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.


By Dick Jerardi

Perfect rarely happens in life or at the race track. Perfect happened last Saturday at Parx on Pennsylvania Derby Day.

It was a gloriously brilliant day with 13 races that stretched over 6 1/2 hours. The total handle ($13,799,491) broke the old track record set in 2014 by 30 percent. The results were formful and wild, with 1-20 shots and 108-1 shots in the winner’s circle.

Some of the biggest names in the sport won the three major stakes races, but Parx jockeys and trainers were serious players in four of the other five stakes.

The two best performances were by 9-10 Hot Rod Charlie in the Pennsylvania Derby and 1-20 Jackie’s Warrior in the Gallant Bob. Each will be headed to DelMar for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and BC Sprint respectively.

Hot Rod Charlie arrived a week before the Derby. Stabled next to his constant companion Lava Man (claimed for $50,000, won $5 million) in Scott Lake’s Barn 2, HRC had been great and unlucky at the same time during a campaign that began in January. The colt had never run a bad race, but circumstance and a disqualification from first in the Haskell had kept him from a Grade I win.

After leading all the way under Flavien Prat and winning the Pa. Derby by a decisive 2 1/4 lengths, Hot Rod Charlie finally had his Grade I win for his eclectic ownership group and trainer Doug O’Neill. His career-best Beyer speed figure of 111 stamps him as a major contender for the Classic.

“Charlie is a rock star,’’ O’Neill said. “I’m just a roadie but I am a pumped roadie, that’s for sure.”

With good reason.

“When you have speed and stamina and class, you can do some crazy, cool things,’’ O’Neill said. “He displayed today that he has got some special qualities that, if he stays injury free, could lead to big stuff in November. I think he can be a big force in the Breeders’ Cup.’’

The colt cornered poorly into the stretch and came out close to Midnight Bourbon who had been chasing all the way. There was an inquiry and objection from Ricardo Santana who rode Midnight Bourbon. But there was no change. Nor should there have been. Midnight Bourbon had the length of the stretch to get by and was losing ground at the finish.

As good as Hot Rod Charlie was and he was really good, Jackie’s Warrior was perhaps even more dazzling with a blowout win in the Gallant Bob. Now, 8-for-9 with a neck loss in one-turn races, the son of Maclean’s Music never gave four overmatched foes a chance, opening up on the backstretch and being geared down in the stretch by Joel Rosario for trainer Steve Asmussen. The margin was 6 3/4 lengths, but it could have been anything. Jackie’s Warrior got a 110 Beyer.

 “He’s very exciting to watch,’’ Asmussen said. “What a very special horse he’s been. He’s run some game races and obviously, we’re hoping it’s the ideal prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.’’

The deadly Asmussen-Santana combination were the deserving winners in the Cotillion with the ultra-consistent Clairiere. Running in her eighth consecutive graded stakes, Clairiere is now 9-for-9 in the top four and, just like Hot Rod Charlie, she got her breakthrough Grade I win when she came rolling off the far turn and blew by the leaders in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths as the 5-2 favorite.

Clairiere was not the best horse on the card, but there was no disputing she was the best bred. By seven-time Grade I winner, two-time Horse of the Year, and $10 million earner Curlin out of $2 million earner Cavorting (three Grade I wins and three more Grade II), she has always run like a Grade I winner. The Cotillion made it official.

Parx-based horses ran 1-3 in the Turf Monster and Greenwood Cup, the other graded stakes on the card. Parx horses won the two Pennsylvania-bred stakes that began and ended the run of eight consecutive stakes. And the Parx Dirt Mile had the wildest ending of the day.

As an 8-year-old, Hollywood Talent ran third in the 2019 Turf Monster behind the newly-minted Parx Hall of Famer Pure Sensation. Seemingly headed in the wrong direction when entered for an $8,000 claiming race last November, trainer Juan Vazquez nonetheless decided to claim the horse.

Winless in six starts since then and apparently way off his best form, Hollywood Talent was 108-1 in the Turf Monster. But the now 10-year-old, always in a good spot under Santana, running on softer ground that he clearly loved, flew at the finish to win by 1 1/4 lengths,

It was Vazquez who gave the Panamanian Santana his American start in 2012 at Delaware Park and the wonderful jockey paid Vazquez back with a win he will never forget.

The Parx-based Admiral Abe, the $25,000 claim that has earned $381,012 since, looked home in midsretch at 23-1, but got tired late and settled for a terrific third.

Jamie Ness, who has dominated the Parx trainer standings for two years running, had one graded stakes win in his career. He now has two after Magic Michael came from nowhere under Frankie Pennington to run them all down in the Greenwood Cup. This was the horse’s seventh win since being claimed by Ness for $30,000 last November at Churchill Downs. And the biggest.

“You know, we are local,’’ Ness said. “A big day. Took a little bit of a shot here but the horse seems to do well over this track. We have been pointing to this race for two months. It came up a little stronger than we thought it would. But we are here, took a shot and my jock knows this track real well. I think he won the race for me today.’’

Ness and Pennington also teamed up to win the Alphabet Soup, the race after the Pa. Derby. Pennington was chill much of the way on You Must Chill, but when the horse saw daylight in the stretch, he came with a huge run to catch and pass the Parx-based Wait for It to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

The amazing Chub Wagon made it 10-for-11 when she won the Plum Pretty, her first two-turn race. It was a strangely-run race as Chub Wagon was held back in second by Jomar Torres behind a tepid pace. But she opened up on the far turn and had enough to hold off a late run by Vault and the great finisher Rosario.

Parx Hall of Fame trainer Lupe Preciado has done a wonderful job keeping Chub Wagon in top form despite a very busy schedule that most recently included three races in 33 days

The most exciting finish of the day was in the Parx Dirt Mile which had three-million-dollar earners that ended up finishing 1-2-3. Looked like 4-5 Silver State had the race won for Asmussen-Santana when he went by Mind Control by a half-length in deep stretch. But Mind Control, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, quite possibly the greatest jockey/trainer combo in history, came again to win it by a head. Warrior’s Charge, owned by Parx regular Ten Strike Racing, finished a solid third.  When the day was over, the only regret was that we will have to wait a year to do it all over again. Whatever goes down on Pa. Derby Day 2022, it will be hard to equal or top this day. But we all keep showing up to find out what is going to happen next and, every once in a great while, we experience perfection.


By Dick Jerardi

It has been two years so the anticipation for Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby Day at Parx is as high as it’s ever been. And the race card may very well be the best in the history of the race track.

The 13 races have combined purses of $3.74 million. The eight stakes, starting in race 6 and continuing through race 13, have purses of $3.4 million. The biggest names in the sport have entered horses for the biggest race day in the Commonwealth all year and America’s biggest race day in the month of September.

Four Hall of Fame trainers (Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher) have entered 11 horses. Chad Brown, Brad Cox and Doug O’Neill, all headed to the Hall of Fame, have entered five. Two Parx Hall of Famers, John Servis and Butch Reid, have entered 11.

The jockeys are among the very best in the sport – John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat, Jose Ortiz, Luis Saez, Ricardo Santana, Florent Geroux and Paco Lopez as well as Parx Hall of  Famers Kendrick Carmouche and Frankie Pennington.

And it is called horse racing for a reason. There are so many fabulous horses on the card.

The $1 million Grade I Pa. Derby (race 12) has four of the top seven finishers from the Kentucky Derby, including winner Medina Spirit and Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie who finished third. Midnight Bourbon, second in the Preakness, Travers and La. Derby, is the very definition of solid. The race has every top 3-year-old in training with the notable exception of division leader Essential Quality.

 Upsets are always possible, but the winner most likely will be Hot Rod Charlie (O’Neill/Prat) or Medina Spirit (Velazquez/Baffert). Both are fast, accomplished and consistent.

The $1 million Grade 1 Cotillion (race 11) has a terrific cast of 3-year-old fillies, led by Grade I CCA Oaks winner Maracuja who will be ridden by Carmouche for trainer Rob Atras. Asmussen has Clairiere (Santana) who always fires against the best of the division. Army Wife (Mike Maker/Rosario) won the Black Eyed Susan and Iowa Oaks. Servis sends out Monmouth Oaks winner Leader of the Band (Pennington) for local owner Will Schwartz.

The $300,000 Grade II Gallant Bob (race 10) features the fastest 3-year-old sprinter in the country in Jackie’s Warrior, a neck from being unbeaten in eight one-turn races for the Asmussen/Rosario combination. The colt will be a very short price and won’t take long to negotiate the 6 furlongs. The Reid-trainer Beren, with four wins at Parx, will be among those trying to pull off a huge upset.

The $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster (race 9) is headlined by the very consistent Carotari and the brilliant Pennsylvania-bred filly Caravel, unbeaten in five grass races at 5 or 5 ½ furlongs. This race is at 5 furlongs and has been won by such greats as Ben’s Cat, Pure Sensation and Chamberlain Bridge.

The $200,000 marathon that is the Greenwood Cup (race 8) includes Math Wizard, the 30-1 upset winner of the 2019 Pa. Derby, the last one run until Saturday after last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic.

The $200,000 Parx Dirt Mile (Race 7) would be a headliner many days, with multiple stakes winner such as Mind Control ($1,299,229 in earnings) and Silver State ($1,865,094) as well as millionaire Warrior’s Charge, part owned by Parx regular Marshall Gramm’s Ten Strike Racing.

It is such a strong card that lock Parx Horse of the Year Chub Wagon will run in the first of the stakes, The $200,000 Plum Pretty (Race 6) for Pa. Breds. The 4-year-old filly, trained by Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado and ridden by Jomar Torres, will be making her first start around two turns. It is a strong field, but the only chance for an upset is if Chub Wagon is not at all effective at a mile and a sixteenth. She is going to be in front so she will have a distinct tactical advantage.

The $200,000 Alphabet Soup Handicap (Race 13) for Pa. Breds going a mile and a sixteenth on grass, includes the wonderful Wait for It (12 wins, $638,108 in earnings). Almost all of that money has been earned on the main track with one grass start, a third in a 2018  Pa. Bred stake.

If you can’t make it to the track, you can check it all out on PHL 17 (4-6 p.m.), with the Pa. Derby, Cotillion and Gallant Bob live and several other stakes on tape.

More than ever, horse racing is an event-driven sport, with major events more popular than ever. Over the last decade, Pennsylvania Derby Day has become one of those events. And the 2021 version promises to be one of the very best.


By Dick Jerardi

When Precious crossed the wire first in the Aug. 23 Mrs. Penny Stakes at Parx, Grew Newell began to celebrate. Only his celebration may have been a bit louder and more demonstrative and definitely more emotional than most. He had his reasons.

Newell is the president of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders’ Association. The Mrs. Penny was one of five $100,000 stakes during Pa. Day At The Races, a card that featured only Pennsylvania breds. It was the first time he owned “anything close to a stakes horse in years.’’ And Precious just happens to be his wife Kathy’s nickname. The 4-year-old filly was born just about the same time Kathy got a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Needless to say, that was pretty devastating,’’ Newwell said. “The great news is my wife is fully recovered, but the name Precious was a. her nickname and b. life is precious. That’s why I scream and shout because I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and I want to celebrate at the moment for all its worth. I don’t care if it looks embarrassing or whatever. Life really is precious and you’ve got to celebrate it because you just don’t know.’’

 No, you do not.

“It was a long, hellish year (after the diagnosis) and this horse means the world to us,’’  Newell said. “(Cancer) was not in our family, came out of nowhere and you start to hang on for straws. Then, this beautiful little filly came along and she’s just been everything. It’s a really wonderful story.’’

 It is indeed.

 Newell, like so many in the Commonwealth, became attracted to the sport in 2004 because of Smarty Jones.

He was in the Little Red Feather partnership when they had horses in Pennsylvania with trainer John Servis. Later, he had a piece of MarchFore Thoroughbreds’ Adirondack King during that horse’s 46-race career that began in 2011 and ended in 2017 with 7 wins, 10 seconds, 7 thirds, and earnings of $578,554. The gelding was also trained by Servis. As is Precious has five wins and earnings of $252,020. Newell expects her to run in the Sept. 25 Plum Pretty Stakes on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard.“I’m here to run,’’ Newell said. “We’re not going to the breeding shed. We can wait three more years for all I care. I breed to race.’’

 That Precious won on Pa. Day was just about perfect.

“It’s part of the whole message that even the small people (can succeed),’’ said Newell, putting on his PHBA hat. “Listen, I’ve only got a couple of mares. But you have a chance in the Pa. breeding program to have a successful day and have a big win and you don’t always have to go to the highest stallions and so forth and you can trust your own mare and so for me to then send a message to everybody else: listen I’m only here because of the Pa. program, no other reason am I here today except for that.’’

And he is not going anywhere. His engineering firm, Nave Newell, is based in Wayne. Right out of college, he was the design engineer when a turf course was installed about the time Keystone was being renamed Philadelphia Park in 1985. He rides horses every day. He has pieces of a few other runners, some mares and yearlings.

So how did he end up as president of the PHBA?

“I say that I’m pretty lousy at musical chairs,’’ Newell said.

He wasn’t really the only one standing when the music stopped. He was interested.

He became friends with PHBA executive secretary Brian Sanfrantello, who asked him to be on the board.

“I’m just a person if I’m going to be involved, I’m going to be involved,’’ Newell said.

 So he got involved and then became president. His business lends itself to interactions with state legislators. So, he was ready for that part of the job.

 “I’m just willing to talk to people,’’ Newell said.

And he is willing to celebrate so that everybody notices which make him the perfect horse racing ambassador in all his roles.


By Dick Jerardi

Chub Wagon had been perfect through eight starts until finally losing, a strong second on an unfamiliar sloppy surface in her previous start. Sweet Willemina had started four times since being claimed in June and won them all.

 The form of the two 4-year-old fillies was impossible to ignore in the two $100,000 stakes at Parx on Labor Day. Chub Wagon was 3-10 in the 6 1/2-furlong Roamin Rachel, Sweet Willemina 3-5 in the 1 1/18-mile Salvatore M. DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup. The results were never in doubt.

Chub Wagon sat off a moderate pace set by an extreme longshot, cruised to the lead under regular jockey Jomar Torres and won by a convincing 4 lengths. Sweet Willemina essentially ran the same race under Silvestre Gonzalez, sitting just behind a front-running longshot, blowing by on the far turn to open up an insurmountable lead that was 7 lengths at the wire.

So Chub Wagon is now 9-for-10, with that second for owners Danny Lopez and George Chestnut. When asked if they had ever been around a horse that ran so brilliantly in every race, Lopez and Chub Wagon’s trainer Lupe Preciado each had a one-word answer: “No.’’

Sweet Willemina was claimed for $32,000 on June 17 at Churchill Downs by trainer Scott Lake for his Home Team Stable and owner Rich Ciavardone.

 “She just had all the lifetime conditions,’’ Lake said when asked why he claimed the filly. “Just looked like a horse that would come here and go through all those conditions.’’

Well, she went through them perfectly and emerged as an odds-on favorite in a $100,000 stake.

“It’s unbelievable, the ones you dream of,’’ Lake said.

When the previous week’s drenching rains took the President’s Cup off the grass, it was perfect for Sweet Willemina who was entered for the main track only.

“She’s very cool,’’ said Gonzalez, who has ridden her in all five wins. “She’s got a lot of heart. She just listens to me really well. She’s able to rate and wait and knows when to make the run down the stretch.’’

Chub Wagon was finally beaten two weeks prior to the Roamin Rachel, but she gave a huge effort.

“Her last race, she just didn’t handle the going and the winner ran a lifetime best,’’ Lopez said.

 Even in defeat, she still fired. In Roamin Rachel, Chub Wagon was always in control.

“Every time she runs, she runs impressively,’’ Preciado said. “It does not look like an accident.’’

Lopez, the longtime trainer, and Preciado, the Parx Hall of Famer, have become a formidable team with Chub Wagon. They have trained a combined 3,568 winners in their careers, 2,035 for Preciado, 1,533 for Lopez.

“Before she ever ran, I told Lupe this filly could be the best filly I’ve ever bred,’’ Lopez said. “And I got two full sisters behind her.’’

Lake, a member of the initial Parx Hall of Fame class and sixth all-time with 6,202 wins, has made a career of smart claims. Sweet Willemina is just the most recent.

“She still has a lot of starter conditions,’’ Lake said when asked what might be next.

The filly had won just once in 14 starts before Lake claimed her. She has been perfect for him.

The two stakes were named for the PTHA president and his greatest horse, Parx Hall of Famer Roamin Rachel.

“When I first got involved with the horsemen, people said `don’t do it, you’ll never be appreciated,’’’ DeBunda said.

“Here’s a race named after me as the president. To all those people who said don’t do it, you were wrong. I do feel appreciated.’’

Labor Day marked the seventh racing day back after the August break. Four of those days featured stakes races so the racing has been terrific, setting the table for the only Saturday card of the year, Pennsylvania Derby Day on Sept. 25.

Top horses, trainers, and jockeys will be coming from around the country for what has become the nation’s most important September race day every year.

“I remember back when the Pennsylvania Derby was $250,000 and that was a big stake,’’ DeBunda said. “We decided (PTHA executive director) Mike Ballezzi and I and the board of the PTHA decided that we need to really bring recognition to our track and we thought by having that day with (two $1 million races, the Grade I Pa. Derby and Grade I Cotillion and stakes all day long) was really going to bring recognition about what we do and how great a race track it is to come to and train and own horses and it’s really worked out in my opinion. We’ve had some Derby winners, Preakness winners…I think it’s been a good investment for us.’’


It took a week longer than planned, but, in the end, the horse that would have been heavily favored on Aug. 24 was heavily favored in the Aug. 31 Grade III $200,000 Parx Dash. The Critical Way did not exactly win like a 1-5 shot, just getting my second choice Francatelli late and holding off a serious final charge by 9-1 Battle Station to win by a nose.

They don’t pay for margins. They do pay for winning. And that is what The Critical Way does best. Even though the 5-furlong grass race had to be postponed for a week after drenching rains left the course too soft to run on, the wait was no issue for The Critical Way.

After breaking his maiden at 45-1 in May 2017 at Santa Anita, the Pennsylvania bred came east to win the Danzig Stakes at Penn National. Since then, The Critical Way has raced all over, but it was Jan. 15, 2020 that changed everything. Owner Randal Gindi of Monster Racing Stables put up $30,000 to claim The Critical Way at Gulfstream Park. Since then, in 12 races for the owner, The Critical Way, now 7-years-old, has six wins, four seconds, two thirds, and earnings of $394,565.

“I took a $30,000 shot,’’ Gindi said.

 Nice shot.

“To win it here… he’s a Pennsylvania bred,’’ Gindi said. “It’s just so exciting to be in this position.’’

It was the first graded stakes win for trainer Jose Delgado. It was not the first big win for jockey Paco Lopez who, in his 15 years riding, has won 3,136 races. His mounts have earned $112 million.

“He tries hard every time,’’ Lopez said of The Critical Way. “He’s a very good horse.’’

 Such a good horse that he won despite the course not being hard and tight like he prefers.

“I waited and when I asked, he gave me everything in the stretch,’’ Lopez said.

One of the gelding’s 10-lifetime wins came in last year’s Marshall Jenney on Labor Day at Parx when The Critical Way was 11-1. Two years earlier, the horse finished fourth in the same race as the 9-5 favorite. The plan is to bring The Critical Way (stabled at Monmouth Park) back for the Grade III $300,000 Turf Monster on Sept. 25, Pennsylvania Derby Day. Only makes sense for a horse owned by the Monster Racing Stables.

“I was just looking last year at the (Jenney),’’ Delgado said. “We came to the (Jenney) and he crushed the field…I think he loves this track.’’

After the return visit to Parx, up next could be the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar on Nov. 6.

“That would be a dream come true and that would be my goal,’’ Gindi said.


He was a fixture on the backstretch in the mornings. During the races, you would usually see him perched on a bench not far from the paddock and walking ring. It will not be the same at Parx without Bobby Velez who recently passed away.

“Bobby was family to me and my family,’’ said trainer John Servis. “My kids grew up with him. (Velez) and Big Bill (Foster), they were two guys my kids looked up to. Bobby started with me right before Smarty Jones.’’

Foster and Velez were fixtures around Smarty that spring and summer of 2004 when Smarty ran his way into horse racing history. We lost Bill a few years ago. Now, Bobby.

“He worked for me for 10 plus years, went home to Puerto Rico for maybe a year and a half and went to work for my son (trainer Tyler Servis) and worked for my son right up until he died, Servis said.’’

Velez was the assistant trainer for Budd Lepman when the trainer sent Eillo to Hollywood Park in 1984 to win the first Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He was the exercise rider for the great Spend A Buck when the colt won the 1985 Kentucky Derby and Jersey Derby on his way to Horse of the Year. Then came his time with Smarty.

“Bobby was quiet, paid attention to detail,’’ Servis said. “He grew up around horses. That’s why I was (so happy) when he came back to go to work for Tyler. I’m sure Tyler learned a lot from him.’’  From Eillo to Spend A Buck to Smarty Jones, Bobby Velez was around some great horses and those horses were around a great man.


By Dick Jerardi

Not the remnants of Hurricane Henri that took all the races off the grass nor the postponement by a week of the $2000,000 Grade III Parx Dash could undercut the enthusiasm at the track when Parx returned after a 19-day break with a two-day extravaganza that included 23 races, $2 million in purses, eight stakes and total handle of $6.16 million

First, it was Pennsylvania Day at the Races with its all Pa.-bred card on Monday, Aug. 23, followed by Smarty Jones Day Tuesday, with three open stakes, all preps for Pennsylvania Derby Day on Sept. 25.

The five $100,000 stakes on Pa. Day featured winners that included a filly returning to where her career began to upset another filly that looked like she might never lose, a filly that got a brilliant ride from a Parx legend, a 3-year-old colt that had raced just three times against seven horses which had a combined 178 starts, a gelding that is one of the great claims in Parx history and another gelding that cost $50,000 to claim but keeps paying dividends.

Chub Wagon was 2-5 in the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial and why not. All she had done for trainer Lupe Preciado and owners Danny Lopez and George Chestnut was start eight times and win them all. The 4-year-old filly, ridden by Jomar Torres, ran another brilliant race in the Garofalo, but Don’t Call Me Mary ran the race of her life and edged by Chub Wagon in the stretch to win by 1 ¼ lengths. She had to run 6 furlongs in 1:09.57 on a sloppy, sealed surface to do it.

The two fillies hooked up at the start and ran around the track together. Chub Wagon was ahead most of the way and it really looked like she was going to getaway. But Don’t Call Me Mary, trained in New York by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Paco Lopez, just kept coming and ran her down in the final 100 yards.

Vault, who won the Grade II Ruffian at Belmont Park in April, was 3-5 in Mrs. Penny. She is trained by Brad Cox and was ridden by Florent Geroux. But her Beyer figures were no better than those of Precious. And Precious had a huge tactical edge. In a two-turn race with no speed, she had just raced in sprints and jockey Frankie Pennington understood the race dynamics perfectly.

The Parx Hall of Famer put the John Servis-trained Precious on the lead. They went the first quarter in 25:11, made the favorite chase, and just kept running all the way into the winner’s circle.

“She broke on the lead and I just tried to walk her all the way through it,’’ Pennington said.

He certainly did that and when Vault threatened on the far turn and in the stretch, Pennington just let Precious drift a path or two outside to discourage the favorite. It worked perfectly.

“We figured out with this filly early on, if you hustle her early, mentally she couldn’t handle that, she just couldn’t settle,’’ Servis said.

No need to hustle her when she was the only speed. She settled and she was gone.

Precious is owned by Greg Newell, who just happens to be the president of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. He was rather excited by the victory.

“I am going crazy,’’ Newell said. “I was screaming and shouting. People are laughing at me. I am so into it. Today was really special because we are taking that chance of running her long. What a brilliant training job and riding job between John and Frankie.’’

I Am Redeemed, with just those three races, gave up all that experience to those seven horses with the 178 starts in The Storm Cat. Neither his trainer Penny Pearce nor his jockey Abner Adorno had ever won a stakes race.

No matter. I Am Redeemed ran away from the field in the stretch and won the race by 3 ½ lengths for owner Larry Rebbecchi.

 So what was Adorno feeling when he crossed the finish line?

“I wanted to scream,’’ he said. “It’s been a long run, but we’re here.’’

What I Am Redeemed lacked in experience, he made up in talent.

“I can’t even talk or breathe,’’ said Pearce, tears forming in her eyes. “It was fantastic. It was worth the wait.’’

Admiral Abe was claimed for $25,000 on Jan. 6, 2020 by trainer Bobby Mosco for StefCon Racing LLC, a partnership of Ed Stefanski and Bill Conlin. It was their first horse with Mosco. After going wire-to-wire under regular rider Silvestre Gonzalez to win The Marshall Jenny Handicap, Admiral Abe has won seven races and $353,012 for his owners. Not a bad return on investment.

“He’s just so fast,’’ Gonzalez said of Admiral Abe. “Today, 5 furlongs, it was going to be hard to catch him. He just breaks out of there with so much power. I’m just there for the ride.’’

 And it has been some ride for the 5-year-old.

“I was just hoping to get a good horse for a first-time owner,’’ Mosco said. “Never expected this.’’

 Like Pearce, this was Mosco’s first stakes win.

“I’ve been in racing a long time,’’ said Stefanski, the longtime NBA executive and one time Sixers general manager. “For a $25,000 horse to run in a $100,000 stake at 2-5, it was beyond comprehension.’’

Stefanski was a partner in several of Bob Levy’s good horses, including Hall of Famer Housebuster and 1987 Belmont Stakes winner Bet Twice.

“This was right up there, but I guess Bet Twice winning the Belmont by 14 was the biggest thrill I’ve ever had,’’ Stefanski said.

Trainer Mike Pino went to Churchill Downs on May 29, 2020 looking to claim a Pa. Bred for $50,000. Turned out John Servis was interested in Fortheluvofbourbon as well. They each put in claims and Pino won the shake for owner Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle, LLP.

After winning The Banjo Picker Sprint as the favorite, Fortheluvofbourbon has won four races and more than $160,000 since the claim.

“He was a Pa. Bred,’’ Pino said. “I knew he won here first time out impressively. He’d run against some tough horses at Oaklawn and it looked like he was worth the money. We go there every year and try to claim some horses at Keeneland and Churchill. He fit the bill, we got him and it turned out great.’’

Lopez won the first of the Pa.Day stakes and then the last of them. He was aggressive, as always, and the horse responded.

The Smarty Jones Stakes was the highlight of Smarty Jones Day. After chasing and not catching Parx-based winners all weekend, trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux waited for the end and got the biggest prize of the all in the $300,000 Grade III Smarty.

Fulsome, last early at 3-5, circled the field and won easily by 2 lengths. A hot pace up top helped, but it also helped that Fulsome was just the best horse.

“My horse is a closer, but I loved the setup with a decent amount of speed in the race,’’ Geroux said, “I knew I was going to be last or second to last (early).’’

In the end, Fulsome was first. And Geroux would love to come back in the Pennsylvania Derby with Fulsome.

It was hoped that the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia would mark the return of champion Vequist, but she had another physical setback and was scratched. Her racing future is questionable at best and she is likely to be offered at the Night of the Stars sale in November.

So it was up to another local horse, Monmouth Oaks winner Leader of the Band, to try to win the race as the 9-5 favorite for Will Schwartz’s SMD Limited and trainer John Servis. She was up against it the whole way, running from far back into a slow pace. Then, she lost momentum when a horse came out in front of her on the far turn. Still, she kept running all the way to the wire, ultimately losing by a half-length to Lovely Ride.

Lovely Ride looked beaten several times, but never stopped trying and somehow just kept going. Her trainer Bret Calhoun is no stranger to Parx where he brought the wonderful Chamberlain Bridge to take down the Turf Monster. He is now thinking about the Cotillion with the filly after being “very concerned the middle of the turn.’’ But she kept running so why not run her back at Parx?

Trainer Butch Reid obviously was disappointed with the Vequist situation, but he was thrilled with Beren in the $100,000 Parx Summer Sprint. Sent off at 2-5, Beren, with Pennington, immediately got to the lead and was never in any danger. The colt, winning for the sixth time in his last eight races, crossed the wire 6 1/2 lengths in front. The performance was enough to convince Reid to look hard at the Gallant Bob Stakes on Sept. 25, Pa. Derby Day.

“He loves the home cooking,’’ Reid said of Beren. “He got a little unnerved at Saratoga (when far back in the Curlin). Anybody who saw him pre-race would see he was calm and collected (today).’’

So the two days of racing, which offered so much promise, definitely delivered. Now, there is much to look forward to with the $1 million Pa. Derby and $1 million Cotillion coming more clearly into focus.


By Dick Jerardi

There was so much we missed in 2020, but the chance to see some of the country’s best horses come to Parx was right near the top of the list. We were fortunate to have PA Day at the Races on Labor Day, but there were no open or graded stakes at the track last year.

When the track reopens after a 19-day respite on Monday, Aug. 23 with five Pennsylvania Bred stakes on PA Day at the Races, it will mark the beginning of the best month of the racing calendar at Parx, culminating with Pennsylvania Derby Day on Sept. 25.

There will be 19 stakes with purses of more than $4 million. Starting Monday with five $100,000 stakes (Banjo Picker Sprint, Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial, Marshall Jenney Handicap, Mrs. Penny Stakes and Storm Cat Stakes) for Pa. breds, continuing the next day with Smarty Jones Day (including four significant preps for four of the graded stakes on Pa. Derby Day), two $100,000 stakes (The Roamin Rachel and Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup) on Labor Day and concluding with the feast that will be Pa. Derby Day itself.

That day will include the $1 million Grade I Pa. Derby, the $1 million Grade I Cotillion, the $300,000 Grade III Gallant Bob, the $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster, the $200,000 Grade III Greenwood Cup and three other stakes. The final two hours (4-6 p.m) of the card will be broadcast live on PHL17.

Open stakes on Tuesday, Aug. 24 are the $100,000 Parx Summer Sprint (a Gallant Bob prep), the $200,000 Grade III Parx Dash (Turf Monster prep), the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia (Cotillion or Pa. Derby prep) and the $300,000 Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes (Pa. Derby prep). The top three finishers in those races will get nomination, entry and starter fees paid for the Sept. 25 races should they choose to go on. Additionally, the trainer and owner of the Cathryn Sophia winner will be eligible for $50,000 bonuses if their horse wins the Cotillion or Pa. Derby. Same for the owner or trainer of the Smarty Jones if their horse wins the Pa. Derby.

The Smarty Jones Stakes (1 1/16 miles) got 33 nominations that include major stakes winners and horses from some of the top barns in America. Todd Pletcher nominated 7 horses, Brad Cox 5, Chad Brown 4 and Steve Asmussen 2. Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic is on the list of nominees, as is Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock, West Virginia Derby winner Mr. Wireless, and Midnight Bourbon, second in the Preakness. The exciting First Captain and unbeaten Life is Good are also among the nominees.

Life is Good was the Kentucky Derby favorite before being injured. The colt has not raced since the spring and was transferred from Bob Baffert’s barn to Pletcher’s.

According to Pletcher, the plan now is for Life is Good to race in the Aug. 28 Grade I Jerkens on Travers Day at  Saratoga, with his next race very possibly in the Pennsylvania Derby. Trainer Doug O’Neill has said Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie is coming to the Pa. Derby. Also, Kentucky Derby “winner’’ Medina Spirit (pending a hearing after a positive drug test for a prohibited race-day medication) has been working well at Del Mar and could be heading to the Pa. Derby as well.

The Cathryn Sophia could mark the return of 2-year-old filly champion Vequist. The Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies winner has been at Saratoga for trainer Butch Reid, with the Cotillion as the longer-range goal. She was out of hard training for months after an atypically poor performance at Gulfstream Park this winter, but recent workouts suggest she is coming back to top form. There is a chance Reid could run Vequist at Saratoga as the prep for the Cotillion so stay tuned there.

The Cathryn Sophia (1 mile, 70 yards) got 22 noms, including Monmouth Oaks winner Leader of the Band from John Servis’s barn and one filly each from the barns of Brown, Cox, and Asmussen.

The Parx Dash (5 furlongs turf) got 24 noms that include the very accomplished The Critical Way and Caravel. The Parx Summer Sprint (6 furlongs) got 26 noms, including four from Cox, and two each from top Parx trainer Jamie Ness, Reid, and Jerry Hollendorfer.

So get ready for these four racing cards over 33 days that will mark the return of what has made Parx in the last decade very much a part of the national racing scene in late summer and early fall.


By Dick Jerardi

It was some 28 hours from mid-morning Friday at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion to mid-afternoon Saturday across Union Ave. at the old Saratoga Race Course.

First, it was the double Hall of Fame class being inducted Friday and then Steve Asmussen breaking Dale Baird’s North American wins record for trainers on Saturday.

It was two stellar Hall of Fame classes, led by trainers Todd Pletcher and Mark Casse, 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Nothing against any of the inductees, all of whom were deserving, but Asmussen’s 9,446th win was a singular achievement. And now that he holds the record, there is every chance he will hold it forever, just as Russell Baze (12,842 wins) is likely to hold the jockeys’ record.

Consider that Asmussen, who typically wins 400 races per year (with a record best of 650 in 2009), is just 55-years-old. If he wins 400 each of the next 10 years, that puts him beyond 13,000. Jerry Hollendofer is currently third with 7,695 wins. He isn’t catching Asmussen. The late Jack Van Berg had 6,523 wins. King T. Leatherbury has 6,507, but has just a few horses. Parx Hall of Famer Scott Lake has 6,195 wins. He should be fourth someday and possibly third, an incredible achievement. But he isn’t catching Asmussen. Nobody is.

“For it to unfold and happen on Whitney Day at Saratoga with a 2-year-old that came through mom and dad’s program in Laredo (Texas) owned by the Winchells…’’ Asmussen said on the FS2 show from Saratoga.

The record win came with first-timer Stellar Tap, a son of Tapit. It was Saratoga’s fifth race and it wasn’t close.

“We’re so blessed to be in horse racing,’’ Asmussen said. “The amazing horses that we’ve had and everything that we’ve learned from every single one of them, they’ve made the Asmussen family possible…It’s amazing what a horse can do to make you feel good about yourself.’’

Asmussen is going to keep improving the record because he has strings in Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Jersey, and New York. Saturday, he had a horse in a $5,000 claimer at Louisiana Downs and the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga. And that is what makes his stable unique. He wins at the lowest levels of the sport and the highest.

He has trained two-time Horse of the Year Curlin as well Horses of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Gun Runner. He trained the great fillies Untapable and Midnight Bisou and Sprint champion Mitole. He has won 275 graded stakes and just about every big race there is to win _ except one. He is 0-for-23 in the Kentucky Derby. But he vowed he will be going after the Derby as hard as he ever has and one year, he will have the right horse.

Asmussen was 1-for-15 in his first year as a trainer in 1986. Nearly 46,000 starts later, he has won more races than anybody in North American history. He did not get discouraged in that first year. He is not going to get discouraged. He is just going to keep winning and winning and winning.

It took Pletcher what had to seem like forever to win the Derby. Casse has not won it yet, but he won’t stop trying either. That is what separates the best from the rest. And, of course, getting owners to supply you with fast horses.

“I can’t tell you how humbled I am to join this esteemed group,’’ Pletcher said in a typically understated speech. “So many of these guys were my childhood heroes, role models, mentors.’’

Pletcher has won 60 meet titles between NYRA tracks and Gulfstream Park. He has won seven Eclipse Awards as the nation’s leading trainer. He has won 705 graded stakes, including 166 Grade I. His horses have won a record $410 million.

When he went out on his own after being Wayne Lukas’s top assistant for years the question he kept getting was: what is the one thing you learned from Wayne Lukas?

“The answer is there is not one thing, it’s everything,’’ Pletcher said. “Everything matters. Everyone matters. Every horse matters. Every horse owner matters.’’

Casse was so emotional in his speech that when he talked about his parents, he had to get his wife Tina to read it. When she relayed that, after Casse’s parents divorced, it was his mother who agreed to let him stay with his father to be around horses, the trainer’s emotion was understandable. After all, his mother gave up living with her son to let him live out his dream which ended with a spot in the Hall of Fame.

“Who would have thought 50 years ago as I slept right over there  in the Fasig-Tipton parking lot with my dad, had breakfast every day at the Saratoga Snack Shack that I would be standing here today?’’ Casse said. “Horse racing has always been my life. When I was little, I was reading the Racing Form instead of the comic strips. The worst day of the week was Sunday because there wasn’t a Form.’’

This past Sunday at Saratoga was a day of reflection to consider Asmussen’s record and the best of the best who earned induction into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.


By Dick Jerardi

When Will Schwartz (SMD Limited) claimed Catsuit for $32,000 on May 25, 2004, at Parx, he was not really claiming her to race. He was hoping she would make a good broodmare. She has better than good, culminating on the last Saturday afternoon of July at Monmouth Park.

That claim came full circle when Catsuit’s 3-year-old daughter Leader of the Band, owned and bred in Pennsylvania by Schwartz, stormed past favored front runner Edie Meeny Miny Mo to win the $250,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks at 10-1.

The filly was ridden by Parx Hall of Famer Frankie Pennington. It was his seventh graded stake winner and 2,694th win of his career. Back in 2004, Catsuit was ridden in the final three races of her career by a 5-pound apprentice with fewer than 100 wins. That would also be Frankie Pennington.

Frankie did not remember riding Catsuit. Nor did Will remember him riding her in her only start for him before he retired her. Neither will forget the 2021 Monmouth Oaks.

“She was stretching out nice, really picked it up,’’ Pennington said. “She really seems to love the two turns.’’

The Oaks was Parx Hall of Fame trainer John Servis’s 33rd graded stakes win and 1,886th of his marvelous career. His horses have earned nearly $64 million.

“Since that Delaware race (third in the Grade III Delaware Oaks), she’s been training lights out,’’ Servis said.

Servis-trained fillies actually ran first and third in the Oaks as Midnight Obsession (Main Line Racing Stable) put pressure on the leader before tiring late to settle for third.

Servis has trained several offspring of Catsuit, including a horse named Ill Conceived that won $160,332. The horse’s name came about because Catsuit was actually bred to the wrong stallion after two halters were mixed up at a farm. Schwartz was notified of the mistake by the Jockey Club after a DNA test. That turned out okay too.

In fact, Servis thought the horse had won the 2012 Battaglia Memorial (a Kentucky Derby prep race) at Turfway Park until they posted the photo that said he was second.

 “I was walking down to the winner’s circle,’’ Servis said, “Graham Motion won the race. I couldn’t believe they put his horse up.’’

No photo was needed Saturday. Leader of the Band won by a decisive two lengths. The $150,000 first prize from the Oaks pushed her earnings to $264,540. Next up, the filly will be able to run right out of her Parx stall in the Aug. 24 Cathryn Sophia, named for the Servis trained Kentucky Oaks winner.

“John Servis is a great trainer,’’ Pennington told the Monmouth Park publicity department. “He does such a great job. He told me before the race how good she was doing…Anytime he says that I feel very confident when I ride for him.’’

Catsuit’s foals have now won more than $800,000. Not bad for a $32,000 claim.

“At that time, I was just starting to get into a little pedigree analysis,’’ Schwartz said. “It looked to me like they were protecting her. For a while, I kept my eyes on her. When they dropped her in for 32 which back then was a pretty serious number…’’

It was a serious number. Catsuit has foaled horses that have produced even more serious numbers. And Leader of the Band has already produced the most serious numbers of all the mare’s offspring.


By Dick Jerardi

As I was cruising around the Equibase website doing some research on trainer Steve Asmussen as he pursues the all-time wins record (after Saturday’s races, he trailed Dale Baird by 11 wins, 9,445 to 9,434), my eyes kept darting to the all-time wins list for horses, trainers, and jockeys because I kept seeing horses and people with Parx connections.

Win Man, a Parx Hall of Famer, is second all-time with 48 wins (the records only go back to the 1970s so some horses with more wins are not on the list). Racing from 1987-1995, Win Man, trained by Ernest Cranfield, started 178 times with those 48 wins, 18 seconds, and 23 thirds. Almost all of his races were either at Parx or Penn National.

Jilsie’s Gigalo, with 45 wins, is tied for fourth-most with Guy. Jilsie’s Gigalo raced all over in his 136-race career but made his final eight starts at what was then called Philadelphia Park in 1996. The guy was a Maryland fixture who was golden when he made the lead, hopeless when he didn’t. He raced 161 times from 1976 to 1986. His lone stop at old Keystone was on March 3, 1984.

Cheating Arthur, a Parx HOF trained by a Parx HOF (Dennis Heimer), is tied for 69th on the list with 34 wins after a great career, mostly at Keystone. Dave’s Friend, like Guy, was a Maryland horse until later in his career, but he did race at Keystone. Dave is tied for 53rd on the list with 35 wins. Arthur and Dave were each multiple stakes winners.

Scott Lake, a first-year Parx HOF, is sixth all-time in wins (6,190) for trainers. He has been a Parx regular for years. He is no longer trying to win 500 races in a year. He downsized his stable because the pace was impossible to keep. But he remains one of the sharpest minds in the sport.

Jamie Ness, the 2020 and certain 2021 leading Parx trainer, is 26th with 3,359 wins. At his current pace, he will hit the top 10 (now 4.745 wins) in a decade or less.

Dave Vance (3,186, 30th) was a Keystone regular back in the day. Ron Dandy (2,829, 39th) and Ned Allard (2,730, 46th) won the majority of their races in New England, but spent considerable time at Parx.

Just 37 jockeys are in the exclusive 5,000 wins club. Tony Black is the all-time leader at Parx. Stewart Elliott rode the great Smarty Jones. Each was a first-year Parx HOF. So was the brilliant Rick Wilson who would have joined them in the 5,000-club had his career not been prematurely ended by injury.

Black (5,211 wins) is just ahead of Elliott (5,204) now. Tony is sort of retired, but who knows. Stewart, still going strong, just won the Lone Star Parx meet with 71 wins. They are 31st and 32nd all-time. Rick is 39th with 4,939 wins.

The wonderful Jose Flores, who tragically died in a racing accident, is 44th with 4,650 wins. The great tactician Jeff Lloyd (4,276) is 59th. Each is a Parx HOF. Robert Colton (3,988 wins), who won big at Penn National and Parx, is 81st on the all-time list

Joe Bravo, who really got his career started at Philadelphia Park in 1988 is 24th with 5,498 wins. But he is Jersey Joe for a reason. Jose Ferrer (4,585, 45th) is another rider who spent considerable time at Parx, but, like Bravo, is probably more identified with Jersey racing.

The bottom line, this is an amazing list of accomplishments for some of the best in the sport who just happened to do most of their winning at Parx.