dream of.’’

There were three Parx-based horses intended for the Wood. Jerome Stakes winner Capo Kane was not entered after an ankle issue that will keep him sidelined for a few months. Remsen Stakes winner Brooklyn Strong, who missed serious training time this winter due first to an illness and then to weather-related track closures, was admittedly rushed by trainer Danny Velazuez to make the race. Market Maven, who had won two straight at Parx for trainer Penny Pearce, was also entered in the Wood.

Market Maven, under Parx jockey Dexter Haddock, set the pace at 70-1 before fading in the stretch to finish eighth. Brooklyn Strong, sent off at 7-1, was making his first start in four months. The gelding was kind of stuck inside most of the way, never really comfortable. Still, Brooklyn Strong ran respectably, considering the circumstances with just 5 weeks of serious training, finishing fifth, beaten by 5 lengths. Could be better days ahead.

Carmouche was originally supposed to ride Nicky the Vest in the Wood. When that colt was not entered due to an injury, Carmouche got the mount on Bourbonic, a colt Pletcher had not planned on running. But Brad Kelly, owner of Calumet Farm, wanted his colt in a Derby points race, just in case.

 So that is how Bourbonic ended up in the Wood Memorial winner’s circle with more than enough points for a spot in the Derby starting gate.

“Todd asked me what I was going to do and I told him I wouldn’t move,” Carmouche said. “I was just going to sit, sit, sit, sit and hopefully get out the last quarter of a mile. I knew he would go on from there. My horse was in a good stride. Each pole I was picking them up one by one without even asking.”

Bourbonic did not run very fast, getting the mile and an eighth in 1:54.49 which computes to an 89 Beyer figure. So the colt will be a huge longshot in the Derby. But, as Carmouche knows better than anybody, you can’t win it if you are not in it.

You can’t make it up. Now, Parx’s favorite son will be riding in his first Kentucky Derby on May 1.

MISCHEVIOUS ALEX WINS GRADE I CARTER

Mischievous Alex, owned by Parx regulars Chuck Zacney and Glenn Bennett, continued his perfect 4-year-old season with a blowout win in the Carter Handicap while getting a career-best 109 Beyer figure.

The colt, a son of Into Mischief, the hottest sire around, broke his maiden at Parx on June 25, 2019. He won the Swale and Gotham last year for trainer John Servis.

Now trained in Florida by Saffie Joseph, Mischievious Alex likely will be pointed for the Grade I Metropolitan Mile on Belmont Stakes Day. There is a reasonable chance he could meet up that day with Charlatan, most recently second in the $20 million Saudi Cup.

CURRENT REALITY AT PARX RACING

By Dick Jerardi

In my 33 years covering horse racing at the “Philadelphia Daily News,’’ I was never shy about criticism when criticism was necessary. When I set out to right a perceived wrong, I made certain to research a subject so my viewpoint could be supported by facts.

Does horse racing have significant issues on a national and local scale? Absolutely.

Have too many in positions of power in the game been too comfortable for too long? No doubt.

So, as there were when I started writing about the sport, unresolved issues remain. But there has been progress in making racing safer for the horses and caring for those horses as their racing careers come to an end. Any objective look at where the sport was a decade ago and where it is now would uncover that fact.

Embarrassingly, however, the “Inquirer’s’’ recent story on racing at Parx specifically and Pennsylvania in general got too many basic facts wrong. When you can’t get facts right, your credibility becomes the issue.

The story conflated statistics, which was either sloppy reporting or deliberately misleading. A chart that accompanied the article told a story very different than the one the author was trying to make. The chart showed the progress in horse safety that has been made in recent years while the author, focusing on just one outlier year (2019), was arguing the opposite.

It is a sad fact that some horses suffer catastrophic injuries during races. I was at Belmont Park in 1990 when Go For Wand broke down yards from the finish line at the Breeders’ Cup. I was there at Pimlico in 2006 when Barbaro’s right hind ankle shattered just yards into the Preakness. I have been there on regular race days when a horse breaks down. It is always heartbreaking, more so for the people that care for the animals that anyone else. In a perfect world, the number of breakdowns would be zero. It is not a perfect world, but the object is to get as close to zero as possible.

For some unknown reason, there were more racing deaths at Parx in 2019 than the four years that preceded it, but still significantly down from 2013 and 2014.

“The horsemen, the racing commission, the vets, we all started to take steps,’’ said Sal DeBunda, the president of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “That’s all been outlined by the commission, all the different things we did.’’

DeBunda told the author how the industry responded should be part of the story, that “we’re heading back toward zero.’’ Nothing DeBunda told the writer about the steps taken appeared in the article.

In fact, the writer conflated the 2019 numbers and essentially ignored a dramatic decrease in racing-related deaths in 2020. In 2019, horses made 12,312 starts at Parx, with 32 racing-related deaths. There were also six deaths during training and 22 at the barns from diseases such as colic which can happen to horses whether they are in training or not.

The writer took all 60 deaths and concluded there were 4.9 deaths per 1,000 starts. The actual number was 2.6 deaths per 1,000 starts, not acceptable, but nearly 50 percent lower than the writer erroneously stated.

In 2020, there were just 8,284 starts at Parx as the track was closed for three months due to the pandemic. There were nine racing-related deaths at Parx or just 1.1 per 1,000 starts.  Those numbers were not included in the article.

The “Inquirer’’ story would suggest that almost every horse in training is on some illegal drug and thus susceptible to breakdowns. The suggestion is not supported by anything other than a few anecdotes and generalities.

The article quotes Lee Midkiff who “owned Animal Kingdom when the stallion won the 2011 Kentucky Derby,’’ saying he was so disgusted with the drug use he left the sport.

Animal Kingdom was actually owned by Team Valor, a syndicate run by Barry Irwin. According to Animal Kingdom’s trainer Graham Motion, Midkiff was one of many members of the syndicate that owned Animal Kingdom, but saying he was the owner “would be a stretch.’’

Yes, there are cheaters, but the vast majority of owners and trainers want the cheaters out so as to level the playing field. There are veterinary exams before races, at the gate, and post-race drug tests. Anybody that cheats should be banned.

Could the testing be better and more uniform from state to state? Yes. Will the new federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, signed into law in December, make it better when the United States Anti-Doping Agency takes over testing on a national basis? Hopefully.

For some unknown reason, the “Inquirer’’ article linked indicted for alleged illegal drug use trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro with Pennsylvania racing, saying those two trainers “have raced hundreds of horses at Parx and Penn National.’’

In fact, Servis raced mainly in Florida, New Jersey, and New York. Navarro raced mostly in New Jersey and Florida

In 2020, before he was indicted and ruled off every track in America, Servis started 92 horses. One was at Parx and none at Penn National. In 2019, Servis started 519 horses – 18 at Parx, 3 at Penn National.

In 2020, before his indictment, Navarro had 134 starts, with none in Pennsylvania. In 2019, Navarro started 769 horses – 57 at Parx, 51 at Penn.

The article discusses XY Jet, a horse trained and allegedly given illegal drugs by Navarro. The horse won more than $3 million in 26 career races. None of those races were in Pennsylvania. Marcos Zulueta, a trainer who was based at Parx and was allegedly working with Navarro, was immediately tossed out of the track after the indictments were made public.

 The story mentions the Servis-trained Maximum Security won the first “Saudi Cup in Dubai.’’ Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Saudi Cup to be run where it was actually run – Saudi Arabia?

The writer says as he has in previous stories about horse racing, that attendance is way down at Pennsylvania tracks. The reality is nobody knows the attendance because there is no admission. The other reality is that 90 percent of the money bet on horse racing is bet away from the track and it has been that way for years so “attendance’’ is essentially irrelevant.

DeBunda said he explained to the writer he “believes horses racing are as safe as the horses who are not racing because they are treated like athletes, their temperature is taken, their joints are touched, they’re exercised. If they have a problem, there is a vet called in right away to give them the proper treatment or medication. They are looked at in the morning by a vet to see if they are fit to run in the race. A jockey can scratch a horse at any time. A vet can scratch a horse, even at the gate…If they are out in the field somewhere, they can run into a fence, get hit by lighting, they can run into each other.’’

DeBunda was quoted in the article, but without any of the reasons cited above.

DeBunda also told the writer about Parx’s “Turning for Home’’ program, the now almost 13-year-old horse rescue program that has become the model for the industry.

Horses at the track are regularly examined by TFH’s team of vets. Once an owner or trainer decides a horse is no longer competitive or might be in danger of developing an injury, that horse is retired from racing and Turning for Home’s team then finds a forever home for the horse where he can live out his years on a farm, often with a new career as a fox hunter or dressage horse, something less stressful than racing.

More than 3,200 horses have been retired through the Turning for Home program. The program is largely funded by a $30 per start fee from the owners. If an owner or trainer is caught trying to sell an infirm horse outside the track rather than giving the animal to Turning for Home, they are banned from the track.

There was no mention of Turning for Home in the article. 

LIFE IS GOOD OUT OF DERBY

By Dick Jerardi

There were just six weeks until the Kentucky Derby when unbeaten Life is Good finished off a tour de force workout last Saturday at Santa Anita Park. When the brilliant colt left the track, he was one more prep race (the Santa Anita Derby) and a few more works away from heading to Kentucky as the obvious Derby favorite.    

And then, back at the barn, it became obvious to trainer Bob Baffert and his team that something was off. The colt took some funny steps. Tests were done and it was determined that there was a small chip in his left hind ankle. Surgery will be performed. It is nothing Life is Good can’t come back from, but the timing could not have been worse.

The colt will need 60 days to recover, so, by the time Life is Good is ready to start training again, the Triple Crown will be nearly over. Add the brilliant colt’s name to that what-if list for horses that could have won the Derby if they had gotten the chance.

The 2021 Derby is now, of course, much more wide open, with the Baffert-trained Concert Tour and the Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality at the head of the class as they get ready for their final prep races.

Baffert said Life is Good will be back later in the year and even promised he could be at his best for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar. We can only hope.

ANOTHER MIGUEL PENALOZA SUCCESS STORY

Miguel Penaloza took over the training of Exogen a few months ago. The 3-year-old filly came up from Florida to Parx. The trainer thought so much of her that he entered her in the $100,000 Cicada Stakes last Saturday at Aqueduct. She was completely overlooked in the field of four, sent off at 22-1. If the race had been 6 furlongs and a few jumps, the filly would have won it.

Exogen closed relentlessly up the rail, passing 4-5 favorite Save and nearly catching 3-1 Just Read It. She lost by ahead.

Penaloza only has 12 horses in his Parx barn, but add stakes-placed Exogen to multiple stakes winner Share the Ride and the trainer has much to look forward to in 2021.

THE PARK STANDINGS

As we approach the end of March, a quarter of the way through the year, some familiar names are atop the Parx trainer and jockey standings.

Jamie Ness, a runaway winner of the trainer’s race in 2020, leads with 23 winners. Scott Lake is second with 14 while Joe Taylor, the 2019 winner, and Lou Linder each have 13. Ness has started 125 horses and a cool 75 of them have finished in the top 3.

Ruben Silvera leads the jockey standings with 32 winners, followed by Frankie Pennington with 26 and last year’s winner Mychel Sanchez has 21.

KENDRICK CARMOUCHE FLYING HIGH IN NEW YORK

Kendrick Carmouche, the Parx Hall of Famer who won 200 or more races each year from 2007-2012, won his first New York jockeys’ title at the shortfall Aqueduct meeting last year. He is a week away from taking his second straight title. Carmouche has been in front virtually all the way at the Aqueduct winter meet that began Dec. 10 and ends March 28. He has 72 winners, seven clear of Eric Cancel.

THE BAFFERT FACTOR

Dick Jerardi

Basketball has LeBron James. Football has Tom Brady. Horse racing has Bob Baffert

The legendary trainer is loaded again with a major talent for the May 1 Kentucky Derby, a race he has already won a record-tying six times. Nobody is going to be surprised if he holds the record alone, with seven, by sundown on the first Saturday of May.

 Life is Good is unbeaten in three starts. Concert Tour is unbeaten in three starts. Life is Good likely will make his final pre-Derby start in the Santa Anita Derby while Concert Tour may go to the Arkansas Derby. If each wins impressively, Baffert will bring as strong a hand to Kentucky as he did in 2015 when he finished first and third in the Derby with American Pharoah and Dortmund.

Baffert was not hard to read that 2015 Derby Week. He never tipped his hand about which horse he liked best, given that they had different owners, but he made it very clear he thought he was going to win it. He did, of course, and American Pharoah kept right on winning until the colt had won the first Triple Crown in 37 years. Later, Baffert admitted he knew all along which horse was better. He just let the horse show it.

Concert Tour is a very nice horse who just gave Baffert his eighth Rebel Stakes win since 2010. Life is Good has superstar potential. The colt does not run; he glides. Another American Pharoah? Another Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner? Time will tell.

Baffert obviously has access to horses with great pedigrees, but he also has a program that is designed with the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in mind. Watch the horses develop race to race, workout to workout so they peak at exactly the right moment. Everything is by design. The results are no accident.

The results now include those two Triple Crowns, the six Derbies, the seven Preakness, and the three Belmont Stakes, a record 16 Triple Crown race wins in all. He even proved last year that he could win the Derby in September with the third string. That was Authentic in the spring behind Nadal and Charlatan. But when those two got injured, Baffert brought Authentic off the bench to win the Derby, nearly win an eighth Preakness and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Not bad for a backup.

In all, Baffert has trained more than 3,100 winners. His horses have earned $316 million. He has won the Eclipse Award as leading trainer four times (1997, 1998, 1999, 2015) and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

But it is his Triple Crown race mastery that sets him apart. D. Wayne Lukas showed him the way and then Baffert even improved on the standard Lukas set.

Baffert won his first Derby in 1997, the year after he lost it by a nose with Cavonnier. Then, he won it again in 1998 with Real Quiet and War Emblem in 2002. It was 13 years between War Emblem and American Pharoah, but an older, wiser Baffert began another roll in 2015, winning it again in 2018 with Justify and in 2020 with Authentic. So the man won the Derby three times in six years – twice.

And there is also this. His horses have finished second in eight other Triple Crown races. And, with a bit more racing luck in the years he won two of three, Baffert could actually have won four more Triple Crowns.           Think about all that when the horses are in the post parade for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. You may be considering betting on a horse or horses not trained by Baffert. You might want to reconsider.

BIG RACE WEEKEND

By Dick Jerardi

Parx-based horses were in three major stakes races last Saturday in New York. None won, but several gave good accounts of themselves. And there was a Parx legend in one of those races who demonstrated exactly how to ride a speed horse.

There were also three significant Kentucky Derby preps, with one transcendent performance delivered by a colt trained by Mr. Derby himself, Bob Baffert, a man who could very well have a record seventh Derby win by sundown on May 1.

The Danny Velazquez owned and trained Laobanonaprayer tried open company in the Busher Invitational at Aqueduct after two dominating New York bred stakes wins last fall. The 3-year-old filly was kind of stuck behind horses much of the trip in the Busher and ran on respectably to finish fourth when finally clear. After missing some training time at Parx, she figures to do much better in her next start whether in open company or back with NY breds.

Share the Ride, trained by Miguel Penaloza, has been an amazing success story since being claimed last July for $16,000. The 6-year-old has won two graded stakes and placed in two more. Coming back in just two weeks in The Tom Fool Handicap, Share the Ride ran his first poor race on dirt for owner Ramirez Silvino, finishing last of six. It was Parx alum Kendrick Carmouche, atop the jockey standings at Aqueduct, who ended up in the winner’s circle.

There were two-speed horses in the race, Chateau and Happy Farm. After 50 yards, there was only one-speed horse as Carmouche got Chateau to fly out of the gate, leaving Happy Farm and the others in his wake, loose on the lead and long gone, a classic demonstration of how to take advantage of a horse’s natural speed.

Lake Avenue was a runaway winner of The Heavenly Prize Invitational, but Portal Creek, trained by Carlos Guererro, set a strong pace before finishing second. The Michael Moore-trained Flashndynamite was a solid third. Those two mares have combined to win 20 races and more than $500,000

Jerome winner Capo Kane was swimming in deep water for trainer Harry Wyner when he was sent off at 11-1 in The Gotham. Chad Brown had the favorite, Baffert the second choice.

Capo Kane was never really a factor, checking in sixth.

That result almost certainly takes him off the Derby trail, but there are still nice 3-year-old races out there for the colt to win.

Weyburn, a 46-1 shot, won a stretch-long duel with 5-1 Crowded Trade to win the Gotham and get a solid 95 Beyer Speed Figure.

The Tampa Bay Derby was won by unbeaten 15-1 shot Helium in his first try on dirt after two wins on the Tapeta at Woodbine last fall. His 84 Beyer Speed Figure strongly suggests this colt by grass star Irononicus is no threat to win the Derby.

The performance of the day and the year so far came in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

Life Is Good was 1-5 in his Del Mar debut last November. The colt won by 9 ½ lengths. The son of Into Mischief was 1-5 again when he won Sham Stakes on Jan. 2. The margin was just three-quarters of a length, but that was an illusion as jockey Mike Smith stopped riding the colt in the final few hundred yards.

There was nothing illusional about Life Is Good in the San Felipe. Sent off at 1-2 against a field that included a graded stakes winner, two graded stakes-placed horses, and an impressive winner of a very fast maiden race, Life Is Good stamped himself as the Derby favorite in a race he dominated from start to finish.

Life Is Good and stablemate Medina Spirit was separated by just three-quarters of a length in the Sham. In the San Felipe, Medina Spirit was again second, but this time, the margin was 8 lengths as Life Is Good was simply brilliant.

How brilliant? Life Is Good got a 107 Beyer Figure, a number that routinely wins the Derby. So, yes, Baffert has another major star. How good is to be determined but Life Is Good has already produced a Beyer series of 91, 101, 107 so who knows just how good this colt might be.

THE FLORIDA MYSTERY

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.