THE 2019 HORSEMEN’S AWARDS

By Dick Jerardi

They were held in the Parx paddock on a dreary race day in mid-October instead of at nearby Celebrations in mid-March. In 2020, however, we have learned to be thankful for anything that resembles normal.

So the 2019 Parx Horsemen’s Awards served to honor the best horses and people at the track and reminded us just how well so many performed last year.

Spun to Run was brilliant from January through December, running in four states from ocean to ocean. Four of his five wins came at Parx and the one out-of-town win will be remembered as long as they run horses at the track.

The colt really announced himself as one of “those’’ horses when he crushed some of the best older horses at Parx in the M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile. Yes, he won the Smarty Jones Stakes and finished third behind Maximum Security in the Haskell, but it was the day in October when the possibilities increased dramatically.

Just three weeks later, Spun to Run was at Santa Anita and did to some of the fastest milers in the world exactly what he did to the best older horses at Parx _ crushed them in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. It was at that moment when 2019 Parx Horse of the Year no longer became a thought, but a conclusion.

“He was a dream horse to train,’’ Spun to Run’s trainer Carlos Guerrero said. “He knew who you were. You hug him, you kiss him, give him candy, he just knew who was involved with him.’’

Spun to Run’s owner Robert Donaldson rightly called the colt “a horse of a lifetime, To get one like him that just had the heart, was well bred, had the speed, just laid it out there for you every time.’’

Spun to Run not only earned $1,140,660 in 2019; the colt also earned the distinction of being the best 3-year-old at Parx since Smarty Jones 15 years before.

There was Horse of the Year. There were all the divisional winners. And there were jockeys, trainers and owners who won more than their peers at the track in 2019.

The top 2-year-old colt or gelding was Monday Morning QB, trained by Butch Reid and owned by Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing.

“We really appreciate the group showing us the appreciation,’’ Reid said. “He’s been a really good horse…He was relatively inexpensive down at the yearling sale, but from the beginning he was a sharp horse.’’

The top 2-year-old filly was the Club Risque/Gregory Quick-owned Pink Caddy who was dominant in her wins.

“She’s been a star ever since she walked into the barn,’’ trainer Randy Allen said. “She has tons of talent; she never wants to get beat. There’s not much to say other than watch her races.’’

Spun to Run was obviously also named champion 3-year–old colt or gelding.

Gotta Be Strong, from the powerful Jamie Ness barn, was voted 3-year-old filly champion. She ran 14 times in 2019 with five wins, five seconds and earnings of $280,090. She was also the Claim of the Year.

“I was approached by the owner Gap View Stables, `what about this horse?’’’ Ness said. “I said `I don’t know, $50,000 is a little out of our range.’ She checked all the boxes so we took a shot.’’

Indeed, they did.

“I guess the odds for the Claim of the Year were in our favor because we probably claimed the most horses,’’ Ness said. “But she was the claim of a lifetime for sure for us.’’

Someday Jones, son of the great Smarty Jones and trained, like Smarty, by John Servis, was the best older colt of geldling.

“It’s a great thrill to have a horse like that,’’ co-owner Charles Asensio said.

The horse has won more than $600,000 in his career.

“He’s 7-years-old and he’s still out there thinking he’s 3,’’ Asensio said.

The top older filly or mare was Wildcat Combat for trainer Miguel Penaloza. She won nearly $200,000 last year after recovering from an injury.

“It took several months for her to recuperate,’’ owner Lyno Maraspin said. “She earned it so she’s very dear to us.’’

Fix Me a Sandwich was the Claiming Horse of the Year and the Winningest Horse of the Year. All he did in 2019 for owner John Fanelli and trainer Joe Taylor is win seven times and earn $150,800.

“We’re blessed to be in a position to get some good horses with Joe Taylor,’’ Fanelli said. “The horse just shows up every time. The toughest thing with him is hoping to get the saddle on.’’

Jack Armstrong was leading owner with 43 wins and $1.1 million in purses.

“I didn’t start (2019) with very many horses,’’ Armstrong said. “Into the year, I started to add horses and it just ended up being a really good year. As they were running, I just kept adding more and more.’’

Joe Taylor won his first training title with 103 wins and $3.1 million in purses.

“It’s crazy,’’ Taylor said. “I would never have imagined this in my life, really. As I always say, it’s totally my staff. They all make me look good, my hotwalkers, my grooms and everybody…My son works with me every day now. My daughter’s here all the time. I can’t believe it. I get goosebumps.’’

Carlos Soto was the leading B trainer with 23 wins.

“It was a great year,’’ he said.

Wilfredo Garcia was leading apprentice jockey with 23 wins.

Frankie Pennington and Mychel Sanchez tied for leading jockey with 146 wins each. It was Pennington’s seventh title, the first for Sanchez.

“We always try so hard and (are) fortunate enough to ride for all the owners and trainers that we do,’’ Pennington said.

Sanchez is going to win the title outright in 2020, but 2019 was his breakthrough year.

“Hopefully, we can keep going, this year and next year, follow Frankie, good jockey, good person, I learn a lot from him,’’Sanchez said.

VEQUIST ON TO BREEDERS’ CUP

By Dick Jerardi

The brilliant 2-year-old filly Vequist may not have won the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park, but she ran a winning race while finishing second. So trainer Butch Reid will try to extend the Parx streak of winning a Breeders’ Cup race to three on Nov. 6 when Vequist runs in the BC Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland.

“I’m happy with the race, but I would like to have won,’’ Reid said. “I think we were definitely as good as the winner…We couldn’t be any happier, only if we had won the race.’’

The Frizette winner, Dayoutoftheoffice, is unbeaten in three starts. It was trainer Tim Hamm’s first Grade I win.

Vequist already won a Grade I when she dominated the Spinaway closing weekend at Saratoga. The way she ran in the Frizette strongly suggests there are more Grade I wins in her future.

Vequist was not helped by her post position or a passive ride from typically aggressive Luis Saez. The filly, who broke from post 1, stumbled slightly at the start, but was quickly second with a wide-open rail path in front of her. Instead of sending her through to challenge for the lead, Saez just sat there and let Dayoutoftheoffice and her jockey Junior Alvarado get just to their outside, essentially trapping Vequist in place during most of the run down the backstretch and through much of the far turn.

Alvarado moved first and Dayoutoftheoffice quickly opened a 2-length lead coming out of the turn. Saez immediately reacted to that move, but giving a good filly first run was a tactical mistake. Dayoutoftheoffice got that lead and held it to the wire, winning by those same 2 lengths, both fillies running really hard through the wire. It was 10 lengths back to the third horse.

“You get up inside of them and put the (decision) on them,’’ Reid said. “The rail was fine because the horse (Happy Saver) later in the Jockey Club Gold Cup squeezed through on the fence (to win).’’

If the posts had been switched, it may have been Vequist and her jockey who could have controlled the race and gotten first run.

The BC Juvenile Fillies should be some race, with unbeaten Princess Noor coming from the West Coast for Bob Baffert and Simply Ravishing, the super impressive Alcibiades winner for trainer Ken McPeek among the major contenders.

Vequist will train at Parx until she ships to Keeneland a little more than a week before the race so she can get a timed workout over the track.

Reid has run two horses in BC races. Afleet Again won the 2011 Marathon at 41-1. Poseidon’s Warrior, Reid’s other Grade I winner in addition to Vequist, ran last in the 2012 Sprint. So he is batting .500 in the BC, with a chance to move his average to .667.
It was two years ago when Parx-based Jaywalk won the BC Juvenile Fillies for trainer John Servis. Last year, trainer Carlos Guerrero won the BC Dirt Mile with Parx-based Spun to Run. So there is a bit of pressure on Reid.

“I’ve got to keep the tradition going,’’ he said.

Dick Jerardi

Nobody in the Delaware Valley was happier or cheering louder than Let’s Go Racing producer Bruce Casella when the brilliant filly Swiss Skydiver won a stretch-long duel against Kentucky Derby winner Authentic in a Preakness to remember.

Casella and the filly’s trainer Kenny McPeek have been friends for 40 years. They went to different colleges, but were fraternity brothers. They used to play one-on-one while dunking on six-foot rims in McPeek’s Lexington, Ky. backyard, aka, McPeekma. Casella was working in those days for Channel 27 in Lexington.

Casella does not remember McPeek ever having any books when he was a student at the University of Kentucky. But he does remember McPeek always carrying a copy of the “Blood Horse.’’ He was always going to be in horse racing.

The two stayed close when McPeek was training horses at Turfway Park and Casella worked there.

A few hours before the McPeek-trained Sarava became the longest-priced winner of the Belmont Stakes in 2002, Casella went to see his friend on the backstretch. McPeek was asleep in his truck.

“I didn’t really want to run here,’’ McPeek told him. “My owner made me do it.’’

McPeek thought long and hard about it, but, in the end, he wanted to run Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness. The great filly proved her trainer’s assessment correct when she hooked up with Authentic at the top of the Pimlico stretch and would not let the Derby winner by.

Swiss Skydiver has now raced nine times in 2020 at nine different tracks. She has basically been running once a month since her season began at Tampa Bay Downs in January. She has also raced at the Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita, Keeneland, Saratoga, Churchill Downs and Pimlico.

In her last seven starts, she has won one Grade III stake, two Grade II stakes, two Grade I stakes and finished second in another Grade I and a Grade II.

Now that she has won the Preakness, Swiss Skydiver has to be in the discussion for Horse of the Year so McPeek has another decision to make. The Preakness was a “Win and You’re In’’ for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.

So does the trainer try the boys again, not just 3-year-olds, but also the best older horses in a race that will almost certainly decide Horse of the Year? We are talking Maximum Security, Improbable, Tom’s d’Etat, as well as Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law and Derby winner Authentic. Any horse with a top record that wins that race has to be Horse of the Year.

Or does McPeek send his filly to the BC Distaff where she will meet some of the best fillies and mares in training? That decision can wait.

The 2020 Preakness, whether in May or October, is forever.

McPeek had 627 text messages of congratulations by the morning after the Preakness.

“Surreal experience,’’ he texted back.

Two years ago, McPeek purchased Swiss Skydiver as a yearling for owner Peter Callahan. She cost just $35,000, another McPeek sales bargain.

It was McPeek who purchased the great Curlin for $57,000. The two-time Horse of the Year won the 2007 Preakness and earned more than $10 million.

So the man knows horses and horse racing. He did not get to train Curlin, but he has been training Swiss Skydiver all along. As McPeek said after the Preakness, she never gets tired. The filly just runs and runs and wins and wins.

WINNING OUT OF TOWN

BY Dick Jerardi

PTHA president Sal DeBunda and top Parx trainer Jamie Ness had big days out of town Saturday.

One DeBunda homebred won a race at Pimlico and another finished second. Ness, the runaway leader at Parx in wins, won three races on Owners’ Day at Delaware Park.

Foalsfillyspecial (a great play on words of the Nick Foles Philly Special from the Super Bowl), bred by DeBunda’s Dun Roamin Farm and the Rosemore Farms of Harriette Waldron, won the seventh at Pimlico, a maiden $10,000 claimer. There was only one issue: DeBunda pointed out the filly was claimed out of her first start in July, also a maiden $10,000 claimer.

Two races later, Colonel Juan, an older half brother to Foalsfillyspecial out of the DeBunda and Waldron mare Senorita Louisa, finished second in his race. Colonel Juan, still a DeBunda horse, is 5-3-8 from 30 career starts, with earnings of nearly $200,000.

Senorita Louisa has foals with earnings of nearly $1 million. Her dam, Senorita Cielo, also raced by Dun Roamin and Rosemore, was an even better producer. Every one of her foals that got to the races was a winner.

Keeping it all in the Parx family, Colonel Juan finished second at Pimlico to Runningforhome, owned by Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing. The horse is trained by Tyler Servis who is having a great 2020, just his second year as a trainer.

Servis is 14-6-6 from 43 starters, a 33 percent strike rate. At Parx, he has won 11 races from 30 starters, a cool 37 percent. He had 12 wins last year so the younger son of John Servis looks like he is on his way.

Ness is already there. The runaway leader at Parx this year, Ness has 64 wins at the track to 32 for second-place Joe Taylor. Overall, Ness is 162-117-110 from 611 starters this year, with earnings of $3.7 million. He is winning with 33 percent of his starters at Parx.

Ness won races 2, 4, and 11 at Delaware. It was V.I.P. Code, followed by Madam Meena and Wild About Deb. Three wins days have been the norm for Ness this year especially since racing stopped for three months. His horses were ready when racing returned and they have stayed ready in the three months since the return.

JUST NEEDED SOME TIME

Remember Improbable, the favorite in last year’s Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Pennsylvania Derby. The colt finished fifth, sixth and fourth respectively in those races. Turned out the experience needed to catch up to the talent. It has.

Improbable has now reeled off three consecutive Grade I wins _ The Gold Cup, Whitney and, Saturday, the Awesome Again. Improbable likely will be favored in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. And, if he wins, he will be Horse of the Year.

Maximum Security finished second to stablemate Improbable, but got all the worst of it after being involved in a race-long speed duel. It was only the second time in 13 starts Max has not finished first. Both of those losses were seconds with an excuse. If Max gets a clear lead in reasonable fractions in the Classic, he will be dangerous because he is so hard to pass in the stretch. Even when it was obvious the colt had nothing left Saturday, he refused to let Midcourt pass him for second.