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.
When Jason Servis brought Vision Perfect for the 2017 Parx Dash, the trainer only had the horse for a month after claiming him for $80,000. He was 14-1 and finished 7 1/2 lengths behind Pure Sensation in the Dash.
Fast forward to the $200,000 Grade III Parx Dash on July 7 and Pure Sensation was back trying to win the five-furlong grass race for the third consecutive year with Parx Hall of Famer Kendrick Carmouche riding. But Vision Perfect had been in Servis’ barn for 13 months and this was not the same horse. Under another Parx Hall of Famer, jockey Frankie Pennington, it was Vision Perfect going by front-running Pure Sensation in the stretch and beating longshot Pool Winner by a nose, with Pure Sensation 1 3/4 lengths behind.
So, in barely a year, Vision Perfect made up nearly 10 lengths on Pure Sensation who had been 4-for-4 on the Parx grass course, also winning the Turf Monster twice. That only made sense given that Servis arrived at Parx as the hottest trainer in the country. He was winning with an incredible 50 percent of his starters at the Belmont Park and Monmouth Park meets.
In fact, just 15 minutes after Vision Perfect crossed the finish line Servis was on the first floor of the Parx grandstand watching on television as his Firenze Fire demolished the field in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont, winning by nine lengths.
When asked why he had claimed Vision Perfect in the first place, Servis, the brother of Parx Hall of Fame trainer John Servis, said: “his numbers were good”.
But Vision Perfect did not really blossom until Servis took him to Florida this winter.
“When I got to Florida, I got to change his whole training routine and really got serious with him, far more hands on with him,” Servis said
The trainer got so serious the horse won a $75,000 stakes at Gulfstream Park by nearly five lengths on March 10. That was the tipoff that a race like Vision Perfect ran in the Parx Dash was possible. Servis promised he would be back to Parx with Vision Perfect for the $300,000 Turf Monster on Sept. 3.
The trainer can’t promise if he will still be this hot in September, but “it’s been crazy,” he said. “I got some nice horses.”
When Northview Pennsylvania opened for business in 2009, it was the showplace horse farm in the Commonwealth. As it is closing on its first decade, Northview, located in Lancaster County, remains that showplace and farm manager Tim Fazio says business “is as good as it’s ever been, if not better as far as our numbers here go.”
Northview is a picturesque 180 acres in Peach Bottom, with its eight-stall stallion barn and two 20-stall foaling barns all built by local Amish craftsmen. The farm has top Pennsylvania stallion Jump Start, sire of 53 stakes winners and 16 graded stakes winners, including Prayer for Relief, Pants on Fire and Rail Trip. Young stallions Uncle Lino and Peace and Justice are set to carry on for Jump Start and Bullsbay, who is breeding fewer mares these days and the now-retired Fairbanks.
Jump Start bred between 70 and 75 mares in 2016 and 2017. The 19-year-old will be in the 60s this year, Fazio said.
“He’s doing fabulous, but we don’t push him,” Fazio said.
Uncle Lino, a son of the very popular stallion Uncle Mo, bred 103 mares in 2017 and has bred more than 110 in 2018. So, in just two years at stud, Uncle Lino has been bred to more than 200 mares, a very good start for a stallion that should give him a real opportunity to get some winners on the track.
“He’s very popular,” Fazio said. “People have been really happy with their foals. A lot of people who bred to him last year sent either the same mares or different mares back to him this year.”
Peace and Justice, a son of the very accomplished stallion War Front, is in his second year overall, and first year at Northview. Fazio thinks he’s been bred to approximately 70 mares this year. According to Fazio, Steve Young, who owns Peach and Justice, “hand selected every mare, so there are mares with a lot of speed and were good 2-year-olds.”
Northview Pa. has a dozen full-time employees and they are as busy now as they have ever been.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase over the last couple of years, in particular from last year to this year,” Fazio said. “Our farm has had a 40 percent increase in the amount of mares we foaled here. The attitude of the breeders, it’s a good feeling I’m getting right now. We’ve had more mares, we’ve had better quality mares.”
Many more mares than usual came in December to qualify as “resident mares” to have Pennsylvania-Breds.
“They would come in foal to sires the likes of Candy Ride, Tiznow, some of the more high-profile Kentucky stallions,” Fazio said. “They would come and foal here in Pennsylvania.”
The Pennsylvania-Bred racing program now has the kind of allure that is helping the business of farms like Northview.
“It seems like people are willing to breed here again and send some of the better mares,” Fazio said. “Things seem to be headed in the right direction, that’s for sure.”
One of the misconceptions about Pennsylvania breeding, Fazio said, is that people “think the money is leaving the state and not coming back in, which isn’t really true. The amount of money these people are sinking in just getting a mare in foal certainly helps the economy… Most of these people are putting more money in than they are getting out. These people aren’t making money in general. They’re putting way more money into vet bills, training bills, blacksmith bills, all this stuff.
“Every once in a while we get a new client that has some really good luck to begin with and I always try to temper their expectations. I say, ‘I’m really happy everything’s going well for you right now, but don’t expect this. This is not the way it works.’”
In fact, what Fazio sees is a microcosm of the wider participation in the state.
“Most of my clients might have a filly they ran, they liked her and wanted to breed her,” he said. “It’s more like a lot of sentimental (value). I always tell people every penny you put into it, you’ve got to be okay with never seeing it again.”
Northview’s clients are a peek into the horse industry as a whole in the Commonwealth. There is certainly a substantial amount of money flowing through it, but the reality is that almost nobody is getting rich, such are the ongoing expenses that go to fund all those employed in horse racing, thousands upon thousands who pay taxes, buy property, and support businesses in their communities, very much a cog in the state’s economic engine.
Scott Gager has been a horse dentist for 40 years, a singer for just six. His dad, Eddie Gager, also an equine dentist, actually wrote the book on it: “Sound Mouth, Sound Horse”. Scott’s son Andrew is in his 10th year working on horses’ teeth. The singing? That just happened on New Year’s Eve 2011 at a karaoke party.
The singing dentist, 54, is a fixture on the Parx Racing backstretch. When morning training is over and the afternoon races begin, Scott Gager is working on equine teeth. The rest of the time? Well, he is singing.
“We actually float the teeth, what we call filing the teeth so we take the rough edges out of a horse’s mouth,” Gager said on a recent morning at the track. “It would be the equivalent of a blacksmith in a horse’s mouth. We’re making sure everything’s smooth because they have the bit contact with a horse so we want them not to be able to throw their heads, lug in, lug out. It’s a very important thing that trainers around here do.”
The dental work was, and is, a family tradition. The singing happened quite by accident. Gager’s wife Debbie “coaxed me to get up in front of a group that was all doing karaoke”.
“She said when the radio comes up, you sound just like James Taylor,” Gager remembered. “I said ‘well, I’m not getting up there so forget about it’. She said ‘these people are terrible, just do it.’”
So he did it.
“I got up there and starting singing a James Taylor song, ‘Carolina In My Mind’ and within a few seconds, everybody’s cell phone was out,” Gager said. “I didn’t think anything of it. Nobody even said anything to me. A month later, it was posted.”
And Gager began to think he could make some extra cash being James Taylor. Within a few weeks, he realized he could do several voices. He auditioned for a job in Robbinsville, N.J., got it and, within five months, he was at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City four nights a week
Scott Gager, “The Man of 100 Voices”, was born. He has seven octaves in his voice and he is now technically up to 200 voices, ranging from Elvis Presley and then to Louie Armstrong.
“Who finds out they can sing at 48?” he said. “I can change my voice from Johnny Cash to Frankie Valli.”
“I can be anybody I want to be on stage,” Gager said.
On Aug 13, 2017, he created a Facebook Page called “Scott Gager Man of 100 Voices”. He already has 27,500 followers.
He has sung the National Anthem at the United States Capitol Building.
And by day, he is still out there messing with horses’ teeth, although his son Andrew does most of the work now.
“I actually use my hand as a speculum,” Gager said, explaining the technique. “I put it in between the bars of a horse’s mouth and I can reach every tooth in the horse’s mouth with my hands.”
One hand actually keeps the horse’s mouth open while he is working on the teeth.
“I hold their tongue,” Gager said. “I have their tongue almost outside their mouth. I reach in with my other hand and just feel the teeth.”
He uses a hand float bolstered by his arm and body strength. Over his career, he figures he has done 100,000 horses, approximately 2,500 per year. His dad, he thinks, worked on 90,000. Younger horses need their teeth worked on three or four times per year. As they age, they need fewer visits from the dentist who is not unmindful that he is working with 1,000-pound animals.
“It is dangerous,” Gager said. “I’ve been run over by horses, struck by horses, kicked, everything. Most of the horses, especially racehorses, they get a bad rap. The Thoroughbreds are actually the nicest horses. They’re the most handled. People around here are good horsemen. They’re super easy to do. They’re my favorite horses to work on.”
And Parx Racing is one of his favorite places to work.
“What I’ve seen with Pennsylvania is the breeding program has just exploded,” Gager said. “You’re getting a nice bonus for having a PA-Bred racehorse. Everybody wants PA-Breds. I think they are really climbing up the ladder, contending with these other states now. I think the stats show that.”
It was at Parx where an incident in trainer Ron Glorioso’s barn at 8:38 am on May 5, 2014 became a music video classic. Fellow equine dentist Paul Briscione was walking down the shedrow with two buckets of water when he did not notice an orange cone in front of a horse’s stall and got bitten when he got too close to the horse. Gager captured the resulting mayhem in “That Horse Bit Me”, a song he wrote in about 10 minutes.
His wife wrote a haunting song about returning soldiers with PTSD, called “Alone”. Scott sings it beautifully. He wrote “Red and Blue” when he saw the presidential map on television the morning after the 2012 election. Paul Presto contributed the music to both songs.
So the Man of Now-200 Voices is also the Man of Two Careers, one he has been doing forever; one he might be doing forevermore.
It was Oct. 10, 1974 when Ron Glorioso arrived with a few horses at Keystone Race Track. It was just him and the horses, the opening of the track still 25 days away, the stable area otherwise unoccupied, the future uncertain.
Glorioso, who turned 76 on June 18, remains in the same stable area today, a walking, talking history lesson on the track that became Philadelphia Park and is now called Parx.
A Pennsylvania State Trooper for five years, Glorioso who grew up at Broad and Erie in Philadelphia always had an affinity for horses. His father first took him to the race track when he was a freshman at North Catholic High School. He was in the state police mounted unit. He owned pieces of a few race horses.
Eventually, he worked his way to the track full time and became a trainer. He ran a stable with then-wife Pat, who was the listed trainer on the program back in the 1970s. She won 338 races. Glorioso has won 685 more in his own name so the stable has won more than 1,000 races.
At his peak, Glorioso had 27 horses in his barn. After being badly injured in a March 22, 2011 car accident not far from the track, he is down to two. His enthusiasm for the game and his home track, however, has never waned.
“The horsemen can really thank the legislature for improving everything,” said Glorioso, a born storyteller who is never satisfied with a few words when a few hundred will make him feel more alive. “We have pensions, health benefits, life insurance policies. People don’t know what’s going on. I never envisioned the purses we have now. It’s unbelievable what has happened.”
Glorioso remembers names and dates from decades ago like they happened yesterday. He knew that Parx Hall of Famer Gallant Bob made his first start at Liberty Bell Park in a maiden $12,500 claimer on July 15, 1974 and won at 46-1. At one stage of his amazing career, Gallant Bob won nine consecutive stakes in five different states, four of them at Keystone, his home track.
Glorioso will never forget when his mentor Pete Durfey, who was in Kentucky looking at young horses, told him “on my mother’s grave, there’s a colt down here who you can buy privately for $20,000. He’s a little crooked on the right side, but he’s the best looking yearling I’ve seen in 50 years.”
So Glorioso went to his partner who told him “there ain’t no horse worth $20,000”.
That horse was Seattle Slew.
“You’re right,” Glorioso told his partner a few years later, “he wasn’t worth $20,000. They just syndicated him for $12 million.”
In the summer of 2015, Glorioso finally got his first big horse. Cait the Great nearly ran out of the TV set in winning her first start. The trainer had visions of the 2016 Kentucky Oaks.
Soon after that first start, Glorioso came to the barn one day and noticed that the filly had several cuts on her head. Another horse had jumped over the webbing of her stall, causing her to hit her head. He was hoping the cuts were just superficial, but when he ran Cait the Great again, she wasn’t the same. Turned out she had a fractured skull. She eventually won again, but was never the star she might have become.
He remembered that his first good horse, You Can’t Tell, cost $4,200 and won the last race at Keystone on June 11, 1977 – the day Seattle Slew won the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.
“That’s the horse that got us rolling,” said Glorioso, the man who has been at Parx longer than anybody.
Back in 1974 before the opening, Glorioso taped commercials with Don Meredith, the former Cowboys quarterback who was then a star commentator on “Monday Night Football”. So, he was talking about his home track even then. Nothing much has changed in that respect over the last 44 years.
Rob Wheeler’s father was a blacksmith. So was his uncle. And his brother.
Known universally around the track as “Wheels”, Rob got started in the family profession when he was 17. He’s still going strong at 64, appearing almost every day at Parx to make sure the horses for his clients have the proper shoes. He sleeps most nights in a camping trailer a mile from the track. Doesn’t want to be late.
“I had to serve a three-year apprenticeship,” said Wheeler, talking in the Parx Recreation building in the track’s stable area.
Even with that, he wasn’t sure he could shoe horses the right way when he began.
“You’ve got all this pressure on you because you’re young and you just started,” Wheeler said. “If you make one mistake, everybody will go in the (track) kitchen and say ‘don’t use that guy’ because he’ll (mess) your horse up.”
Wheeler’s 47 years on the job are a testament to his proficiency. A horse’s feet are critical to performance. And if something is off, the horse will perform at less than his best. Wheeler does his very best to make sure that does not happen.
His job is just one of dozens of professions that employ thousands at the Commonwealth’s race tracks and horse farms and contributes to the state’s economic engine.
Shoeing a horse is delicate business. It can also be dangerous as 1,000-pound animals can be cantankerous, especially if you are messing with their feet.
Wheeler was born in the Ft. Meade Army Camp in Maryland when his dad was serving in Korea. The camp was five miles from Laurel Park where young Rob first spent time around horses.
His father and uncle worked for the Big Four trainers in Maryland – King Leatherbury, Buddy Delp, Dick Dutrow and John Tammaro. Their credibility helped establish the young “Wheels”.
Wheeler has been all over, but these days he works on horses for Parx trainers Mike Pino, Roger Brown and Juan Vazquez, a total of around 75 horses. He worked for trainer Allen Iwinski at Parx before that. He calls Iwinski his personal favorite.
Horses typically get shod once a month, a little less in the winter, according to Wheeler because their feet don’t grow as much in the cold weather.
The best way to understand horses’ feet is to think about your fingernails. They are always growing. Wheeler’s job is to make sure they are level for the shoes and that the shoes fit correctly when he nails them on. Too small is especially problematic.
He was badly injured twice. His hand was “tread on” and he did not work for two years. When he picked up a bail of straw to throw into a shed, he “ripped all the muscles in my right side and collapsed my pelvis”. He missed two more years, but he always came back.
His father became a very good trainer after his blacksmith days were done. And then he retired.
“I watched my dad quit, and in a year and a half, he was dead,” Wheeler said.
So he has no plans to stop, not now, not ever.
On a typical morning, Wheeler might shoe three or four horses. Over a month, he gets to all of them in his care. He gets $140 per horse. The shoes, nails and supplies cost $45. He will spend another $10 for somebody to hold the horse while he is putting the shoes on. He has liability insurance so his margin is tight like so many race track workers. Bottom line after expenses, he makes around $70 per horse.
“I made a mess of money when I was younger doing 10 a day,” Wheeler said.
Over time, Wheeler has had six apprentices himself.
“I made them serve the three years,” Wheeler said. “You’re getting on-the-job training, but when you come out of that apprenticeship, you’re not really prepared for every situation you’re going to face. If you don’t do the three years, you’ve got no clue what to do.”
But Rob Wheeler knew what to do when he got his start. All these years later, he still knows.
If you went to any racetrack in the eastern time zone and asked somebody if they knew John Breeden, they would likely look at you blankly. If, however, you asked if they knew “Kidd,” they would know absolutely.
John Breeden used to ride his bike to the 4 1/2-furlong chute in Charles Town, West Virginia, his hometown. Not just some of the time, but all of the time. He would hang out for hours. Until it became what are you doing kid? Who is that kid? And that eventually became “The Kidd.”
Kidd has been a jockey agent for a quarter century now. He represents Joshua Navarro these days at Parx Racing, a track he really likes because “the money is awesome here”.
Kidd walked hots at Charles Town when he was just 14. He was an assistant trainer for Jeff Runco and then Tim Ritchie. One day, jockey Phil Grove, who was riding first call for Ritchie, pulled Kidd aside and explained the facts of racetrack life.
“Listen,” Grove told him, “I think you’re a nice kid. You have good people skills. You talk to people well. There’s going to be a fork in the road at some point in time.”
Trainer? Or some other position in a sport Grove recognized Kidd had an affinity for. Why not a jock’s agent?
So, in 1992, Kidd became the agent for Grove, who finished his career with 3,991 winners.
“And I love it,” Kidd said.
Unlike many agents, Kidd has kept riders for long periods of time. He had Joe Rocco, Sr. and Joe Rocco, Jr. He had a great 12-year run with Jeremy Rose, a time that included an Eclipse Award for leading apprentice and an amazing two-year run in 2004 and 2005 with Afleet Alex that culminated in Preakness and Belmont Stakes wins.
“That’s a long time,” Kidd said, “We did a lot of good together.”
Kidd had Kendrick Carmouche at the end of his dominant Parx run before they went to New York together.
“I don’t think New York was for me to be honest with you,” Kidd said. “The city moves too fast. I’m a country boy from West Virginia.”
Kidd came back to Parx in Pennsylvania, worked for Jorge Vargas for two years and now is the agent for Navarro, who was having great success at Finger Lakes. Kidd called him and reminded him how well he had done earlier in his career at Parx where the racing is stronger, the purses are bigger and the opportunity to make a good living is better. Navarro, who won the 2015 Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx on Trouble Kid, liked the pitch and returned to Parx. The jockey has won 39 races and his mounts have earned $1.2 million so far in 2018.
Like nearly all race trackers, Kidd is up every day before dawn. Once he heads for the track, he gets on the phone.
“Bluetooth is a great invention,” said Kidd, who stops by the four or five barns of trainers that Navarro rides regularly for when he arrives at the track.
“The draw here is very early,” Kidd said. “They get things done. They don’t drag their feet. It makes it a little bit easier.”
Kidd’s jockey rides a lot for trainers Steve Klesaris and John Servis so he is in regular communication with them about what races are coming up and what horses Navarro might ride in those races.
When he started, Kidd was managing his business from memory and on paper. Now, he uses a computer program called Thoromanager that enables him to see the history of horses his jockey might ride and how that horse might fit in a particular race in the condition book.
“I used to glue the charts into a book with the conditions until the technology changed,” Kidd said. “It’s a game changer. It’s a great tool to use.”
Jockeys get 10 percent of winning purses. Agents typically get 25 percent of what the jockey earns. So winning matters, but so does the scene, one that Kidd has loved since he first experienced it at Charles Town.
If you asked Kidd his dream position in the business, it would likely be as a Director of Racing. Certainly, he knows condition books cold. He knows trainers. He knows owners. He knows the game.
Kidd has worked in Kentucky, Florida, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, New Jersey, New York and now, of course, in Pennsylvania. Horse racing has been in his blood since he was that kid at the Charles Town chute. It remains there today – but now in the Keystone State.
Marshall Gramm is an economics professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., its urban campus renowned for its beauty, its 2,025 students from 46 states and 43 countries celebrated for their community service. Gramm is also an owner of 40 horses in training spread around several American race tracks. There is, however, one track that stands out for Gramm – Parx Racing.
“I consider Parx my home base,” Gramm said. “I’m always looking to bring a good horse to Parx whether I’m buying it at a sale, whether I’m buying it privately or whether I’m claiming it.”
In fact, Gramm’s Ten Strike Racing was the leading owner at Parx in 2016 and 2017. He has 12 to 18 horses in training at Parx at any one time. He pays a $75 day rate (per horse per day). The trainer and jockey each get 10 percent of winning purses. The vet gets paid. Gramm pays the horse van company, which happens to be Brook Ledge, with a Pennsylvania hub based in Oley, near Reading. He figures he has a van bill approaching six figures every year.
“I love buying horses elsewhere and bring them to Pennsylvania to race,” Gramm said. He claimed 14 horses at the 2018 Oaklawn Park meet. Half of them ended up at Parx.
“Parx has a great purse structure,” Gramm said. “Parx has a wonderful condition book. I really love how they do their condition book, better than any track in the country, just in terms of how it’s methodically set up. It’s why I enjoy racing there. It’s a great locale to base horses.”
So the economics professor, son of former Texas United States Senator Phil Gramm, is a serious economic driver in the Commonwealth.
“I’m a breeder,” Gramm said, “I’ve got PA-Breds. I have a significant number of horses that all come from out-of-state. So if anyone knows anything about owning horses, almost all my money just plows right back into Parx. Look, I made some money in 2016, lost a little bit in 2017 and look good in 2018. It’s hardly like you can take that purse money and imagine that all comes in my pocket. It all goes back to (trainer Carlos Guerrero), his staff, building up his stable. A small fraction, if I make a profit at all, comes back in my direction.”
Gramm has two mares at Pin Oak Lane Farm in New Freedom, York County. One of them was bred to Pennsylvania sire Jump Start.
“I don’t come up to Pennsylvania often enough or Parx often enough, but I think of it as my home track,” Gramm said. “I bet Parx on a daily basis. The only difference between me and some of your owners up there is that I live in Memphis, Tennessee. I don’t think that changes any part of the equation of where my money goes. I guess if I have a good day, I might go a restaurant in Memphis versus a restaurant in (Bensalem). But that’s really about it.”
Gramm pays taxes in Pennsylvania. His trainer’s staff, including grooms, hot walkers and exercise riders, is all employed in Pennsylvania.
Gramm owns most of the stable’s claiming horses himself. He also puts partnerships together for horses he buys as yearlings and 2-year-olds with the main objective being Oaklawn Park for partners that live in Arkansas. He has a few horses at Monmouth Park, Laurel Park and Golden Gate Fields.
“We file (taxes) in all the different states we race,” Gramm said. “We ran at 30 different tracks last year and we won races at 16 different tracks. We won 69 races.”
In 2017, he had 10 different trainers, with the attendant accounting and bookkeeping issues.
“I used to do that on my own, but I basically outsourced that to my accountant,” Gramm said. “It was too much.”
Parx, however, is always his favorite track.
“It’s the place that I want to race of all the tracks I sort of look at,” Gramm said, “It fits my ownership profile. I don’t have enough money to compete in New York.”
It’s laughable when somebody suggests the purse money at Parx is going to sheikhs. Gramm would know.
“I feel like a lot of the owners at Parx are a lot like me,” Gramm said. “A lot of them are small businessmen. I don’t think of Parx owners as a series of outsiders. I’m an anomaly, but I feel like I’m not a poacher. The only way I’m an anomaly is that I don’t live in Pennsylvania.”
He contributes so much to the commonwealth’s economy every year it is almost as if he lives here.
“I pay taxes in Pennsylvania,” Gramm said. “I have a big business. I did over $785,000 in purses. Almost all of that money gets churned right back into my business, buying more horses, breeding horses, helping to pay for my operation.”
And, in his real job, he is also helping grow the overall business. He taught an “Economics of Race Track Wagering Markets” class in the spring of 2017. He had 35 students and plans to teach the class every other spring semester.
“All those students e-mailed me their Derby picks,” Gramm said. “When I teach my other classes, it’s hard not to work in horse racing-related examples.”
So Marshall Gramm has a serious racing stable. He teaches about the game. And he is the leading owner at Parx.
Freddy and Michelle Castillo rode together at several different tracks around the country and, for a few years, in Chile. Now, they train horses together every day at Parx.
Freddy started his riding career in 1991 at what was then Philadelphia Park. Michelle Luttrell began her jockey’s career in 1993 when she was the hottest apprentice in New York.
A few years later, they ended up at Thistledown, the race track southeast of Cleveland and not all that far from where Michelle grew up in Canton, Ohio. They knew each other for about a year before they began a relationship.
“We just hit it off,” Michelle said. “We had so much in common. We just got along so well. We know what we wanted to do. The rest is history, 23 years later.”
The Castillos have a daughter Amanda, now 20.
When they were jockeys, they never rode “against” each other, Freddy said.
“We always rooted for each other, if she won or I won, it was always a house win,” Freddy said. “It would be like rooting against yourself.”
The perfect ending was a race in Chile when they finished in a dead heat for the win, likely the only time in history a husband and wife have been in a dead heat.
“Michelle had a lot of success in Chile,” Freddy said. “She became famous in Chile.”
Then riding as Michelle Castillo, she was a novelty because there were almost no female jockeys at the two tracks in Santiago. She also won – a lot.
“I won the very first day,” Michelle said. “It was just like a phenomenon. Here I was this blonde-haired, blue-eyed American girl coming (to Chile) and beating these men. I got an opportunity to ride a lot of nice horses. My first year, I was third in the nation. It was amazing.”
They were in Chile during the early 2000s before returning to the states. When their riding careers ended, they returned to where Freddy’s riding career began – at Parx.
“It’s year-round racing,” Freddy said. “That makes your life a lot easier as a family. All the benefits that the horsemen get here…How about all the people that came from Boston? We have a ton of those people. We rode up there for a few years and we’re friends with all those people. The slots saved their careers. For us, it was a life changer because we get to stay here year-round instead of being gypsies.”
The Castillos have 12 horses in their barn at the moment so they are able to make a nice living.
“It’s nice to have horses that can get you a piece of those (big) purses,” Michelle said. “It really goes a long way”
Indeed, the Castillos have come a long way. In his 15-year riding career, Freddy had 5,246 North American mounts with 703 wins and purse earnings of $6.5 million. Michelle, who also rode for 15 years, had 249 wins from 2,286 mounts and purse earnings of $3.3 million.
Michelle is the trainer of record, Freddy her assistant. But it is definitely a team. Michelle has started 471 horses with 37 wins and $1.1 million in earnings during a training career that really got started in 2012. In 2018, she has 17 in-the-money finishes from just 28 starters, a strong strike rate.
And they are at Parx to stay, gypsies no longer, the attractive purses and year-round racing a great incentive to establish roots in the community for years to come.
Michael Ballezzi recoiled every time he saw the words ‘horse’ and ‘slaughter’ in proximity. He had a thoughtful idea, but ideas without pragmatic solutions become goodwill without follow through.
In May 2008, that idea became the solution when a funding mechanism was developed which would allow horses at Parx Racing that were no longer able to compete be rehabilitated, retrained and rehomed, horse racing’s version of the three Rs. Ballezzi presented his idea to the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA) Board of Directors which supported the idea and its funding. An 8-year-old son of 1981 Kentucky Derby winner Pleasant Colony named Maneuverable became the first of what is now 2347 horses in the PTHA’s Turning for Home Racehorse Retirement Program (TFH).
Ballezzi, the Executive Director of the PTHA, hired Barbara Luna to be the first Program Administrator. Five years ago, Danielle Montgomery succeeded Luna in the position. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, TFH is the model program in the industry, emulated by more and more racetrack organizations.
The goal is simple: find a good home for Parx-based horses that either because of poor performance or injury can no longer compete at the track. TFH was not the first organization with such a laudable goal. It was the first that successfully developed a self-sustaining funding model for what can be a very expensive endeavor.
Horses might have a 5-year career on the track, but they often live another 20 years. What to do with those horses that require feeding, veterinary work and possible surgeries had been a problem without a solution – until TFH.
TFH is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the PTHA. Approximately 80 percent of the annual funding comes from the owners who race at the track, with a $30 deduction per start. That amounts to around $360,000 annually. PTHA and Parx management contribute $50,000 per year, Parx jockeys $25,000 ($20 per win, $10 per place) and the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders (PHBA) contribute $15,000. Public donations and fundraising account for the remainder of the program’s funding.
It is essentially horsemen saving horses. No horses are turned down by TFH.
Through the decade, the operation has been streamlined. It begins when an owner and trainer decide it is time to retire a horse. At Parx, it is mandated that you can’t sell any horse without knowing where that horse might end up. Violating that rule results in a loss of stalls. It has happened just twice because Parx enforced its zero-tolerance policy.
There is an intake form in the TFH office right inside the door of the Parx Administration Building in the track’s stable area. Once that is filled out and the foal papers are signed over, those papers go to the Jockey Club to be stamped as “Retired from Racing.” Each horse will then be evaluated by a veterinarian as the search for a home begins. On-track vet Dr. Thomas Lurito makes the initial assessment. If surgery is needed, Dr. Janik Gasiorowski generally performs the surgery at a big discount.
“We choose the farm based on the horse’s needs,” Montgomery said.
TFH has 20 Partner Farms.
“We have two types of Partner Farms,” Ballezzi said. “One gets the horse ready to be retrained and re-homed. We also have the rehab farms where we send our horses from the veterinary exams to be rehabbed medically for layups. The point is we don’t let any horse out until we know the horse can survive training. We have an intermediary group of farms that do that.”
Horses with more needs are sent to Partner Farms with as much as a $1,500 stipend. Eventually, once the horses are ready, the farms will find new owners to adopt the horses, perhaps to become recreational riding horses, hunter jumpers and therapeutic horses among other uses. Maneuverable, the very first horse in the program, became a fox hunter and was renamed “Honest Abe.” The Partner Farms, an important link in the chain from race track to long term homes, get to keep any adoption fees.
All the while, TFH tracks each of the retired horses, checks up on the Partner Farms regularly and makes certain any horses that once raced at Parx are well treated. In 2018, Montgomery said it is typically two weeks from the time they receive an intake form until a horse can be moved to a Partner Farm.
“We’ve earned the trust of our horsemen here,” Montgomery said. “We’ve earned the trust of our farms and our adopters.”
That the Thoroughbreds have been professionally trained since birth gives them a big advantage in finding homes.
“It’s better to get a horse off the track,” said Montgomery, who got her start on the track as a hotwalker and exercise rider before a short stint as a trainer. “Somebody has already put in all the time. I don’t know anybody that’s going to raise a horse from a baby that has the discipline to make sure that horse is going to be trained every day for three years.”
The keys to the program’s success are the people who are so dedicated to it, including Montgomery, PTHA Marketing Director Nikki Sherman and Montgomery’s assistant Danielle Gibson. But none of it would be possible without the funding mechanism developed by Ballezzi that was supported so quickly by the PTHA board and remains supported today, especially by current PTHA President Sal DeBunda.
“The point is I know that the horses are safe and that the program is being administered correctly and that the money is being spent wisely,” Ballezzi said.
Somewhat similar programs were implemented at other tracks, but were not sustainable because they were not funded adequately. At Parx, which has become the national model, the horsemen who benefit from their share of the slots money give back to their horses by helping to fund TFH.
“Mike got it right from the start,” Montgomery said. “We’ve been able to assist every horse that’s been presented to us. We’ve never turned a horse away.”
So that slot money essentially is now being used to save horses. And the saving could not happen without the slot money. The money is paid to the horsemen first in the form of purses. Then, that $30 deduction per starter goes to TFH.
“We tell the owners and trainers where their former horses are,” Montgomery said. “They love to follow their progress, and some owners have gone to support their horses at shows like the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover in Kentucky.”
The fifth annual Turning for Home Day at Parx is on Saturday, June 23. That day, fans who once followed these horses and perhaps bet on them, get to learn about where those horses are now and what they are doing.
Beyond helping the retired horses live long lives, all the data the vets are getting from studying and cataloging any injures these horses might have will help to develop programs that can better treat or even prevent some of these injuries in the future.
The PTHA pays for any diagnostics like X-rays. Then TFH keeps an online file for each horse, including vet records, injuries and anything that might be help in a follow up months or years down the road.
That is a residual benefit of Turning for Home. “The” benefit is that all Park horses are given an alternative to slaughter and are offered a second career with adopters who will love and care for them.
Butch Reid has been training horses since 1985. Like so many of his brethren, he led the life of a gypsy, going from track to track depending on the season and the horses in his barn. He has won 729 races with purse earning for his owners of $22.2 million, nice numbers but, once you start factoring in all the expenses, nothing that is going to make anybody rich.
When he heard a casino was coming to Parx, not all that far from where he grew up in South Jersey, he said “I decided I might beat the gate and get here as soon as I could.”
So he arrived with the slot machines. He had some good years and lean years before that, but his best years have been between 2008 and 2018. His stable typically wins between 30 and 55 races each year with purse earnings for his owners between $1.1 million and $2.2 million.
“I don’t think anybody could have imagined it turned out to be as big as it did,” Reid said.
His four main owners, prominent businessmen in the Philadelphia area, have invested millions in the horse business. His wife Ginny is right by his side at the barn every day, a partner in every way. Together, they won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Marathon with Afleet Again the year before their Poseidon’s Warrior won a Grade I stake at Saratoga. The out of town success is nice, but almost all of their business is at Parx with Pennsylvania people.
Reid keeps 20 to 30 horses depending on the time of year and has 14 full-time employees. His 2017 payroll was $430,000.
“They have apartments and houses in the area, pay their taxes, pay their unemployment,” he said. “I paid over $100,000 in workers’ compensation to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2017 so we are definitely contributing to the local economy and the statewide economy.”
Multiply Reid’s stable by hundreds statewide and the economic impact becomes even more obvious.
Why, Reid was asked, is that not well known?
“I think it’s a marketing problem,” Reid said. “It’s great that we have a casino, but we’ve been dominated by the casino. Several people don’t even know there’s live racing that goes on here.”
Reid knows it because he lives it. As do his owners who spent several hundred thousand dollars last year at a Maryland horse sale strictly on Pennsylvania breds.
“There’s so many phases to a horse’s life,” Reid said. “Most of them start out in a nursery and most of them are in the state of Pennsylvania. Horses are being bred and foaled there. Then, they go to another facility for breaking and training with more farm land being used and a bunch of employees there too. One thing about this industry is that it’s very labor intensive. All along the way, there are at least two people for each race horse.”
Contrary to popular opinion, Pennsylvania horse owners are not making a killing in the business. In fact, the vast majority lose money because it is so expensive to keep a horse in training.
“It’s sport,” Reid said. “They like the action. It’s for the excitement and the adventure of it.”
One race horse, Reid said, costs about $3,000 per month to train. There are training bills, vet bills, feed bills, transportation bills, bills and more bills.
“There are at least 10 people that see each horse every day,” Reid said.
The increased purses at Parx actually give owners a chance, but it is no get rich quick scheme.
“It is imperative the horses are competitive, getting at least a part of the purse just to keep the business afloat,” Reid said.
Extrapolate that $3,000 per month over a year, factor in that 10 percent of each owner’s purse is deducted for trainer and jockey shares and Reid estimates $50,000 per year is the break-even point for each horse.
“It is not for the faint of heart,” Reid said. “It is a risky business.”
But it also a great business, Reid said, especially since they have come to Parx full time.
“We’ve set up here,” Reid said. “It’s been great. Year-round racing really helps. A lot of times, you are going to have pick up and move every three months.”
The Reids’ daughter Whitney went to eight schools by the time she was in eighth grade. A recent Drexel medical school graduate, Whitney will begin her residency at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, not far from where he parents live in Bucks County, a home that horse racing at Parx made possible.