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.


CHUB WAGON BACK TO THE RACES AND BACK IN THE WINNER’S CIRCLE

By Dick Jerardi

Chub Wagon ended her incredible 2021 season on the last Saturday of September during the Pennsylvania Derby Day undercard. She began her 2022 season on the last Monday of June. The 2021 Parx Horse of the Year ended both races where she has been after every race but one during her 12-race career – in the winner’s circle.

The now 5-year-old Pennsylvania bred mare had to work for it in the off-the-grass (after a downpour) 5-furlong $100,000 Power By Far Stakes for Pennsylvania bred fillies and mares. Hey Mamaluke, who won the 2021 Power By Far, was alone on the lead until the far turn. That’s when Silvestre Gonzalez, riding Chub Wagon for the first time, let his mount start to close in.

Hey Mamaluke, ridden by Andy Hernandez, was still in front with 100 yards to go, but anybody who has ever watched Chub Wagon run knew what was going to happen. The mare eased by in the final yards and won by three-quarters of a length. It was 8 lengths back to Castilleja, trained by Hall of Famer King Leatherbury in Maryland.

“She was comfortable the whole time,’’ Gonzalez said. “If I had asked her a little bit earlier or it was a little bit more distance, she would have given me even a little bit more. She’s that type of filly that she’s going to give it her all.’’

Chub Wagon is now 11-for-12 with one second in a career that began Nov. 16, 2020. It was her seventh win at Parx and seventh stakes win, four at Parx, two at Pimlico and one at Delaware Park.

Trained by Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado for owners Danny Lopez and George Chestnut, Chub Wagon has now earned $593,600. She is a bit more than 1 length from being unbeaten (her lone loss came last August at Parx). She came into the Power By Far with a series of very fast workouts, but the hard race should set her up nicely for the rest of the season.

“It’s been (nine) months, she had the vacation that she needed, got back into training, but every three, four days, it would rain, she couldn’t be trained,’’ said Lopez in explaining why it took until late June to get her back to the races.

Lopez said Chub Wagon may race next in a few weeks at Laurel Park. And then they might look at some of the bigger out-of-town races.

“As long as she shows that she still belongs against the company she’s been facing, because she’s going to have to step it up some in the future,’’ Lopez said.

Chub Wagon has not yet run in a graded stakes race. She has been managed carefully but smartly. And she always delivers.

The $100,000 Crowd Pleaser, also off the grass and for 3-year-old Pa. Breds going a mile and a sixteenth, was a tour de force for Greg and Caroline Bentley’s Runnymoore Racing and trainer Cal Lynch. They won the April 25 Unique Bella together with Cinabunny. They went one better in the Crowd Pleaser going 1-2 with Undercover Kitty and Loose Ends.

Undercover Kitty was sent immediately to the front by jockey Charlie Marquez. She was just in front much of the race and then re-broke in the stretch to win by 6 lengths with her stablemate a clear second and Epic Luck along for third.

“(Undercover Kitty) had run in an allowance race at Pimlico last time and he was the only 3-year-old in that race,’’ Lynch said. “We were shooting a little bit (high) that day, but this (race) was in mind and we’re happy it all worked out right.’’

Lynch, who was based at Parx for years until moving his stable to Laurel, now works out of the Bentley’s barn at Fair Hill (Md.). They have some very good horses together and are buying more. Lynch has started 35 horses at Parx this year, with 10 wins and 9 seconds.

“Mr. Bentley has a lot of very nice stock coming along and we’re very optimistic we’ll be back,’’ Lynch said.

2022 MATCH SERIES AT PARX

By Dick Jerardi

The 2002 Match Series paid a visit to Parx Tuesday June 14 with races in two divisions and is scheduled to return for the series grand finale on Oct. 3 with races in all four divisions, including the Sal Debunda PTHA President’s Cup.

The Match Series, first run in 1997, began this year at Laurel Park on April 23, continued at Penn National on June 17, and is back at Laurel July 16 and Colonial Downs Aug. 16 before concluding at Parx. This year, the series of races has $2.2 million in purses and $400,000 in bonus money for owners and trainers. The four divisions are: long on turf for males and females and sprints for males and females.

The races on June 14 came in the two grass divisions and featured terrific stretch duels between accomplished horses and two top jockeys who came down from New York for the day.

The $100,000 Neshaminy (females 1 1/16 miles turf) had an odds on favorite in High Opinion, trained in New York by former Parx favorite Tony Dutrow. John Servis saddled the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid for Dutrow. Flavien Prat, who won the 2021 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Hot Rod Charlie, rode the 5-year-old mare who had been second or third in three graded stakes in New York over the previous 11 months.

Prat had High Opinion in fifth early, just a few lengths off the leaders. The mare began to make her move on the turn, but what looked easy on paper turned out not to be so easy in reality. It took some serious urging for High Opinion to get by the horses in front and, as soon as she finally did, 34-1 Tic Tic Tic Boom, trained at Parx by Alan Bedard and ridden by Trevor McCarthy, was coming with a huge move outside the favorite.

High Opinion, however, held on nicely to win by 3/4 of a length, with Tic Tic Tic Boom second and 15-1 Wicked Groove third.

“It’s fun when you ride good horses that are ready to win,’’ Prat said. “Obviously, she was ready to run a really good race.’’

The Neshaminy came 72 hours after Prat rode Flightline, the fastest horse in America, to a dominating win in the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day

 How good is this horse?

“He’s a really special horse, a lot of talent and is getting better; really grateful to ride him, try to enjoy every single minute on him,’’ Prat said.

Where does Flightline rank among the horses he’s ridden?

“Probably the best,’’ Prat said. “Wherever he goes, I’ll try to go.’’

And, of course, there are great memories from Hot Rod Charlie’s Grade I win at Parx.

“It was a great run from that horse,’’ Prat said.

It was Prat and McCarthy together again in the stretch in the $100,000 Bensalem (1 1/16 turf males); Prat on 3-10 favorite Beacon Hill for trainer Michael Matz, McCarthy on 9-1 Eons for trainer Arnaud Delacour.

Beacon Hill had been incredibly consistent for a year, always in the top 4, never beaten by more than 3 lengths in seven races against some serious competition, winning twice, with two seconds and a third. Eons had not won in two starts this year, but had some back paper, including a win last July in a $150,000 stakes at Colonial and a win in the 2019 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park when ridden by McCarthy.

Eons got first run on the far turn, but Beacon Hill really looked like he was going by in deep stretch – until Eons just dug in and refused to let the favorite go by, McCarthy’s horse beating Prat’s by a nose.

“I said `’let me kind of get the jump and get him rolling,’’’

McCarthy said. “He never likes to win far. He likes to win by a head, he likes to win by a neck. He’s very game.’’

McCarthy knew it was Prat and Beacon Hill that were coming.

“On paper, I said I really like my horse, it’s a two-horse race, me and Flavien,’’ McCarthy said. “We got the pace we wanted. It set up beautifully for us and he was kind of stuck inside so I tried to take advantage by making a middle move and it worked.’’

 King Cause, ridden by Parx Hall of Famer Kendrick Carmouche,

finished third.

When the Match Series returns to Parx Oct. 3, in addition to the President’s Cup (grass females), the other races will be the Bucks County Stakes (grass males), and Roamin Rachel Stakes (female sprinters), and Liberty Bell Stakes (male sprinters). Championships will be on the line and, if those four races are anywhere as good as the first two, it should be a fascinating day at the races.

SERIOUS STAR POWER ON BELMONT STAKES DAY

By Dick Jerardi

The fastest (and most valuable) horse in the country evoked memories of the sport’s all-time greats on Belmont Stakes Day. The best 3-year-old in America ran 4 1/2 hours before the Belmont Stakes. The 2021 Cotillion winner at Parx ran the best race of her career. Finally, on what will be the best racing card of 2022 outside of Breeders’ Cup Saturday, order was restored to a bizarre Triple Crown season when Mr. Belmont Stakes himself Todd Pletcher finished 1-2 in the mile and a half classic.

It is very rare for a star performer in any sport to exceed the hype, Tiger Woods did it. LeBron James did it. Flightline is doing it.

The son of super sire Tapit was purchased for $1 million at the 2019 Saratoga yearling sale by Terry Finley’s West Point Thoroughbreds. Several partners joined in. The colt was eventually sent to trainer John Sadler in Southern California.

Word was out on Flightline before he made his debut in April 2021. He won big, but then he didn’t race for more than 4 months when he won big again.Then, it was almost 4 months before the next race. He won big again – three races all won by double-digit lengths, Beyer figures of 105, 114, 118, really unprecedented.

Then, the colt was away from the races for 5 1/2 months before he appeared in the starting gate for the Met Mile, his first race out of California, his first race against a field with three Grade I winners.

So what happens? Flightline misses the break, has to steady twice when trying to come up the rail, works his way outside top class Speaker’s Corner (five consecutive triple digit Beyer figures) on the turn, proceeds to leave that horse in just a few strides and runs away from Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Happy Saver in the stretch while Speaker’s Corner fades badly and Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Aloha West is never a factor.

Flightline ran the mile in 1:33.59, won by 6 lengths, got a 112 Beyer and, if you kept watching past the finish line, you saw a horse that was looking for more. If his minor issues that kept him from the races are behind him and this colt has a regular schedule from now to the Breeders’ Cup, there is simply no telling what we might see.

Jack Christopher is, by far, the fastest 3-year-old in America and proved it when dominating the Woody Stephens, running the 7 furlongs in 1:21.18, winning by 10 lengths and getting a 107 Beyer. Unbeaten and untested in four starts, Jack Christopher goes next in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. Many races to run, but today I would rank Jack Christopher as the most likely 3-year-old champion when all those races are run.

There was eight Grade I stakes at Belmont Park. Trainer Chad Brown won three of them, two on grass and the Woody Stephens. He has Preakness winner Early Voting, Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon and Jack Christopher so for the first time ever, he is loaded in horse racing’s glamor division. Expect to see at least one of that group in the Sept. 24 Pennsylvania Derby.

Last year’s Cotillion winner Clairiere, who may be the best-bred horse in America, was relentless in the Ogden Phipps, out finishing the 2021 3-year-old champion Malathaat in a wonderful stretch duel that was certainly set up by a wild speed duel between Letruska and Search Results, the Ortiz brothers running each other out of any chance of winning.

Clairiere is a daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of $2 million earner Cavorting (winner of the 2016 Phipps). She never ran a poor race last year, but kept coming up short until her breakthrough win in the Cotillion. She will be a major player in the older female division the rest of the year after getting a career best 106 Beyer in the Phipps.

Reflecting the strange 2022 Triple Crown, this was the first time since 1954 that the Kentucky Derby winner did not run in the Preakness and the Preakness winner did not run in the Belmont Stakes. But the Derby winner did run in the Belmont (well Rich Strike was in the race, but he didn’t do much running, sort of like all those other races except the Derby).

Most importantly, Pletcher had two horses in the Belmont, the very consistent colt Mo Donegal and the very consistent filly Nest. In the last 15 years, Pletcher has perfected the Belmont winning formula: run in the Derby or Kentucky Oaks, take the horses back to his Belmont Park home base, and await the Belmont Stakes. In those 15 years, Pletcher now has four wins and six seconds from 29 starters after Mo Donegal (98 Beyer) and Nest ran 1-2, with Rich Strike a no-factor sixth, nearly 14 lengths behind Mo Donegal, a horse he had beaten by almost 4 lengths in the Derby. The Ortiz brothers ran 1-2 in the Belmont, with Irad winning on Mo Donegal, and Jose second on Nest.

Turned out the much-maligned Wood Memorial was the key Triple Crown prep this year, with the winner (Mo Donegal) and runner-up (Early Voting) winning the Belmont and Preakness. Didn’t see that coming off recent history and still have no clue where Rich Strike came from, but maybe a TC without Bob Baffert was always going to be strange.  Well, Baffert is due back off his suspension in 3 weeks and we have a great summer and fall racing season to look forward to with Flightline, Jack Christopher, Clairiere, Jackie’s Warrior, Life is Good and Golden Pal among so many stars on the track. Can’t wait.

STEVE KREBS’ CONTINUING HORSE EDUCATION

By Dick Jerardi

Steve Krebs figures he was out of high school for like a week when he went to work for Parx Hall of Famer Bob Camac during the period the trainer had several serious stakes horses in his barn, including Class of 2013 Parx Hall of Famers Fire Plug and Cagey Exuberance (combined 46 wins in 95 starts and $1,342,942).

That was 3 1/2 decades ago. Krebs has been at the track ever since, working out of Barn 3 at Parx where he trains nine horses at the moment. He was actually around horses even before he came to the track full time.

“When I was like 5-years-old, my dad was given a free thoroughbred stallion,’’ Krebs said. “I got a picture of him somewhere. The poor horse was tied to a tree in somebody’s backyard, skin and bones. My dad took him and nursed him back to health. I guess he liked it so much he ended up buying this whole chicken farm down in Williamstown (New Jersey), 25 acres and made a farm out of it. The next thing you know, we had 10 broodmares and went from there. My childhood was pretty much spent  on the weekends at the race track and in the summertime at the track track.’’

Krebs’ first starter as a 22-year-old trainer was on June 18, 1990 at Atlantic City Race Course. The horse, Immitation, was beaten by 35 lengths. Eighteen days later, Imitation came back, won and paid $85.

Krebs did not have that many horses to train through the 1990s, but he eventually became an assistant to trainer Scott Lake when Lake was winning hundreds of races each year.

“It was a really hard decision (to leave Lake when he was approached about taking on some new owners as their trainer),’’ Krebs said. “We were on an unbelievable roll, making money. I had a few of my own horses.’’

His two best horses after he went out on his own full time were for owner Danny Limongelli who passed away on Jan. 18, 2021. They claimed Parx Hall of Famer Banjo Picker for $15,000 on Aug. 21, 2004. All the Pennsylvania bred did for them was start 40 times, with 15 wins, 5 seconds, 6 thirds, earnings of $619,026 and a win at 47-1 in the Grade III Gravesend Handicap on Dec. 18, 2005 at Aqueduct. Banjo Picker was ridden in all 40 of those starts by Tara Hemmings; the trainer and rider have been together for 20 years now.

“She did a great job with him,’’ Krebs said.

Krebs is known for his exuberance when cheering his horses home. The Gravesend, he said, may have been his best “root’’ of all.

“I watched the race down in the horsemen’s lounge at Aqueduct and I’m screaming and screaming and screaming,’’ Krebs said. “I thought he won. I ran out the door. I got halfway down the hallway, turned around and came back to watch the replay. And Billy Turner of Seattle Slew fame is sitting there watching and I’m going `did he win, did he win?’ And he was just laughing at me.’’

Banjo Picker won by a neck.

Krebs’ second best horse was Lothar, also owned by Limongelli. In the fall and winter of 2002, Lothar won six consecutive races.

Krebs won 65 races in 2006, 39 in 2015. But it has not all been smooth sailing. There were some years when wins were hard to find.

“It’s tough,’’ Krebs said. “I just had to pick myself off the canvas. Right now, I have some really good owners. They let me do what I have to. They put some money up to get some horses. I’m enjoying it again.’’

Tara is right there exercising Steve’s horses. Now, all they need to do is find another Banjo Picker.

JOSUE ARCE WON AS A JOCKEY, WINNING AS  A TRAINER

By Dick Jerardi

It was the summer of 2006. Two years into his riding career, Josue Arce hatched an ingenious plan that would end up with him on a Grade I winner.

Arce had ridden Malibu Mint when she broke her maiden for trainer James Chapman at Calder. She was 12-1 that day and won by 5 1/4 lengths. Chapman had brought Malibu Mint to Kentucky the next year, but she didn’t run well in two Keeneland stakes and then stumbled out of the gate, losing her jockey at the start of the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on the day Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby,

So, Arce got the ride on May 27, 2006 when Malibu Mint was second by a neck at 50-1 in the Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs. The trainer headed back to Florida, but Malibu Mint stayed behind and Arce was getting on her every day.

He wanted to know when she was going to run next. Kept asking and nobody would tell him. Finally, the

horse’s groom said: “Arce, I think he’s going to take her to Florida for a Grade I race.’’The groom did not know when the race was going to be run so he told Arce to look it up in the condition book. He found out the Grade I Princess Rooney was going to be run at Calder on July 15.

So he called Chapman and said if you need me (in Kentucky) from July 12 to July 16, “I won’t be here. I will be in Florida.’’

“Why?’’ Chapman asked.

“I’m going down to Miami to see my family,’’ Arce said. “Hopefully, I get one or two mounts and they see me ride again.’’

 And Chapman told him: “you might be in the right place at the right time.’’

 “Really, why?’’ Arce asked innocently.

 “I’m going to run in the Princess Rooney and if you are going to be there, you might as well ride her,’’ Chapman said.

 “You kidding me?’’ Arce replied.

The plan had worked perfectly.

Now, he just had to get from Louisville to Miami. He flew the day of the race. He wasn’t going to see his family at all. He missed his first flight and got there late.

How late?

“It was close,’’ Arce said. “I know the clerk of scales. I had him on the phone. He shouldn’t have allowed me to ride the horse. I was there so late. I was `man, I’m going to get caught in a lie because I told him I was going to be there.’ It was meant to be.’’

Indeed it was. Malibu Mint was 23-1 in the Princess Rooney. Dubai Escapade, ridden by Edgar Prado, was 1-5.

“We passed the three-eighths (pole) and I just started making my move and I remember Prado asking and I’m full of horse and I’m `oh my God, I’m going to win.’’’

In fact, Malibu Mint crushed the field, winning by 3 3/4 lengths. Dubai Escapade was off the board.

It was a $500,000 race. The winner’s share was $294,000 so Arce got $29,400.

“I blew it,’’ he said.

But he had a story for the ages. Arce rode Malibu Mint a few weeks later when she was second in the Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga. Malibu Mint finished her career with seven wins and five seconds from 25 starts, with earnings of $723,829. In six starts with Arce, Malibu Mint had two wins, three seconds, a third and $366,169 in earnings. Arce never rode her again after that Saratoga race, but, in a riding career that went from 2004 to 2018 and included 393 wins, that Princess Rooney, the win and how he made it happen, will be a forever memory.

Arce told that story last Wednesday at his Parx barn where he is now a trainer, the weight he always battled, was finally too much to overcome so he made the transition to training last year.

He groomed and walked horses in Puerto Rico before moving to Miami where he became a jockey after finding a way to reduce from 130 pounds. Eventually, he worked his way to Parx where he had some success as a jockey and exercise rider over a career that included $8.8 million in earnings and a career-best 77 wins in 2008.

Arce and trainer Scott Lake had and have a very close relationship.

“Scott taught me a lot about the condition book, how to enter,’’ Arce said. “He’s just a brilliant guy, such a smart person. He knows how to take care of the horse, how to keep him sound, how to keep him happy.’’

Arce has 13 horses in his barn for three owners. That he gets on all his horses in the morning is a nice edge that so far he has parlayed into 7 wins, 13 seconds and 15 thirds from 96 starters.

He does not miss riding races. Trying to constantly lose weight just became too much. Now, he is all the way up to 140 pounds, much more reasonable for someone around 5-7 or 5-8.

Training horses requires attention to detail considering all possibilities and being ready for any opportunity. When he was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime back in 2006, Josue Arce found a quite creative way to take advantage. That kind of quick thinking will serve him quite well as a trainer.

LESSONS OF THE PREAKNESS

By Dick Jerardi

In between a legendary salad in Little Italy, crab cakes at multiple locations and Preakness night steamed crabs not far from where I grew up in Baltimore, it was another fascinating, if frustrating, Preakness.

 After a wonderful Preakness Day afternoon (thankfully in Pimlico’s air conditioned Triple Crown Room) hanging with Jeff Matty, Dani Gibson Trish Bowman and California friends Bob Ike and Marc Doche (making their first visit to Pimlico), the Preakness itself taught and re-taught me several valuable lessons – owner Seth Klarman and trainer Chad Brown may be the sharpest combination in the sport,  in-race aggressiveness almost always is better than passiveness and everything you thought was true can change in an instant.

After a brilliant Kentucky Derby performance where he did everything but win the race, I thought Epicenter was a cinch in the Preakness. I had a great mental picture of how the race would be run. Early Voting and Armagnac, ridden by Jose and Irad Ortiz respectively, would be 1-2 in some order as the field hit the first turn. Epicenter would be sitting third.

A loose-on-the-lead Early Voting was my biggest concern. Early Voting had enough points to run in the Derby, but Klarman and Brown opted to pass and await the Preakness. What looked like a smart move at the time turned out even smarter when the Derby had a meltdown pace which would almost certainly have crushed Early Voting’s chances.

So Early Voting had six weeks of rest, early speed, a terrific jockey in Jose Ortiz and that great owner/trainer combination trying to repeat a pattern that had worked perfectly in 2017 with Preakness winner Cloud Computing.

Even with all that, I just thought Epicenter was faster. I always thought that Epicenter and jockey Joel Rosario very likely would be putting race pressure on Early Voting on the backstretch or at least by the far turn.

Everything changed in the first 100 yards of the race. Armagnac actually cleared the field, with Early Voting a clear second. Epicenter, inexplicably, was eighth of nine, with only the filly Secret Oath behind him.

Instead of being aggressive and fighting for position, Rosario let slower horses get ahead of him while not asking Epicenter for speed. When I saw that developing, I knew immediately Epicenter was in trouble. It got even worse when I saw the early fractions – 24.32, 47.44. Epicenter was behind slow horses in slow fractions with the only danger in my mind right off the lead after those slow fractions.

Rosario did get Epicenter a nice trip on pretty live rail, but the damage had already been done. A horse with serious speed was behind no hopers like Happy Jack and Fenwick as well as a horse with no speed, Skippylongstocking.

Anybody who bet on Epicenter could not have been pleased. Certainly, the colt’s trainer Steve Asmussen was not pleased. In fact, after Early Voting parlayed that great early position into a big second turn move that gave him a jump on any would be closers to win by 1 1/4 lengths and Epicenter had closed heroically for a second, the trainer said: “Disappointed, you know what I mean? Where he was early and they go 24 and 1. He just left him way too much to do…I was past surprised…You’ve got to leave the gates to have any position whatsoever.’’

The Pimlico surface Saturday was slower than the Churchill Downs surface on Derby Day, but not that much slower. As David Grening of “Daily Racing Form’’ pointed out, Epicenter was 6 1/2 lengths behind a 45.36 half in the Derby, 7 1/2 lengths behind a 47.44 half in the Preakness.

 It was, plain and simple, jockey error. A horse with Epicenter’s speed can’t be that far back, especially when the main competition is cruising around near the front unimpeded.

It’s certainly possible Early Voting would have fought off an early challenge from Epicenter. Clearly, Early Voting, in just his fourth lifetime start, with those connections, had to be considered capable of a third straightforward move, a move that he demonstrated with a Preakness win and a career-best 105 Beyer Figure.

But would Early Voting have run that well if Epicenter had brought the heat leaving the backstretch when the Preakness is often decided? Would Early Voting have held up if a horse with Epicenter’s talent and resolve had put that pressure on at the critical time in the race?

We will never know. What we do know is that Epicenter’s best chance was compromised by what happened early, not by what happened late.

Bottom line, Early Voting is the 2022 Preakness winner, another offspring of Gun Runner with a Grade I win, adding his name to a list that includes 2-year-old filly champion Echo Zulu, Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife, and Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba.

As for Epicenter, he is quickly becoming this year’s Hot Rod Charlie, Louisiana Derby winners that became hard-luck losers of two Triple Crown races. HRC finally got his Grade I in the Pennsylvania Derby. Hopefully, Epicenter comes to Parx in September with a Grade I by then.

As for the TC series, as Jay Privman of DRF pointed out, this will be the first time since 1954 that a healthy Derby winner did not go to the Preakness and a healthy Preakness winner won’t be going to the Belmont Stakes.

Derby winner Rich Strike is scheduled to run in the Belmont. Early Voting and Epicenter are off the Triple Crown trail, pointing to races like the Haskell, Travers and, hopefully, the Pa. Derby.

And I am left to wonder what might have happened to my Epicenter/Creative Minister exacta if the race had been run as I expected. Would that exacta still have been second and third? I will never know, but I would have liked to have found out.

MOVE THE PREAKNESS TO JUNE

By Dick Jerardi

I love the Preakness. It is my favorite race because it is in Baltimore, my hometown. It is also the first Triple Crown race I ever attended. It just happened to be 1973 when Secretariat was in the midst of setting time records for each of the Triple Crown races, records that still stand.

The last injury-free-official-at-the-time Kentucky Derby winner not to run in the Preakness was Spend a Buck in 1985. That will be updated this Saturday when 80-1 Derby winner Rich Strike does not run in the Preakness.

I absolutely understand why trainer Eric Reed and owner Rick Dawson said they will await the Belmont Stakes. Rich Strike has always had his races well spaced and they think 5 weeks rather than 2 weeks between races gives the colt an optimum opportunity to deliver his best performance.

It is good for the horse, bad for horse racing.

Last year, the second, third and fourth horses across the wire in the Derby did not run in the Preakness. Fortunately, the second (Epicenter) and fourth (Simplification) from this Derby will run in the Preakness. We are also getting the Kentucky Oaks (Secret Oath) winner  But that is a bit of an aberration.

The reality is that in the 2000s, horsemen rarely start their top stakes horses more than six or seven times a year and never run them back in two weeks, except from the Derby to the Preakness.

The Preakness deserves the best field of 3-year-olds imaginable. It rarely gets that anymore because of the two weeks. And that is unfortunate.

Traditionalists do not want to move the Preakness back to 4 weeks after the Derby because they say it would devalue any future Triple Crown winner because that horse did not do in the same time frame as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. That is a reasonable argument. I understand it and respect it.

I just think the sport has changed so much in the last 20 years, with horses racing so much less, that it makes sense to alter the sport’s marquee event to reflect those changes.

And it’s not like this has always been the Triple Crown schedule. When Sir Barton won the races in 1919 (it wasn’t called the Triple Crown until the 1930s), the Derby was May10, the Preakness May 14, the Belmont June 11. By the way, Sir Barton won the Withers (May 24) between the Preakness and Belmont. Different times.

When Gallant Fox won the Triple Crown in 1930, the Preakness was run eight days before the Derby, with the Belmont 3 weeks after that. Omaha (1935 TC winner) actually lost the Withers between the Preakness and Belmont. The Preakness was a week after the Derby, the Belmont a month after the Preakness. War Admiral (1937 TC winner) won the Derby on May 8, the Preakness May 15 and the Belmont June 5.

Citation won the Jersey Derby at Garden State Park in 1948 between the Preakness and Belmont when those races were 4 weeks apart. Whirlaway (1941 TC winner) ran 23 times before he won the Derby. Like I said, different times.

So I would advocate for the Derby on the first Saturday of May, the Preakness the first Saturday of June, the Belmont Stakes the first Saturday of July to reflect the changing times.

Do I get any sense this is going to happen? No.

But the Rich Strike connections have done the sport a service by making it, at least, a topic of discussion. It is one thing for good horses that ran well in the Derby not to run in the Preakness, but when the Derby winner does not run in the Preakness, that is a problem.

The storyline of the impossible underdog that so captured the public? Well, that just disappears. Again, not blaming the connections at all, but who didn’t want to read more about Rich Strike and Sonny Leon and see if this horse could do it again and head to New York as the most unlikely potential Triple Crown winner ever?

My first year at the “Philadelphia Daily News’’ was in 1985 which just happened to be the Year of Spend a Buck.

Why did Spend a Buck pass the Preakness?

That was a unique situation as Spend a Buck had two prep races at the new Garden State Park. Track owner Robert Brennan had promised a $2 million bonus for any horse that could win the two Garden State Derby prep races (Cherry Hill Mile, Garden State Stakes), the Ky. Derby and the $1 million Jersey Derby on Memorial Day. Owner Dennis Diaz passed on the Preakness. Spend a Buck won the Jersey Derby and his owner got a then-record $2.6 million.

The Preakness purse that year was $550,000. The winner got $423,000. Right after that, the Triple Crown tracks raised their purses and instituted a bonus program of their own, with $5 million to any horse that could sweep the Triple Crown. The bonus system no longer exists, but the bigger purses and the prestige of the Triple Crown races were enough to avoid Derby winner defections – until now.

Given that in 2023, each of the Triple Crown races will no longer be televised on the same network, this actually could be a time to consider a schedule change. NBC will retain the Derby and Preakness, but the Belmont Stakes is moving to Fox.  The Derby isn’t going anywhere. It will always be run on the first Saturday of May. Pimlico management could just make the change to June and then NYRA management would have to make a decision about the Belmont Stakes. Or nothing will change and the Preakness, a race that deserves the best possible field, won’t be getting that. And, some years, won’t even be getting the Derby winner.

UNFORGETTABLE KENTUCKY DERBY EXPERIENCE

By Dick Jerardi

A few minutes into our flight home Sunday, after five days in Louisville, “Let’s Go Racing’’ host Dani Gibson looked out the window and saw a race track hard by the Ohio River. It was Belterra Park (once called River Downs), the present home track of Sonny Leon. Of course.

From the time we landed in Kentucky (the Cincinnati Airport is in Northern Kentucky) Tuesday afternoon and drove the 90 minutes to Louisville until we headed back to the airport Sunday morning, it was a whirlwind, Dani going to her first Kentucky Derby, me to my 34th, but first in five years.

We met up with many of my longtime friends (and Dani’s new friends) for dinner Tuesday night at Pat’s Steaks where the lima beans and Derby Pie (pronounced Paaaah) were to die for. A field of 15 was in an upstairs room at Pat’s where they can’t use the words Derby Pie because it is trademarked. But we can and we did.

My mission for the week was to show Dani around while retracing many of the steps I had made for those oh so many years. It began early Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs and ended late Saturday night at Churchill Downs.

 All those steps and all those sights did not prepare us or anybody for an ending that, even after it was official, still seemed close to impossible.

 We watched several of the Derby and Oaks horses gallop Wednesday morning from a terrace in the grandstand. It is really an awe- inspiring scene, the panorama of the oval, the infield, the backstretch almost overpowering the senses, with the races just days away and the possibilities limitless. Saw the Japanese horse, Crown Pride, work, finishing off a final quarter so quickly that even the veteran clockers were dazzled.

 Did a quick tour of the suites where the track views are perfect and money required to get there for the races slightly beyond our budget.

 Wandered the stable area where we bumped into many of the Derby and Oaks trainers. This was the short tour, a prelude to Thursday when the area would be more crowded and the tension would be increasing, the Derby just two days away.

 Breakfast, of course, at the Waffle House

Tried to make sense of the Friday and Saturday cards that afternoon. (They made sense to some, but not, as we found out over those two days, to Dani or me). Dinner that night at Molly Malones on the eclectic Bardstown Road.

I got a text the next morning at 6:35 a.m. Before I could wonder why somebody was texting me in the middle of the night, I read the text. Dani was waiting by the car. I was there in a flash, quick enough to get us to the barn area before the Derby and Oaks horses hit the track at 7:30.

That was a glorious scene, with the rail packed, everybody craning to get a glimpse of the horses, hoping to see something that would give them a hint as to what may be about to happen.

The most fascinating part of the week for me was seeing it through a first timer’s eyes. Every experience was new and magical.

After a more extensive barn tour, we headed back to change hotels. Derby Week hotels go from reasonable early in the week to unreasonable/insane Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

No matter. We made a clean switch. I was able to use Marriott points for my room. Dani’s room was unreasonable, but not insane. That is reserved for the rooms near the track and downtown. We were not close to either, but close enough to get where we wanted to go.

I had received a text from an old Baltimore friend, also making his first Derby appearance, that he had tickets for us in “The Mansion’’ for what they call “Thurby.’’

The Mansion is at the very top of the grandstand, overlooking the finish line, with the Twin Spires well below and off to the side. It was the site of the press box from 2005 until 2012 until management realized they were giving away seats that they could sell for huge money. So, beginning in 2013, the press area was moved to the ground floor and the swells inhabited “The Mansion’’ on Oaks and Derby Days, for prices, I am told, in excess of five figures.

 But we got to pretend for a day and enjoyed the ambience, the company and the great view. Went to the paddock and trackside to watch Scott Lake run a 2-year-old. The horse did about as well as we did at the betting windows over the weekend.

 Said goodbye to “The Mansion’’ and headed for Lou Vino, a restaurant where we going to meet old friend Trish Bowman, once an information staple on LGR when she wasn’t working for trainer Kate Demasi or going to college, now in her first month as a steward at Horseshoe Indianapolis, about 90 minutes way. It was one of those nights you don’t want to end, lots of stories, solutions to racing issues that we would love to see implemented, the best food of the week.

 Slept in on Friday morning, getting ready for Oaks Day. On the way to the track, Dani found out Ethereal Road had been scratched from the Derby, opening a stall for a horse I had not even bothered to look at and frankly had never heard of. I looked at the past performances of Rich Strike for exactly five seconds and said “no chance.’’

Got to the track early afternoon, watched the races from a section in the old grandstand (not far from the media area) and cashed no tickets.

Was thrilled to see D. Wayne Lukas win the Oaks with Secret Oath, exactly 40 years after he won his first Oaks. Has to be the oldest (86) trainer to win a Grade I. Congratulated Wayne and said “see you at Parx in September.’’

Dinner with the DRF guys, Jay Privman, Mike Welsch and Dave Grening at Impellizzeri’s, the wonderful Pizza joint on Bardstown Road. You will not find three shaper people in racing and we soaked up as much knowledge as we could.

My best friend in the media business, Dana O’Neil, who arrived in town Friday afternoon, was staying in the same hotel complex and offered to ride us to the track Saturday where she had a stable area parking pass. We cruised into Churchill late morning, wandered through one tunnel, passed through the infield and then hit the second tunnel to the frontside. And our Derby Day began.

Saw some races from the grandstand seats. Dani went to the paddock and hung out with the owners of the wonderful Pennsylvania bred filly Just One Time before she ran in the $750,000 Derby City Distaff. I was up in the Jockey Club Suites talking to some high rollers who had flown in for the day from a Mississippi casino. Just One Time finished third, beaten by what I thought was a dead rail as much as the other horses.

Time, which usually seems to stand still, on Derby Day, was flying by, just like the entire week. We saw the great Jackie’s Warrior, winner of the Gallant Bob last September at Parx, crush the field in the Churchill Downs Stakes.

 All the Derby bets were in (I liked Epicenter, Dani liked Mo Donegal) and suddenly, it was time. Philly-area native Kevin Kerstein, Publicity Manager at Churchill Downs, had invited us to watch the Derby from the Turf Course, near the winner’s circle that is used just once all year, for the Derby winner. First, we stopped where the horses step off the track after the walkover and head down the tunnel to the paddock. It was something I had never seen. Chaos would not do it justice, but somehow humans and horses all got through and we were off to the grass.

 The view from the turf course is quite different. I had never been out there either. You look back at the massive grandstand, buildings rising far above the Twin Spires, people everywhere you can see, the horses finally emerging, the post parade right in front  of us, the minutes ticking down.

And then they were off, flying by us, the fastest first quarter mile in Derby history potentially setting it up for a late runner in the last quarter mile. When they went out of view, we watched the race on the big screen and then, peering down the stretch, picked up the field a few hundred yards from the finish, Epicenter in front, Zandon trying to run him down, a perfectly sensible result. Then, 100 yards from the finish line, a horse nearest the rail flashed by us and also blew by the frontrunners. Was that really No. 21, Rich Strike? And did Rich Strike just win the Derby at 80-1? It was and he did.

The second longest price in a race run 148 times had just won the second race of his career. Owner Rick Dawson has barely won any races, much less the Derby. Trainer Eric Reed had won a single graded stakes. Jockey Sonny Leon who won 20 races at Parx in 2017 and 2018, had never won a graded stakes, but he had given Rich Strike a brilliant ride, weaving his way through traffic on the far turn and then coming from nowhere at the quarter pole to in front at the wire. Before Rich Strike, Leon’s best earning horse was Forewarned for Parx-based owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis, the horse having won the Ohio Endurance the last two years at Mahoning Valley where Leon was leading rider at the recently concluded meet.

Horse racing is endlessly fascinating because you can’t script it.  When Rich Strike ran against Epicenter the day after Christmas in New Orleans, he finished fifth, 14 lengths behind Epicenter who won that race and became the 4-1 Derby favorite a bit over 4 months later.  There was nothing apparent that anything was going to change in the Derby. In fact, nothing changed for Epicenter. The colt ran like he had been running all year. Rich Strike just happened to run the race of his life on the day that mattered most and we had seen something that we would never forget, something that resonated well beyond the insular world of horse racing.

This was a story everybody could relate to, a horse claimed from his second race for $30,000, a horse put on the backwoods Derby Trail, 24th on the points list when Derby Week began, got a spot at the very last minute and then wins. Seriously.  That can’t happen, but it did.

We headed for the Derby Museum and the after party, highlighted by the wonderful movie “The Greatest Race’’ which never gets old no matter how many times you have seen it and had to be especially meaningful for a horse lover like Dani who saw it for the first time.

Bleary-eyed, we finally headed for the infield tunnels in the late night darkness, debris scattered everywhere, bottles of beer and liquor lining the tunnel walls. It was surreal, but revealing, a day like no other in America ending with a walk that felt we had entered a netherworld.

One final stop at Drake’s near the hotel for food and conversation, each of us trying very hard to remember the name of the Derby winner, falling more than succeeding, wondering how it all happened and then just thankful that we were there to see it.

We practically closed the place and then a few hours later, we were heading back to the airport, out of Kentucky into Ohio where we saw Belterra Park from the sky, the Ohio River flowing by on its way to Louisville.

It is 108 miles from Belterra Park to Churchill Downs, but on the first Saturday of May in 2022, there was just a mile and a quarter between nowhere and everywhere.

RETURN TO THE DERBY

By Dick Jerardi

I was hanging out at Pimlico on a Friday afternoon in 1978 when I suddenly decided to head for the Baltimore Airport, catch a plane to Louisville and attend the Kentucky Derby the next day. No hotel, no ticket, no clue.

The only thing I knew was that Affirmed was going to win the Derby. And I wanted to be there to bet on him.

It was so long ago that I have no memory of whether I flew directly or needed a connection. I do remember sleeping in the Louisville Airport and heading for Churchill Downs very early the next morning.

Walking through some very tall and very wet grass and then some neighborhoods and, finally, after a few miles, arriving at the corner of Fourth Street and Central Ave. and immediately being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds that surrounded Churchill Downs with its iconic Twin Spires shimmering across the race track. Mostly, I remember the corn dogs that were being sold on that corner.

 I think I bought a general admission ticket. And then I waited and waited and waited. Finally, it was time to run the Derby. Alydar was favored at 6-5. Affirmed the second choice at 9-5 with 18-year-old Steve Cauthen riding. I bet my $200 to win on Affirmed.

 I had somehow gotten into the grandstand and had a great view of the race. Affirmed was always in perfect position and was well clear when he ran by me just inside the eighth pole. Then, I caught sight of Alydar, who was way back early, flying by me, running as fast as I have ever seen a horse run to this day. For an instant, I thought he might even catch Affirmed, but Affirmed was long gone. Alydar was second, a theme that would be repeated at Pimlico and Belmont Park as Affirmed went on to win one of the most memorable Triple Crowns.

 I think I took a bus downtown to celebrate. Ended up in a rooftop restaurant (might have been the Galt House Hotel that is right on the Ohio River that separates Kentucky and Indiana). Took a cab back to the airport, slept for a few hours, and flew home.

 That was Kentucky Derby No. 1. This will be Derby No. 34.

 I went back in 1984 when I was writing for a small paper in Baltimore. And then went back every year from 1987 until 2017 when I covered horse racing for the “Philadelphia Daily News.’’

 I didn’t miss the Derby in 2018 or 2019 when the weather was awful. I did not miss it in 2020 when it was run in September with almost no fans. I didn’t miss it last year when it was run with a half-full grandstand.

 But when my friend and host of “Let’s Go Racing’’ Dani Gibson said she wanted to attend the Derby, I began to think about what I actually did miss. And said, you know what, it’s time.

 So Derby No. 1 for Dani, Derby No. 1  in five years for me.

 Dinner at Pat’s Steaks (not that Pat’s Steaks, this place has real steak and tablecloths) Tuesday night with some old friends. Watch the Derby and Oaks horses train Wednesday morning from the grandstand. Hang out on the backstretch later that morning and Thursday morning. Try to separate fact from fiction when speaking with owners and trainers about their Derby horses. Wander by the barns where Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Barbaro were before they ran in the Derby.

 Maybe, hit the corner of 4th and Central again and marvel at how much everything has changed from 1978. Central Ave, two lanes I think back then, now looks like a highway. New additions tower over the Twin Spires. The Derby is one major American event that just keeps getting bigger, the demand for suites, seats, food, drink, action is insatiable.

 Hit the track Thursday afternoon for what they now call “Thurby.’’ Oaks Day on Friday and memories of Cathryn Sophia’s score in 2016, giving Parx Hall of Fame trainer John Servis the Oaks/Derby double. And then, just as everybody that has been there all week is starting to fade, the main event.

 On my first two Derby Days, I got to the track just after dawn. Over time, I learned that it is the longest day in sports and those who arrive too early have nothing left for the finish. So, we will get to the track at a reasonable time on Derby Day, possibly (definitely) bet some races, maybe go to the backside for the walkover, get a good spot in the grandstand media seating area, see the Derby horses parade by with “My Old Kentucky Home’’ playing.

 Then, it will be time to check out the blur that is 20 horses running to the first turn, try to make sense of what is happening on the big screen as the field rolls down the backstretch and then watch the leaders as they head to the finish line.

And then, in just two minutes, it’s over.

 But you know what. It’s never really over. No matter if it’s your first time or your 34th time, there is simply nothing like the Kentucky Derby. Can’t wait to get there.

TWO BIG PERFORMANCES IN PARX PA. BRED STAKES

By Dick Jerardi

The two Parx $100,000 stakes on Monday featured 21 Pennsylvania breds with a combined 128 wins and $5,452,724 in earnings. The fields in The Page McKenney Handicap and The Unique Bella appeared very competitive on paper and turned out exactly that way on the track.

The races were named after two wonderful Pa. Breds, one of which was a Mid-Atlantic star and the other a national star. Page McKenney raced 58 times with 22 wins, 16 seconds and earnings of $1.9 million. The horse raced at 11 different tracks and stopped at Parx often enough to win seven times there. Unique Bella won Eclipse Awards in two divisions while winning three Grade I stakes, three Grade II and two Grade III on the way to earning $1.2 million in a 12-race career that included nine wins and two seconds.

The Page McKenney went first. The 7-furlong race came down to three Parx-based horses with impeccable credentials. Late money showed on I Am Redeemed to make him the 4-5 favorite. Beren, coming off a 2021 season when he earned just shy of $470,000, was 7-2. And Fortheluvofbourbon was 5-1.

I Am Redeemed was wide for much of the trip and got started too late so his big stretch move was only good enough for third. The race essentially  was Beren and Fortheluvofbourbon from start to finish. Beren was tossing his head a bit in the gate and lost his footing for an instant at the break, but recovered quickly to get a clear lead. Fortheluvofbourbon broke smoothly and was just to Beren’s outside, the others chasing.

It was Parx Hall of Fame jockeys Frankie Pennington on Beren and Kendrick Carmouche on Fortheluvofbourbon, horses and riders getting away from the field on the far turn. In the stretch, it was Beren on the inside, Fortheluvofbourbon on the outside, Fortheluvofbourbon always just ahead, but Beren always threatening to come back and win it. In the end, it was Fortheluvofbourbon by a neck.

Mike Pino claimed Fortheluvofbourbon for $50,000 on May 29, 2020 at Churchill Downs. The Page McKenney was the horse’s sixth win (all at Parx) since the claim. The horse has earned $291,690 for Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle LLC, making him the 10th highest earner ever for Pino who is closing on 2,000 career wins, with 1,955 and counting.

“I got in a car and drove down and we got him,’’ Pino said when asked about the claim. “He’s been a great little horse. He tries hard. His last race, we kind of crammed a couple of races in a little quick. He just didn’t run his race. Give him a little time. This race set up perfect and it all worked out.’’

The day before he won the Page McKenney, Carmouche had clinched the spring Aqueduct meet with 19 winners from just 62 mounts (32 percent). It was his second New York title after winning the Aqueduct fall 2020 meet.

“All my loved ones, my wife, my kids, my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister, in-laws, my fans, all my loved ones that stood behind me from Louisiana, they’re just so proud of me and I’m proud of myself,’’ Carmouche said. “I left (Parx) seven years ago to do good in New York. Here we go seven years later, I’ve got two titles to add on to my seven at Parx. I’m just loving the game. Each day, I want to go out and ride and compete That’s what it’s about.’’

 Parx, Carmouche said, will always be home. That he won this race for Pino was especially gratifying

“Mike Pino is the one who got me started with my career in Oaklawn,’’ Carmouche said. “I’ll never forget the horse I won on, 99-1…and (Pino is) still supporting my career.’’

The Unique Bella, also at 7 furlongs, ended with the same margin, a neck. But it was not the same kind of race. Cinnabunny, once a Parx regular for trainer Kate Demasi before being sold privately in 2020, was given a perfect ride by Jorge Ruiz, caught frontrunning Hey Mamaluke in the stretch and held off a late charge by 42-1 Ninetypercentbrynn. Wildcat Cartridge (48-1) came on to be third.

Cinnabunny, the 2-1 favorite, was making just her second start for Greg Bentley’s Runnymore Racing LLC and trainer Cal Lynch, a Parx regular for years until he moved his stable to Maryland.

“I love it here,’’ Lynch said. “My boys grew up here for 10 years.’’

Bentley bought Cinabunny at the November 2021 Keeneland Breeding Stock Sale for $240,000 from the owners who had bought her privately back in 2020.

“She’s destined for our broodmare band, but we really thought that she wanted to continue to race,’’ Bentley said.

Cinanbunny had not raced since September when they ran her on March 7 in the Penn’s Landing at Parx. She finished fourth that day behind Hey Mamaluke. Both owner and trainer said her recent works at Fair Hill had been terrific so they returned to Parx with confidence.

“We were optimistic today that she would run back to her old form,’’ Lynch said.

Cinabunny did exactly that.

“It pays to be a Pa. Bred,’’ Bentley said

Trainer Butch Reid was two necks from winning both races as he trains Beren and Ninetypercentbrynn. It was the first start of 2022 for each so expect to see both in the winner’s circle a few times this year. As to the winners, it was career win No. 7 for each and there is plenty of time to get more before the year is over.