I was hoping the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita would provide clarification as I finalized my Eclipse Award ballot. Other than Horse of the Year, the 3-year-old male champion division is the most glamorous category. And why wouldn’t it be, given that the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes are the country’s most well-
known races.
I think the Breeders’ Cup Classic is more important, but the general public is not paying the same amount of attention in early November as they are during the Triple Crown from early May to early
When Taiba won the Malibu decisively, my initial instinct was to go with Taiba as the Malibu made him the only 3-year-old with three Grade I stakes wins. I thought his Pennsylvania Derby win at Parx was against the strongest field of 3-year-olds in 2022 other than the Kentucky Derby itself. The Pa Derby had Cyberknife (winner of the Arkansas Derby and Haskell), Zandon (Blue Grass) and White Abbario (Florida Derby) as well as the winners of the Fountain of Youth
(Simplification), West Virginia Derby (Skippylongstocking), Peter Pan (We The People) and Ohio Derby (Tawny Port). And Taiba was a no-doubt-about-it winner.
Epicenter won just a single Grade I race in 2022, but it was at Saratoga in the Travers, the most important 3-year-old race outside the Triple Crown.
Still, three Grade I wins should trump one Grade I win. That is a reasonable argument, but I thought it too simple so I decided to examine the records of each horse from the start of the year to the end. Taiba did not make his career debut until March 5 when he won a maiden race by 7 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita and got a 103 Beyer.

Incredibly, the horse came back 35 days later and won the Santa Anita Derby with a 102 Beyer. It was really impressive to watch, but looking back now, it turned out there was not much in that race. It was a Grade I race with a Grade III field.
I put a line through Taiba’s 12th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. It was way too much and far too soon. It was just a bad decision by the connections and should not be held against the horse. Taiba got a long rest after the Derby before running a strong second to Cyberknife in the Haskell while getting a 101 Beyer, winning the Pa. Derby with a 108, running a distant third to Flighline in the BC Classic with a 110 Beyer and winning the Malibu with a 106 against a field that was so weak Taiba went off at 2-5. So six races where Taiba actually had a chance with four wins, a second and third – three Grade I wins, two Grade I placings, a maiden win, a tremendous year. Epicenter began 2022 by finishing second in the Grade III Lecomte (88 Beyer) before dominating wins in the Grade II Risen Star (98 Beyer) and Grade II Louisiana Derby (102 Beyer), all at the Fairgrounds. I saw no difference in the La. Derby and Santa Anita Derby fields so even though only one is a Grade I, I don’t give Taiba extra credit there.
Epicenter separates a bit because of his performances in the Derby and Preakness. He ran a winning race in the Derby and finished second to impossible 80-1 Rich Strike shot while earning a 100 Beyer. Epicenter got a strange ride in the Preakness and again finished second (102 Beyer) to Early Voting. Epicenter ran against Early Voting again in the Grade II Jim Dandy and Travers, decisively beating the Preakness winner while winning both races, getting a 102 in the Jim Dandy and a 112 in the Travers. Rich Strike was 5 1/2 lengths behind Epicenter in the Travers. I thought Epicenter’s Travers win was the most impressive performance by a 3-year-old in 2022. Epicenter was injured in the BC Classic and subsequently retired. I gave that performance the same weight I gave Taiba’s Derby – none.
So Epicenter in 2022 – one Grade I win, three Grade II wins, two Grade I placings (in two of the most important races) and a Grade III placing in the seven races where he had a chance. Not sure there is a right answer between Taiba and Epicenter. There are some who actually prefer Modern Games who appeared in North America twice and came away with wins in the Grade I Woodbine Mile and Grade I BC Mile. While I am a huge Modern Games fan, two races is not enough for me and I think this is an award for dirt horses unless there is some overwhelming evidence to go with a grass horse.
In the end, I decided on Epicenter because he ran so well in the Derby and Preakness. He did not win, but I thought he ran winning races in races that just matter more. I loved his consistency from January until
August. If Tailba ends up winning the championship, I will not complain. He is a terrific horse who, at this point, looks like the early favorite for 2023 Horse of the Year.


By Dick Jerardi

It was a week late and a new year, but the man who dominated the Parx stakes action in 2022 started off 2023 with two wins in the five $75,000 post Christmas Stakes that became post New Year’s Stakes after the rain/freeze cycle caused the track to be closed for nearly a week.

Trainer Butch Reid won Tuesday’s Parx Futurity which went from a 2-year-old to a 3-year-old race with the calendar turn and Wednesday’s Kris Kringle for older males.

“She’s really come a long way since she hooked up with Paco (Lopez),’’ Reid said after Girl Trouble dominated the Futurity. “For $15,000 out of the Timonium sales, she’s proved to be quite a bargain.’’

It was her third straight win by a huge margin – 8 lengths, 6 lengths and this time 5 1/4 lengths, all with Lopez riding.

Owned by Tom McGrath’s Swilcan Stable and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, Girl Trouble has already returned 15 times her purchase price.

“We’re thinking New York and a little further,’’ Reid said. “They have the series of races for her. And Maryland has a nice series of races too. We’re going to run her sparingly because we’d like to have a nice fresh Jersey bred for the summer at Monmouth Park.’’

Ridin With Biden won three stakes for Reid in 2022 and started off 2023 with another, but just barely in Wednesday’s Kris Kringle. A big stretch lead was diminished to just a nose at the wire, but Ridin With Biden held on.

“Love this horse,’’ said Chuck Zacney of Cash Is King who owns Ridin With Biden with LC Racing. “He just keeps getting better.’’

Lopez rode Ridin With Biden as he has many of the stable’s horses since winning several stakes for them on Pennsylvania Derby Day.

“We’ve had a great couple of months,’’ Zacney said.

Speaking of domination, Jamie Ness won his third consecutive Parx training title in 2022. He started off 2023 by getting a three-quarter length win in The Blitzen on Wednesday with Repo Rocks. “We had him three weeks before the first race, trained well,’’ Ness said.

Ness has 50 employees and he said it takes all of them to make his vast operation work. It works quite well.

The gelding won a Parx Stakes in his first start for Ness. Now, he has two in two starts both with Andrew Wolfsont riding for owner Double B Racing Stables.

“He’s really difficult to ride actually,’’ Wolfsont said.  “He just wants to go, go, go even in the mornings. During the race, it helps that he just breaks a step slow.’’

Repo Rocks actually broke a bit better in this race which helped as Wolfsont said it was a surface where you did not want to be too far back. The first of the five stakes was Tuesday’s Parx Juvenile won impressively by unbeaten (4-for-4) Recruiter. Trained by Cal Lynch at Fair Hill, the colt was ridden by Mychel Sanchez and won by 2 3/4 lengths for owners Nick Sanna Stables, Lynch and Jack Armstrong.

“I think this horse is any kind; when this horse first got into the barn, I was the first one to work him,’’ said Sanchez who was riding him for the first time. “This is preparation for hopefully bigger things for him.’’ Lynch is also thinking big.

“This was a steppingstone today,’’ Lynch said. “We were back and forth. It was between this race and the Jerome on Saturday. We missed a few days at Fair Hill last week because of the weather. I just thought going seven-eights instead of a mile…He’s a lovely horse, does everything right, has a good way about him.’’

Next up likely will be a stakes race at Aqueduct to see if Recruiter is good enough to get on the Triple Crown trail. Jonathan Wong has become a major training force in Northern California and is winning on the tougher Southern California circuit.  Before all that, he had horses at Parx  He brought two back to the track for the stakes finale, Wednesday’s Mrs. Claus. My Kentucky Girl was more well thought of by the bettors at 5-2, but it was 11-1 Empire House who got the lead under Ruben Silvera and never looked back, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.
“She ran awesome,’’ Wong said. “Ruben rode her perfect. The track was favoring speed today.’’

Empire House was with the pace in the Grade III Chilukki at Churchill Downs on Nov. 19 before fading. Back on Lasix at Parx, she ran right back to her best races.


By: Dick Jerardi

It was going to be hard to top the 2021 average daily handle numbers on Parx races which were up more than 70 percent from 2019. But thanks to a flying start on the three days right after Christmas (fiscal year ends at Christmas), a record Pennsylvania Derby Day and solid
cards throughout the year, the 2021 numbers were beaten.

In 2021, with 144 days, $391,210,422 was bet on Parx races, a $2.72 million daily average. In 2022, the track ran 148 days with a total handle of $417,483,194 for an average of $2.82 million.

Nearly $14 million was handled on those three days after Christmas which certainly helped. The almost $2 million bet into a Philly Big 5 mandatory payout was the perfect parimutuel storm.

Pa. Derby Day 2021 set a handle record of $13.2 million. That was blown away in 2022 with a handle of $18.8 million on what was clearly the best card in the history of the race track.

Joe Wilson, Parx’s Chief Operating Officer, credited the switch
from Saturdays to Wednesdays and the shift from four-day weeks to
three-day weeks as perhaps the most obvious reason for the increased
numbers between 2019 and 2021.

The only Saturday card in 2021 was Pa. Derby Day. In 2022, the track raced live on six Saturdays, including Pa. Derby Day and for each of the Triple Crown races. In the weeks with Saturdays, Parx did not race on Wednesdays. That will change in 2023 when racing will be conducted on Wednesdays even during weeks with Saturday cards (Triple Crown, Pa. Derby Day) and a Sunday card (Father’s Day).

Parx was quite unlucky on Ky. Derby Day and Preakness Day in

“It was like 38 degrees and raining on Kentucky Derby Day, like
110 on Preakness Day,’’ Wilson remembered. “Belmont was okay.’’

The reason for running on those five Wednesdays in 2023 with Saturday or Sunday cards is, according to Wilson, “I don’t want to disappear from anybody’s radar.’’

The Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday schedule has really allowed Parx to carve out its place among all the simulcast signals.

“What we did was take the extra week break in August to keep the (total) days the same,’’ Wilson said. “When you’re running in August against Saratoga, it’s kind of tough.’’

This fiscal year has not exactly gotten off the same start as last year. That nearly $14 million from last year became $0 this year when the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday cards had to be canceled after the disastrous-for-track-maintenance heavy rain, followed by dramatic temperature drops rendered the track unusable. The five stakes scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday will be run next week, but, Wilson said: “it’s not the same as the three days right after Christmas when everybody’s off.’’

A mandatory Philly Big 5 payout, scheduled for this Wednesday, will be next Wednesday. There will be almost $250,000 in the carryover pool heading into next week. But, like Wilson said, it won’t be the same as if the mandatory payout had been the Wednesday after Christmas.

“We had all that rain,’’ Wilson said. “It was 60 degrees Friday morning. Then, it turned to snow. By midnight, it was 5 degrees. You can’t do anything for that.’’ No, that is an unwinnable battle. So the start to the year isn’t exactly what could have been. Now, it’s about how 2023 goes from here
to the finish line.