By Dick Jerardi
Keith Jones remembers his first race call quite well.
“Six horses going a mile,’’ he said. “They started right in front of me so I could see them. The winning horse was Blue Bella. If the horses down the backstretch hadn’t spread out, if they had been in a bunch, I would have been screwed because my hands were shaking. I couldn’t hold the binoculars.’’
It was 9:50 p.m. on June 24, 1985 at Garden State Park, the fifth race, six maidens going from finish line to finish line at the 1-mile track.
His last call at Parx is going to be the last race on Dec. 30.
Jones estimates he has called 70,000 races since becoming the full-time announcer in 1987 at what was then called Philadelphia Park.
The new Garden State Park opened April 1, 1985. Jones was there as part of the new matrix board operations team. He had always wanted to be an announcer, but really was not thinking horse racing when he was growing up hard by the seventh fairway at Merion Golf Club.
His matrix board compatriots encouraged him to go out on the roof and try two practice calls per night. So he did.
After about two weeks of secret practice calls, word got to GSP PR director Steve Nagler that Jones was doing it. He got called into Nagler’s office and he was made to play the tapes in front of 10 or 12 people.
“I was embarrassed,’’ Jones said. “At that point, they’re terrible.’’
Nagler took the tapes down the hall to GSP president Bob Quigley’s office. Jones was then told they both wanted him to keep practicing.
By that June night, backup announcer Vic Stauffer had left for another gig. So, when he was deemed ready, Jones replaced regular announcer Ralph Siraco for one race. And he was off, calling one race per night.
By that fall, he was Siraco’s assistant at the harness meet and was the backup for the 1986 thoroughbred meet. He became the full-time harness announcer later in 1986.
It was in the winter of 1987 when longtime Philadelphia Park announcer Jack Lamar was let go. Jones became the full-time announcer at Philly Park that year. And he has been there ever since.
So it has been a 34-year run for Jones as the Parx announcer. His first “job’’ began when he was a kid with pretty bad allergies who at times “was forced to stay inside and I used to play little baseball games on the floor and I would announce them.’’
He had always wanted to be an announcer and through timing and some providence, he ended up at Garden State in 1985.
“I loved baseball, I loved football, hockey,’’ Jones said. “I never in a million years would have thought it would be horse racing.’’
His final few months of high school at The Haverford School, Jones, like his fellow seniors, was given “an independent study project. You did something outside the classroom for six weeks and then wrote a big paper about it.’’
One of his classmates was Herb Clarke’s son. Clarke, the longtime weatherman at Channel 10, got Jones a job at WCAU radio where he worked with Pete Silverman who was an executive producer for the Flyers. Silverman told Jones to stay in touch so when he finished at the University of North Carolina, Jones called and was hired as a production assistant with the Flyers.
When he was working with the Flyers, he met the great Marv Bachrad who knew everybody in sports. By then, Jones had developed an interest in horse racing and was a semi-regular at Liberty Bell. When Garden State was about to open, Bachrad got Jones an interview. So it was that association with Pete Silverman in his final high school months that led Jones to that roof and eventually to the booth.
He was a DJ at his college radio station.
“I was a terrible DJ,’’ Jones said.
But he had a wonderful voice. Still does.
That was obvious early on when he first started calling races.
Even with that, it took some time for Jones to get comfortable.
“Two or three years,’’ he said. “Nagler was a big (Tom) Durkin fan. When I got started, he wanted me to listen to Durkin tapes.’’
Still unsure of himself, Jones said he would try to imitate Durkin in his early calls before eventually developing his own signature voice.
“Over the course of time, you begin to develop your own sense of what you’re doing,’’ Jones said. “Then, you begin to get your own personality.’’
Many people have noted the similarity in the voices of Jones and legendary Flyers announcer Gene Hart.
“I don’t know how that is, but it’s just a complete coincidence,’’ Jones said.
Hart was the caller for years at Brandywine Raceway in Delaware and a great help to Jones early in his career. Jones worked with him when he was with the Flyers, but the voices just happened.
You call 70,000 races, memorizing one set of horse names, forgetting them immediately after the race to memorize a new set, the races blend together. But some races stand out.
Like calling the first two races of Smarty Jones’ incredible career, Western Playboy’s record-setting Pennsylvania Derby in 1989, Preakness winner Summer Squall in the next year’s Pa. Derby.
In the last decade, when the Pa. Derby and Cotillion became major attractions, Jones got to call some of the biggest names of the sport _ California Chrome, Songbird, Nyquist, Untapable. _ Derby winners, Preakness winners, Belmont Stakes winners, Kentucky Oaks winners, Travers winners, Breeders’ Cup winners.
“That’s what every race caller wants to have a chance to see, the real stars of the sport,’’ Jones said. “It makes you as a race caller want to up your game just a little bit more. I’m glad it happened before my career went away. That was one of the best decisions the track ever made, to move the (Pa. Derby) away from the Travers. It just grew into great stuff. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.’’
In addition to Parx and Garden State, Jones called races at the short Atlantic City meet, as a fill-in at Monmouth Park, and for auditions at Hawthorne and Golden Gate. Jones and his wife Kelly are moving to Texas to be closer to her family as well as to “have the opportunity to enjoy lake living and some great golf.’’ He said he no longer wants to call full-time, but if, say, there is a need for a caller at Sam Houston for a day or a few days, Jones said he would do that.
Meanwhile, there are his final calls at Parx and that final/ final call on Dec. 30.
“I keep thinking about it, but I just can’t get a grasp on it right now,’’ Jones said. “I guess my sense of professionalism tells me that I should just handle it as any other race, but I know emotionally, I may handle it professionally on the outside; on the inside, there will be a lot of emotion.’’
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.
By Dick Jerardi
Just over three hours after the son of a Parx Hall of Famer got the biggest win of his young career, a Parx Hall of Famer got the biggest win of his incredible career that began 20 years ago.
It was some Saturday at Aqueduct for trainer Danny Velazquez and jockey Kendrick Carmouche, the trainer winning his first graded stakes, the jockey winning his first Grade I. The only way it could have been better is if they had done it together. That had to wait a day.
It was some show on Saturday.
When two horses came together in the final 100 yards of the Grade II Remsen Stakes, it was 6-5 favorite Ten for Ten who had been on the lead from the start and cost $410,000 at the prestigious Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2019 and 7-1 Brooklyn Strong, the New York bred gelding who had made a sustained run from fourth and cost $5,000 at the Ocala Sale last April.
The favorite was trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. The 7-1 shot was trained by Velazquez whose father Alfredo is a winner of 1,144 races and a member of the 2019 Parx Hall of Fame class.
By the wire, it was Brooklyn Strong by a neck, with Ten for Ten nearly 9 lengths in front of the third horse.
“I was very confident going in,” Velazquez told the NYRA press office. “I knew the distance was key and I was confident about the off track. I was happy with his performance. He really dug in. Today was a big showcase for him against tougher competition and I couldn’t be happier. It’s tough. They paid a lot of money for him [Ten for Ten] and we paid $5,000. You start to second guess yourself, but I knew he had the heart to grind it out.’’
Jose Ortiz had ridden Brooklyn Strong when the gelding won the Sleepy Hollow Stakes on Oct. 24, New York Showcase Day at Belmont Park. He opted to ride Ten for Ten in the Remsen. So Joel Rosario became the fourth rider for Brooklyn Strong in four career races, three wins and a third.
Brooklyn Strong earned 10 Kentucky Derby points with the win. And the trainer is absolutely thinking Derby Trail.
“We’ll come back healthy and then start picking our spots,” Velazquez said. “This is a big prep for the Derby moving forward. Now, we’re definitely Derby dreaming.”
Barely an hour after the Remsen, Carmouche gave the Parx-based 7-1 Portal Creek a perfect, front-running ride in the Grade III Go For Wand Handicap, only to get run down in the final strides by 6-5 favorite Sharp Starr, ridden by that man Jose Ortiz.
Portal Creek, a $25,000 claim by Marshall Gramm and Clay Sanders’s Ten Strike Racing back in February at Oaklawn Park, had been transferred to trainer Carlos Guerrero at Parx over the summer. She won her first race for Guerrero by 14 lengths. Then, she finished third before winning twice more, all at Parx.
It was 12 lengths back to third in the Go For Wand so it would appear as if Portal Creek has a big one with her name on it.
Never one to get discouraged after a tough defeat, Carmouche left no doubt in the Grade I Cigar Mile.
In the 20,377th ride of his career, Carmouche was aboard True Timber, a horse that had been 0-for-19 in stakes, a 6-year-old owned by Calumet Farm who was second in the 2018 Cigar Mile and third in the 2019 Cigar Mile.
In a ride that was emblematic of his career, Carmouche put True Timber in perfect position in the long run down the backstretch, a few lengths behind dueling leaders in third and well clear of the fourth horse. It was the classic perfect trip orchestrated by a jockey whose more than 3,300 wins have never come by accident.
When it was time, Carmouche let True Timber loose and the horse just blew by the leaders and was 5 1/2 lengths clear at the wire, so alone that Carmouche was able to look to his right at the wire to get a perfect pose for the cameras.
“It took me 20 years to get my first Grade I,’’ he told NYRA’s Maggie Wolfendale in the winner’s circle. “It’s just so joyful and so happy. To all my fans around the world (growls for the camera), we got this. We got it. We finally got it…I’m so joyful; I’m the man on the moon today, my brother.’’
The very next day, Carmouche won his first New York riding title when he finished with the most wins at the Aqueduct Fall Meet. In the sixth race, the $250,000 New York Stallion Stakes, Carmouche and Velazquez teamed up to win it with 2-year-old filly Laobanonaprayer, the horse that started that two stakes Danny V. streak on Oct. 24 that ended with Brooklyn Strong.
So the Remsen for a Parx star on the rise; the Cigar Mile for a Parx legend, one perfect first Saturday in December at Aqueduct, followed by a Sunday where they got another big one together.
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.
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.”
By Dick Jerardi
Bobbi Anne Hawthorne has been a licensed trainer for three decades. She has been around horses essentially forever.
“My mother trained horses as well,’’ she explained in the shedrow of her immaculate Parx barn. “We did hunters, jumpers, eventing, foxhunting. Anything horse related, we loved it.’’
Bobbi Anne has nine horses in her barn, some of them owned by her son Andy. They got a good one back in February when they claimed Manolete for $12,500.
“The pandemic I think helped us with him because he was a bleeder and he did get the 90 days turned out which I think really helped him,’’ Hawthorne said. “He’s come back and run well for us.’’
Manolete was off four months between the claim and his first start for Hawthorne. He won his second race for the trainer and has been good ever since.
Manolete, a 6-year-old son of Mineshaft, has been claimed five times during his 45-race career. With 13 wins and $276,590 in earnings, Manolete has been good for everybody. But the horse just ran the best race of his life on Nov. 19 at Penn National, earning an 87 Beyer even though he was dismissed by the bettors at 26-1. It was his third win for Hawthorne, once in July at 12-1 and then again in September at 4-1.
Hawthorne grew up in Mt. Laurel, N.J., and lives now on Four Leaf Farm in Medford, N.J. She has been on the track since “I was about 12.’’
She spent time at Garden State Park, Atlantic City, Monmouth Park.
Bobbi Anne remembers Jersey-bred Charley’s Diamond as the best horse they had in the barn. And no wonder. Charley’s Diamond won 10 races and nearly $300,000 for the Hawthornes from 2006 to 2010.
Andy Hawthorne is very much part of the barn scene and he has some horse stories of his own.
“I was riding bulls when I was in eighth grade,’’ Andy said. “When I got a little smarter, I focused on the race track.’’
Yes, he was in the rodeo. Seriously, riding bulls?
“It’s very extreme,’’ Andy agreed. “It’s a very unforgiving sport. Any bull rider will tell you this: it’s not a matter of if you get hurt, it’s when…I’m just trying to focus more on the race track, maybe not break so many bones and see where Hawthorne Racing goes.’’
For the uninitiated, it’s easy to keep score in bull riding. Stay on for eight-second or you lose.
Andy has a fake shoulder, reconstructed knee, and an ankle that has been damaged many times. He has traded all that to be with his mom in the “sedate’’ world of the race track.