By Dick Jerardi
They were held in the Parx paddock on a dreary race day in mid-October instead of at nearby Celebrations in mid-March. In 2020, however, we have learned to be thankful for anything that resembles normal.
So the 2019 Parx Horsemen’s Awards served to honor the best horses and people at the track and reminded us just how well so many performed last year.
Spun to Run was brilliant from January through December, running in four states from ocean to ocean. Four of his five wins came at Parx and the one out-of-town win will be remembered as long as they run horses at the track.
The colt really announced himself as one of “those’’ horses when he crushed some of the best older horses at Parx in the M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile. Yes, he won the Smarty Jones Stakes and finished third behind Maximum Security in the Haskell, but it was the day in October when the possibilities increased dramatically.
Just three weeks later, Spun to Run was at Santa Anita and did to some of the fastest milers in the world exactly what he did to the best older horses at Parx _ crushed them in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. It was at that moment when 2019 Parx Horse of the Year no longer became a thought, but a conclusion.
“He was a dream horse to train,’’ Spun to Run’s trainer Carlos Guerrero said. “He knew who you were. You hug him, you kiss him, give him candy, he just knew who was involved with him.’’
Spun to Run’s owner Robert Donaldson rightly called the colt “a horse of a lifetime, To get one like him that just had the heart, was well bred, had the speed, just laid it out there for you every time.’’
Spun to Run not only earned $1,140,660 in 2019; the colt also earned the distinction of being the best 3-year-old at Parx since Smarty Jones 15 years before.
There was Horse of the Year. There were all the divisional winners. And there were jockeys, trainers and owners who won more than their peers at the track in 2019.
The top 2-year-old colt or gelding was Monday Morning QB, trained by Butch Reid and owned by Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing.
“We really appreciate the group showing us the appreciation,’’ Reid said. “He’s been a really good horse…He was relatively inexpensive down at the yearling sale, but from the beginning he was a sharp horse.’’
The top 2-year-old filly was the Club Risque/Gregory Quick-owned Pink Caddy who was dominant in her wins.
“She’s been a star ever since she walked into the barn,’’ trainer Randy Allen said. “She has tons of talent; she never wants to get beat. There’s not much to say other than watch her races.’’
Spun to Run was obviously also named champion 3-year–old colt or gelding.
Gotta Be Strong, from the powerful Jamie Ness barn, was voted 3-year-old filly champion. She ran 14 times in 2019 with five wins, five seconds and earnings of $280,090. She was also the Claim of the Year.
“I was approached by the owner Gap View Stables, `what about this horse?’’’ Ness said. “I said `I don’t know, $50,000 is a little out of our range.’ She checked all the boxes so we took a shot.’’
Indeed, they did.
“I guess the odds for the Claim of the Year were in our favor because we probably claimed the most horses,’’ Ness said. “But she was the claim of a lifetime for sure for us.’’
Someday Jones, son of the great Smarty Jones and trained, like Smarty, by John Servis, was the best older colt of geldling.
“It’s a great thrill to have a horse like that,’’ co-owner Charles Asensio said.
The horse has won more than $600,000 in his career.
“He’s 7-years-old and he’s still out there thinking he’s 3,’’ Asensio said.
The top older filly or mare was Wildcat Combat for trainer Miguel Penaloza. She won nearly $200,000 last year after recovering from an injury.
“It took several months for her to recuperate,’’ owner Lyno Maraspin said. “She earned it so she’s very dear to us.’’
Fix Me a Sandwich was the Claiming Horse of the Year and the Winningest Horse of the Year. All he did in 2019 for owner John Fanelli and trainer Joe Taylor is win seven times and earn $150,800.
“We’re blessed to be in a position to get some good horses with Joe Taylor,’’ Fanelli said. “The horse just shows up every time. The toughest thing with him is hoping to get the saddle on.’’
Jack Armstrong was leading owner with 43 wins and $1.1 million in purses.
“I didn’t start (2019) with very many horses,’’ Armstrong said. “Into the year, I started to add horses and it just ended up being a really good year. As they were running, I just kept adding more and more.’’
Joe Taylor won his first training title with 103 wins and $3.1 million in purses.
“It’s crazy,’’ Taylor said. “I would never have imagined this in my life, really. As I always say, it’s totally my staff. They all make me look good, my hotwalkers, my grooms and everybody…My son works with me every day now. My daughter’s here all the time. I can’t believe it. I get goosebumps.’’
Carlos Soto was the leading B trainer with 23 wins.
“It was a great year,’’ he said.
Wilfredo Garcia was leading apprentice jockey with 23 wins.
Frankie Pennington and Mychel Sanchez tied for leading jockey with 146 wins each. It was Pennington’s seventh title, the first for Sanchez.
“We always try so hard and (are) fortunate enough to ride for all the owners and trainers that we do,’’ Pennington said.
Sanchez is going to win the title outright in 2020, but 2019 was his breakthrough year.
“Hopefully, we can keep going, this year and next year, follow Frankie, good jockey, good person, I learn a lot from him,’’Sanchez said.