THE FLORIDA MYSTERY

By Dick Jerardi

If something happens once, perhaps it’s a coincidence. If it happens twice, you start to wonder. If it happens three times, it starts to become a pattern.

It is no secret that Parx-based horses have headed out from the track to win major stakes in the last three years – in 2018 Jaywalk won the Frizette and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies while Maximus Mischief won the Remsen Stakes. In 2019, Spun to Run won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. In 2020, Vequist won the Spinaway and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

When 2019 began, Maximus Mischief and Jaywalk were among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks respectively. When 2020 began, Spun to Run was aiming for the Pegasus World Cup. When 2021 started, Vequist’s goal was the Kentucky Oaks.

All four horses were sent to South Florida so they would not miss any training time due to weather in the northeast _ Jaywalk, Spun to Run and Vequist based at Palm Meadows Training Center, Maximus Mischief at Gulfstream Park.

Jaywalk went 4-for-5 in 2018, but just 1-for-6 in 2019 before being retired. Maximus Mischief was 3-for-3 in 2018, but raced just once in 2019, a dull third, before being injured and retired to stud. Spun to Run appeared poised to run in and win some of the best races in the country, but, after sustaining an injury, never ran in 2020 and was retired. Now, Vequist, brilliant in 2020, with two wins and two seconds in four starts, began her 3-old season last Saturday as the 1-2 favorite against an undistinguished field in the Grade II Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After getting great position early under champion jockey Irad Ortiz, Vequist could not keep up on the turn and eventually finished ninth, beaten by 26 lengths as a 52-1 shot won the race.

If Ortiz had asked Vequist in the stretch, she probably could have finished closer. But she was never going to come closer to winning and the jockey eased her up late to protect her.

So what is going on here?

The three trainers of the four horses are among the very best at Parx – John Servis (Jaywalk), Carlos Guerrero (Spun to Run), and Butch Reid (Maximus Mischief, Vequist). They did not forget how to train horses because they were in Florida. Servis, of course, trained Cathryn Sophia in Florida to win the 2016 Kentucky Oaks and famously trained Smarty Jones in Arkansas before the Parx legend won the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

“She came back and scoped a little dirty and had some mucus and stuff like that,’’ Reid said the morning after Vequist’s inexplicable defeat.

“You’ll get a lot down here in South Florida, but other than that she was sound, jogging around good this morning. We’re going to kind of give her a mulligan on that one. I appreciate that Irad didn’t really beat her up the last part of it. He could have made her fifth, beaten 5 (lengths), but that doesn’t prove anything.

“That’s why we have first races. We were looking for much better than that obviously. The horse is still sound. We’re happy with her. We’ll fall back with her, regroup, and go on the next.’’

Next is to be determined, but, for now, the goal remains the April 30 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. Perhaps, a decision will be made to get Vequist out of the Florida heat to Keeneland where she won her Breeders’ Cup race. She could then run in the April 3 Ashland at Keeneland where, obviously, a much-improved performance would be needed. And if she is back to the old Vequist, the Oaks will be just 27 days and a short van ride away.

It’s become an accepted fact that training on the Parx surface gets horses incredibly fit, one of the reasons so many have been so successful out of town in recent years. Is it the old what happens at Parx only works if the horse stays at Parx?

Don’t know the answer, but, at least, it is a question that needs to be asked.

MIGUEL PENALOZA WINS BIG ONE AT LAUREL

By Dick Jerardi

Like so many others in the sport, Parx trainer Miguel Penaloza had a rough 2020. After his stable had 37 wins and earned $1,261,787 in 2019, it was just nine wins last year.

Last Saturday, however, that was Penaloza in the winner’s circle at Laurel Park after 6-year-old Share the Ride won the Grade III $250,000 General George Stakes impressively.

“That was pretty awesome,’’ the trainer said.

Owner Silvino Ramirez had been watching Share the Ride for a while hoping that someday the horse would be entered in a claiming race. That day was July 5, 2020, at Monmouth Park. The claiming price was $16,000. Ramirez pounced and Share the Ride, who has been training at Parx with Penaloza, has gone on to win the Mr. Prospector Stakes at Monmouth, finish second in the Grade III Bold Ruler at Belmont, win the Grade III Fall Highweight at Aqueduct, finishing second in the Fire Plug at Laurel and third in the Grade III Toboggan at Aqueduct.

Not bad for a $16,000 claim. Penaloza has 12 horses in his barn at the moment, but there is no doubt about the star. That would be Share the Ride. The horse has won nearly $388,000 since the claim.

“Basically, it’s teamwork with the owner,’’ Penaloza said.

They never really thought Share the Ride would be in a claiming race, but when he was, they were ready. The rest is history.

“We always remember that,’’ Penaloza said.

Some of Penaloza’s other good horses in his career include Wildcat Combat and Crazy Daisy. Those horses won a combined 15 races and more than $500,000 in their careers, the bulk of their accomplishments coming with Penaloza as the trainer.

“I’ve been lucky,’’ Penaloza said. “I’ve had a couple of horses, we’ve made it from claiming to stakes. But this one is special.’’

That would be Share the Ride who has taken his owner and trainer on quite a ride over the last seven months.

“This horse is different,’’ Penaloza said. “It feels really good. We’re always thinking positively. The owners always believe in me,’’

Which is how you get from a down year to a $16,000 claim that has done nothing but run great ever since.

 

 

SENATOR TOMMY TOMLINSON CONFIDENT RACE HORSE DEVELOPMENT FUND IS SAFE

By Dick Jerardi

State Senator Tommy Tomlinson has been in the Pennsylvania legislature for 30 years, first in the House of Representatives and now serving his seventh term in the Senate, representing Bucks County. He knows precisely how the government works and certainly understands Harrisburg.

When Gov. Wolf announced his budget a few weeks ago, he revealed a plan to raid the Race Horse Development Fund, almost exactly the same proposal he made the year before. It went nowhere then and Tomlinson is very confident it is going nowhere now

“We were here a year ago,’’ Tomlinson said when I interviewed him for our “Let’s Go Racing’’ television show. “He did do this last year. We told him he couldn’t do it last year. We didn’t let him do it last year. We changed the law in 2017. We made it impossible. This money is in a trust fund. It’s for the horsemen. It’s $204 million.’’

The governor has proposed to take $199 million from the fund to use for college scholarships in the state system, certainly a noble cause.

But those of us with long memories remember that when Act 71 became law in the summer of 2004, it was after a long process spearheaded by the racing industry that had been badly hurt by surrounding states with alternative gaming that was supplementing the purses at those race tracks.

The state legislature and then Gov. Rendell made a decision that because of the competition, slot machines, with a percentage of the winnings reserved for the horse racing industry, should be legalized in the commonwealth. It has been a big success for horse owners, trainers, breeders and everybody in the business. It spurred breeding in the state. It also has been a huge windfall for casino owners and the commonwealth as well as a very good thing for property owners who have seen their taxes reduced because of a rebate designated to help them.

The law has worked exactly as designed so why would anybody want to change it?

Tomlinson knows the history because he has lived it. Many others do not know the history.

“This money has impacted all over the state,’’ he said. “It’s preserving over 100,000 acres of open space. It keeps farms going. It keeps agriculture going. It’s not like somebody is just getting this money. You have to race for it, you have to earn it, you have to win it. You have to pay your grooms, you have to pay your trainers, you have to pay for feed. This money’s just not sitting there stagnant.’’

No, it is not. In fact, it is estimated that the horse racing industry creates an annual economic activity of $1.6 billion in Pennsylvania when you consider every aspect of it.

“There are 20,000 employees (in the state connected with horse racing),’’ he said. “It’s really money well spent…Because Parx has been here almost my whole life, I want to see this race track stay here. The horsemen live in my community, work in this area. This has a lot of economic impact on my community. So it was important for me to make sure that we preserve horse racing as we developed more gambling to compete with Atlantic City. This money is part of the original deal. They’re trying to break the original deal. We’re not going to let them do it.’’

Tomlinson has talked to his colleagues in Harrisburg. He has a good sense of what they are thinking.

“It was a nonstarter last year; it’s a nonstarter this year,’’ Tomlinson said. “I’m going to take it as a constructive statement that we need more help for the state system, we need more money for the state system. But you don’t take money from one pot that has nothing to do with that and put it in another pot where it’s not really going to fix the structural problem that they have.’’

Obviously, losing the fund would be a disaster for horse racing in the state. Owners and breeders who have invested so much for so long would see the value of their investments decrease dramatically. As Tomlinson said, that would not be fair nor would it make economic sense. And, like he made very clear in the interview, he sees no way it’s going to happen.

CAPO KANE THIRD IN THE WITHERS AFTER SETTING THE PACE

By Dick Jerardi

There are several ways to look at Capo Kane’s third-place finish in Saturday’s Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.

The 3-year-old colt seized the lead at the start, still held a comfortable lead in the stretch and then tired in the final 200 yards. While that is certainly true, it is also true that the three horses chasing Capo Kane finished last, next to last, and next to next to last.

It was Parx-based 66-1 Mr. Doda who applied early pressure to Capo Kane. It was Mr. Doda who also finished a bit more than 66 lengths behind at the finish of the mile and an eighth race.

Risk-Taking from the powerful Chad Brown won the race convincingly, but perhaps the son of top stallion Medaglia d’Oro got the winning trip on that surface that day.

Capo Kane threw down solid quarter miles of :24.02, :24.69, 24.46 and 25.30 before that final eighth that he ran in just :14.50.

Perhaps, the 9 furlongs is a bit beyond Capo Kane’s scope. Also possible that missing three days of training because of snow removal at Parx was an issue. However, it is also true that the winner, stabled at Belmont Park, also missed two days of training that week.

“I got away with some nice fractions,’’ Capo Kane’s trainer Harry Wyner said. “He just got a little tired the last 70 yards. I thought he ran a great race.’’

Hey, they paid $26,000 for a horse that has won stakes and is now graded stakes placed. Not a bad deal.

Capo Kane got an 84 Beyer figure when he won The Jerome, an 81 for his third in The Withers.

Next up for Capo Kane is the March 6 Gotham Stakes, also at Aqueduct. That is a one-turn mile with 50 Kentucky Derby points on the line, more than enough to get the winner a place in the Derby starting gate, should the connections want to go.

The Derby, Wyner said, remains the goal. The trainer does not think The Withers distance was the issue.

“I think it was the track,’’ he said. “The track was playing to closers and it was a little heavy…It was the first time going a mile and an eighth. He missed a couple of days of training.’’

It generally is not a straight line from the Derby Dream to the Derby. The eventual winners do not all show up unbeaten.

“We’re still alive,’’ Wyner said. “The best horses get beat. Secretariat got beat.’’

Capo Kane has now raced four times, with two wins, a second, a third and earnings of $144,500, more than five times his purchase price.

So, a great deal whether the colt is good enough for Derby or not. We will know more about that part in a month.