CHARTCALLER LEW ZAGNIT RETIRES AFTER 45 YEARS

By Dick Jerardi

The track was nearly enveloped in darkness late in the afternoon of Dec. 30. There were two lights still shining atop the Parx grandstand after the last race of the day.

There were the lights from the announcer’s booth as Keith Jones bid his farewell. On the floor above, Lew Zagnit, after nearly 40 years at Parx and 45 years in the business, was finishing up his work for the day.

But the fans never heard Zagnit. They just saw his work in the charts and the past performances. He called the horses as they hit the poles, separating them by heads and lengths, never permitted to skip a horse. That 10th race on Dec. 30 was his last race too, even if, as was his custom, he did it with no fanfare.

Zagnit got his start at “Daily Racing Form’’ in the late 1970s, learning the trade from Mike Mercer at what was then called Keystone. He estimates he’s called charts at 30 tracks and “about 10 of them are closed.’’

There was Centennial in Colorado, Bowie in Maryland, Commodore Downs (Erie, Pa.) and Garden State Park. There was River Downs (now Belterra Park) in Cincinnati, Latonia (now Turfway) in Kentucky.

Back then, there were not many year-round circuits so chart callers would follow the horses.

Zagnit was told he would be working the 1981 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and “then you would be on your way home’’ to Pennsylvania.

“I packed enough clothes for a week,’’ Zagnit.

While he was at the Derby, he was asked to go to Centennial. He was there for six months.

On the way home, he stopped at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and “worked a meet there.’’

“Probably about 11 months later, with my week’s worth of clothes, I came back,’’ Zagnit said.

It was that kind of life until he settled in to be the regular chartcaller at Parx in the mid-1980s. He was there until he decided to retire.

There were times when Parx and Garden State were running simultaneously so he was calling charts seven days a week.

Lew and his brother Bruce got into chart calling through their cousin, Herb Goldstein, a DRF columnist back in the day. Bruce still calls charts at Penn National.

Bruce worked as a groom for the great Don Levine at old Garden State, but Lew had no horse racing background.

“My first day at work was my first day at a race track,’’ Lew said.

Zagnit estimates he called 80,000 race charts.

He had a call taker for most of his tenure, somebody who would listen to Zagnit calls the horses and then write down on a sheet where the horses were at different points of call. Lew would always write the footnotes that would accompany the charts. And those charts, of course, became the basis for the past performances the next time the horses in a race would run.

“Mike Mercer was a great teacher and a great chart caller,’’ Zagnit said of the man who became the longtime publicity director at Keystone/Philadelphia Park.

Like announcers, chart callers have to memorize a group of names for 8 or 9 or 10 races per day, immediately forget them and repeat the process all day.

“To this day, if you introduce yourself, within three minutes, I would forget your name,’’ Zagnit said.

He remembers calling a 15-horse field going 5 furlongs at RiverDowns. His brother was the call taker.

“I got every horse,’’ he said.

And he had to get every horse.

“It wasn’t like if we got stuck, we could stop at the sixth horse,’’ Zagnit said.  “We’ve got to keep on going.’’

He called the great All Along winning the

1983 Washington D.C. International at Laurel. He called Spend A Buck at Garden State in April 1985 before the colt won the Derby and returned to win the Jersey Derby and a $2 million bonus. He called Smarty Jones’s first two races at Parx in 2003.

“I did the best job I could every day,’’ Zagnit said.

And he did it very well. He was dedicated, accurate, and consistent. If you saw a Lew Zagnit chart or read his footnotes, you did not need to see a replay. He painted a picture of exactly what happened.

He won’t be at the track, but he will still be working at his Animal Rescue. Lew and his wife Karen have adopted out more than 300 dogs. He has been a volunteer for Trenton Animal Shelter.

“I will keep myself busy,’’ Lew Zagnit promised.

FIRE’S FINALE LAST TO FIRST WINNER OF PA NURSERY

Fire’s Finale came from last with a half-mile to go, swept past eleven rivals and went on to win the $80,000 Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes for state-bred two year-olds at Parx Racing by a length. It was the second win in seven starts this year for the Jump Start colt, his first stakes victory, and pushed his freshman earnings to just over $101,000.

After keeping a busy schedule, making six starts through mid-October, trainer Kelly Breen opted to rest Fire’s Finale for nearly two months before returning to the races for the Nursery. Breaking his maiden in that sixth start here at Parx, winning in a special weight over a sloppy track, maybe he had started to figure things out. Returning to the work tab at Belmont in November, he posted a bullet work at five-eighths on November 17th and then impressed everyone with another bullet work at half-mile on November 25th, a two-year-old working the best of 92 that day.

He late-season development continued into the Nursery. Taken back in the early part of the race by winning jockey Mychal Sanchez, Fire’s Finale began to make headway as the race entered the far turn. Able to make a run on the inside of horses in the bulky field, he followed the move of Kidnapped as they rounded the far turn. While Kidnapped got the first to run on the two tiring front runners, Just a Thought and Beren, Fire’s Finale was still moving well and coming off the turn was able to angle out for a clear path and started to kick into high gear in the final furlong. Kidnapped held the lead briefly in the stretch, but it was clear the lead wouldn’t last. Fire’s Finale surged past with about 70 yards to go and moved away at the end to win by a full length.

Owned by Kenwood Racing and Degaetano and Pastore, Inc., Fire’s Finale went off at odds of 11-1 and returned $25.80 to win. Kidnapped, the 5-2 second choice, was next to last early, ran a terrific race with another big run from the back but simply could not hold off the winner and settled for second. Just a Thought (18-1) in a pace duel with Beren, held on for third. The final time for the seven furlongs on a fast track was 1:25.35.

PARX MAGIC CONTINUES – Danny Velasquez Wins G2 Remsen Saturday

The amazing run of Parx based horses during the fall season continued Saturday when trainer Danny Velasquez went to Aqueduct with his stakes winning two year-old Brooklyn Strong and won the biggest race of his young career, the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes. Owned by Mark Schwartz, the gelded son of Wicked Strong caught the favored front running Ten for Ten near the eighth pole, and then gamely fought to the end, getting past late to win by a neck. It was the second stakes victory in a row for Brooklyn Strong, having gone to Belmont Park back on October 24th for New York’s Showcase Day and winning the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow Stakes.

The win by Brooklyn Strong was the fifth major stakes win for local horsemen in the past six weeks. Velasquez started the run with a victory in the $100,000 Maid of the Mist Stakes, the race prior to the Sleepy Hollow, winning with his two year-old filly, Laobanonaprayer. The 7-1 win in the Remsen gave Velasquez three stakes wins in New York over just that short period of time. Over the past several seasons, he’s also built a reputation as one of the best claiming trainers on the grounds. His win percentage with horses running for him in their first start following a claim have been among the best of any trainer on the backstretch.

Classic Day in New York produced a third win for Parx based horses when trainer Carlos Guerrero won the $100,000 Empire Distaff with Ten Strike Racing’s Lucky Move. The six year-old Lookin at Lucky mare swept from last to first with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard to win by a length and three quarters. Breaking her maiden in 2018 at the Fair Grounds in a maiden claiming event, she’s now won two stakes in 2020, earlier this season capturing the $100,000 Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park.

The biggest win of the run, though, belongs to trainer Butch Reid. His two year-old filly, Vequist, went to Keeneland to compete in the Breeders Cup and most likely solidified her spot as champion filly of the year with a win in the $2 million Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies. With a late rally up the rail under jockey Joel Rosario, Vequist surged past front running Dayoutoftheoffice and then drew clear late to win by two lengths at a nice square price of 6-1. It was the second Breeders Cup win for Butch, winning the Breeders Cup Marathon on 2011 with Afleet Again. Amazingly, the win by Vequist gave Parx a victory at the Breeders Cup for the third consecutive year. In 2018, Jaywalk dominated her race in the Juvenile Fillies, giving John Servis his first Breeders Cup win, and last year, it was Spun to Run. He jumped to an early lead in the Dirt Mile and never looked back, giving Carlos Guerrero the biggest win of his career. Prior to the 2018 Breeders Cup, what kind of odds could you have secured in Las Vegas that Parx horses would win at the Breeders Cup in three straight years?

Congratulations are also due jockey Kendrick Carmouche. A seven time champion here at Parx, Kendrick won the first Grace 1 race of his career Saturday. He rallied from just off the pace and went on to win the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct by six and a half lengths aboard True Timber. A testament to dedication and perseverance, we can only hope there are more coming for one of the most loved members of our jocks room in recent memory.

Parx Announcer Keith Jones Announces His Retirement

 

 

Track Announcer Keith Jones at Parx Racing in Bensalem, PA

After more than three decades as the voice of Parx Racing, announcer Keith Jones will be stepping away from the microphone at the end of the year.  Since 1987, Jones has been the voice of Philadelphia Park/Parx making him the second longest tenured announcer after Tampa Bay Downs’ Richard Grunder. 

Jones began his career at Garden State Park before moving permanently to Philadelphia Park.

“I’ll be forever grateful to the management at Greenwood for affording me an opportunity to pursue a career doing something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed,” said Jones. 

 

 

Among an impressive list of achievements, Jones has called more than 60,000 races and 32 Pennsylvania Derbies.  He was behind the mic high above the Philadelphia Park oval when a two-year-old Smarty Jones first flashed the talent that would lead to an improbable Triple Crown run in 2004.

“Smarty Jones’ second career race in the Nursery Stakes was one of the greatest performances I’ve seen of any horse here at this race track,” Jones recalled. 

Among other greats to grace the track at Parx, Jones ranks 2016 Cotillion winner Songbird and 2014 Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome as two of the most noteworthy horses he’s had the honor to call. 

Parx Racing Chief Operating Officer, Joe Wilson has worked with Keith for over thirty years.

“The voice of Keith Jones more than any single entity is synonymous with Parx Racing,” said Wilson.  “He has always called the races with a dignity and professionalism worthy of the sport.  It’s hard to imagine someone else calling the Pennsylvania Derby or the Cotillion or even a Tuesday afternoon claiming race.”

It is the people at Parx Jones says he will relish most as he reflects on his career.

“As much pleasure as I’ve gotten from calling the races, what I’ll always treasure most are the relationships—the friendships—that have been so rewarding over the past 34 years. From fellow staff to the many members of our PTHA to our passionate and supportive racing fans, I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with an amazing group of people. This track, this job, these people—have been my professional life for a long time and I will miss all of it.”

Jones will be relocating to Texas with his wife, Kelly. Although he will miss his Parx family he is enthusiastic about the road ahead. 

“There’s also a lot of excitement and anticipation about what lies ahead and I say thank you to everyone who has shared the journey with me.”

 

TRAINER GUADALUPE PRECIADO GETS CAREER WIN #2,000

For Immediate Release:
Monday, November 16, 2020

When Chub Wagon, a three year-old filly making her career debut, came romping home to thoroughly convincing seven and a half length win in the fourth race Monday afternoon at Parx, trainer Guadalupe Preciado celebrated the 2,000th win on his career. A native of Mexico, Preciado came to the U.S. and began training horses in 1989. A chance meeting with owner Jack Mondel (Hidden Lane Farms) jump-started his career in the early ‘90’s, led by multiple graded stakes winner Mr. Nasty (G3 Gravesend Handicap – 1990 and G2 Tom Fool – 1991). He also won the G2 Demoiselle for Mondel in 1990 with Debutante’s Halo.

Inducted into the Parx Hall of Fame in 2013, Preciado also trained multiple graded stakes winners Favorite Tale (G3 Gallant Bob – 2014 and G2 Smile Sprint – 2015) and Caught in the Rain (G2 Mrs. Revere – 2002 and G3 Athenia – 2003). Favorite Tale was honored as Pennsylvania Horse of the Year in 2014.