By Dick Jerardi
The national story was how it was all Chad Brown all the time at Monmouth Park Saturday – until it was time for the $1 million Haskell. As Brown and jockey Flavien Prat were winning all the graded stakes races before the Haskell, Parx horses were giving giant efforts all afternoon long.
And none was more impressive than Will Schwartz’s (SMD Racing) Leader of the Band in the Grade III $400,000 Molly Pitcher. The day before the race, trainer John Servis said the 4-year-old filly had never been better. He expected her to run the best race of her life. And she absolutely did.
There was no beating 3-5 Search Results (winner of a Grade I, Grade II and Grade III and most recently a hard luck third in another Grade I). The race really was for second and 16-1 Leader of the Band won that decisively after a typically smart rail ride from regular jockey Frankie Pennington.
Servis kept the Pennsylvania bred Leader of the Band with his string at Monmouth Park this summer because that is where she would be racing. She won the Grade III Monmouth Oaks a year ago and the Lady’s Secret there last month. She got a career-best 92 Beyer in the Molly Pitcher and, with 14 races, 5 wins, 4 seconds, 3 thirds and earnings of $578,690, appears to be getting better as she gets older.
Informative has raced 34 times for owner/trainer Uriah St. Lewis, with just three wins. But wins are not the right metric to judge his horses. It is earnings. After finishing third in The Monmouth Cup (behind two Chad Brown-trained horses), Informative has now earned $357,040. His only win in 2021/2022 came in the Salvator Mile at Monmouth when he was a mere 79-1. Meanwhile, the horse keeps grabbing checks and the earnings multiply.
The amazing Admiral Abe finished third in the Wolf Hill Stakes at 23-1. Claimed for $25,000 on Jan. 6, 2021 by trainer Bobby Mosco for Stefcon Racing (Ed Stefanski and Bill Conlin), The Admiral has won eight races and $449,012 since the claim.
No Parx horses in the Haskell, but we could certainly see a few of the Haskell horses at Parx on Sept. 24 for the Bet Parx Pennsylvania Derby.
Unbeaten and essentially untested Jack Christopher was the odds-on favorite to finish off a perfect day for Brown. The colt was always in great position, but just got tired in the final 100 yards. Cyberknife, racing for Al Gold who grew up in the area and spent countless days at Monmouth, ran, by far, the best race of his career, coming up the rail and holding off the late charge of Taiba who looked lost on the far turn and then came flying down the center of the track to lose by just a head. Jack Christopher had to settle for third.
Cyberknife set the mile and an eighth track record (1:46.24), a record that had stood for 2 1/2 hours after having stood since 1985 when the great Spend A Buck set it. The records were due to the insanely fast main track surface.
Regardless, Cyberknife was really good. So was Taiba. Cyberknife will go on to the Aug. 27 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Taiba seems likely to run in the Pa. Derby as his trainer Bob Baffert is still banned from running his horses at NYRA tracks, even though his 90-day suspension is up.
The 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner is the sire of the 1-2 Haskell finishers. As good as he was on the track, Gun Runner looks to be as good as a sire as his offspring are winning major races everywhere.
The Travers should be great with the possibility of Cyberknife, Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, Preakness winner Early Voting, Derby and Preakness runner up Epicenter and Derby third Zandon all pointing for the race. Then, it will be a month until the $1 million Pa. Derby, with its $50,000 owner/trainer participation bonuses for any horse that won the Derby, Preakness, Haskell or Travers. Belmont Stakes winner Mo Donegal is out for the year, but Parx is going to get several of the big names in the last Grade I race of the year for 3-year-olds.