By Dick Jerardi
When the idea of a Parx Racing Hall of Fame was conceived back in 2011, it was days like Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 that were top of mind – a celebration of excellence among people and horses.
The 2022 HOF Classic included a trailblazing trainer with a 50-year career, a jockey who rode at the track for a quarter century, two men of rare distinction, and one of just five Parx-based horses to win an Eclipse Award as divisional champion.
Ceremonies honoring the five inductees preceded two excellent stakes races – the $100,000 M.P. Ballezzi Mile honoring the late PTHA executive director Mike Ballezzi and the $100,000 Jump Start for Pennsylvania bred and sired sprinters.
Suzanne Jenkins was the first female trainer licensed in Pennsylvania. When she began at Liberty Bell Park in 1971, it was not exactly receptive to women.
“It was difficult,’’ Jenkins said. “Women couldn’t go on the backside after 5 o’clock. We were at Liberty Bell and you had to be escorted back to go and check on your horses. And there were no dorms for women.’’
She described the HOF as an honor “because I love horses and the racing.’’
Her best horse was Batty who won four stakes including the 1987 Remsen at Aqueduct.
Roberto Rosado rode his first race at Park in 1996, his last in 2021.
He had 1,048 winners and his mounts earned more than $20 million. His oldest son, Johan, is now a jockey himself.
“It was a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice,’’ Rosado said of what led to his induction. “I rode here for 25 years and I’m very happy Parx put me in the Hall of Fame.’’
When asked for the best horse he rode, he did not hesitate.
“The one I loved was Cathryn Sophia (the 2016 Kentucky Oaks winner),’’ he said.
Bob Bork was the most significant executive in the early history of Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx Racing. As the track’s general manager, Bork was there for the first Pa. Derby in 1979, was behind “Phonebet’’ in the mid-1980s and was instrumental in getting a grass course built in 1985.
Bork, who was the general manager at Parx and Garden State Park at the same time, went on to GM positions at Arlington Park and Sam Houston Race Park. He passed away in June 2021. His son Dan, a prominent racing official in Kentucky, was at Parx to get his father’s HOF plaque.
“I’m really choked up about it,’’ Dan Bork said. “To have everybody out here, my family and friends…He grew up, this was his track. He spent a lot of time at a lot of race tracks, but this was home.’’
Longtime Pennsylvania State Senator “Tommy’’ Tomlinson is retiring, but his impact at Parx has been felt for decades and will continue to be felt decades into the future. Tomlinson, who represents the district where Parx is located, was critical in getting Act 71, the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, passed in 2004. The law became a model for other states by using a percentage of slots revenue to help fund purses as well as healthcare and pension benefits for horsemen.
“This race track has been a part of my community since I was a kid,’’ Tomlinson said. “It employs so many people and it’s such an important area for me. I actually started getting more interested in horse racing when I noticed my neighbors were horse trainers or owners.’’
My Juliet, Gallant Bob, Smarty Jones and Jaywalk were all Eclipse Awards winners based at Parx. In 2021, Vequist joined them when she was named 2-year-old filly champion of 2020. She won the Grade I Spinaway Stakes, finished second in the Grade I Frizette and then won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, the same race Jaywalk had won two years before.
“Watching the videos again, just getting flashbacks from the scene that was just amazing,’’ her trainer Butch Reid said.
Tom McGrath’s Swilcan Stable bred Vequist. After her first start, he was approached about selling her. Eventually, he became partners in the filly with Gary Barber and Adam Wachtel. Three races later, they won a Breeders’ Cup race.
“You always dream about things like that happening, especially when you’re not among the big players in the game,’’ McGrath said.
The Ballezzi Mile looked like a confrontation between two horses that had finished first in Pennsylvania Derby Day stakes. Ridin With Biden had won the Greenwood Cup while Far Mo Power had finished first in the Parx Dirt Mile before being disqualified to second. Turned out it was another horse that was prominent on Derby Day that got the money – Buy Land and See won the Alphabet Soup Handicap right after the Pa. Derby. It was unclear if his terrific dirt form would transfer to the dirt. It absolutely did.
With jockey Mychel Sanchez obtaining good position on the run down the backstretch for trainer Lupe Preciado and owner Joe Imbesi, it was Buy Land and Sea who got first run and won clear at 6-1.
The race result was certainly important, but, as this was the first Ballezzi Mile since its namesake’s recent death, it was very much about Mike Ballezzi.
“This was my brother’s life,’’ Mike’s brother Lou said.
Indeed, it was.
“He would absolutely be very proud and very happy and honored to have (the race named for him),’’ Lou Ballezzi said. “Recognition is a very good thing for people to carry on into the future to know that things should be done the right way.’’
Beren had not shown his typical early speed in his previous two races, but it was all Beren all the time in The Jump Start. Clearing the field almost immediately, Beren was always in control and won the 7-furlong race by 1 3/4 lengths as the 8-5 favorite for trainer Butch Reid and owners St Omer’s Farm and Christopher Feifarek.
“We wanted to be a little more aggressive with him today,’’ winning jockey Frankie Pennington said. “Last time, he didn’t like the track too much, kind of broke sluggish. Today, he was like his old Beren, hopped out of there and did what he does best.’’
In 21 starts, Beren has nine wins and six seconds, with earnings closing on $700,000.
And his win was a fitting culmination to a near-perfect day – five new HOF members, two $100,000 stakes, the final memories of what has to be the best two-month period in track history.