By Dick Jerardi
It was the Monday before the 2014 Kentucky Derby. I was having dinner at Proof on Main in Louisville with several of my writer friends when I got a call from Mark Reid. One of his main clients, owner Bill Warren, was interested in sending some horses to the west coast and needed a trainer.
It was Reid who managed Saint Liam for Warren in 2005 when the horse won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Horse of the Year. Warren was looking for another big horse.
I asked my friend Jay Privman of the “Daily Racing Form’’ if he had any recommendations. There was this longtime assistant to Todd Pletcher who was just starting out on his own with a west coast stable. Privman said he thought he would be good if he could get some good horses.
Reid made the call and the trainer was hired. Fast forward seven years to last Saturday and there was that trainer, after sending out his first horse in a Triple Crown race, standing in the Pimlico infield winner’s circle, the one used only once a year, just for the Preakness winner.
Michael McCarthy was overcome with emotion. He had won the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, the 2019 Pegasus World Cup, and two other Grade I stakes with the City of Light, a horse purchased at the 2015 Keeneland Yearling Sale for Warren by Reid’s Walnut Green, a horse that cost $710,000 and won $5.6 million. McCarthy had won the Grade I Apple Blossom with Ce Ce. His stable was closing on $20 million in lifetime earnings. But this was different. This was the Preakness.
Rombauer was 11-1 in the Preakness. The colt, a homebred owned by John and Diane Fradkin, had one win on dirt and one on grass. The son of Twirling Candy was 0-for-3 on dirt. But, on this day, the colt., ridden by the wondrous Flavien Prat, was brilliant, blowing by frontrunning Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit and the solid Midnight Bourbon in the stretch to win decisively.
The colt was ready for the moment. So was the trainer.
BIG DAY FOR PARX AT PIMLICO
Undefeated for an extending period in horse racing is close to impossible. Something will go wrong.
When Chub Wagon was beaten to the lead for the first time in her career, you wondered if the 4-year-old filly might lose for the first time. The question of what she would do if not in front was asked and answered in the $100,000 Skipat Stakes, the ninth race on the 14-race Preakness Day card.
Chub Wagon would stretch her record to 6-for-6, winning by a comfortable 2 lengths. The Pennsylvania bred daughter of Hey Chub has won her six starts by a combined 34 lengths. She has won four times at Parx, including the April 27 state-bred Unique Bella Stakes. She has won at Aqueduct and now at Pimlico.
Trained by Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado at Parx and owned by breeders Danny Lopez and George Chestnut, Chub Wagon proved that she is a rare talent, not just a horse that needs things to go her way.
Seeing what is next and just what she might be capable of will be fascinating to watch as we head for summer and even more important races.
Prediado was not the only Parx trainer to win a $100,000 stakes on the Preakness card.
The Bob Baffert-trained Hozier was odds-on to win the Sir Barton Stakes, the first race on the card. And when the colt slipped through on a very live rail to challenge Jamie Ness-trained The King Cheek, it looked like it was Hozier’s race.
But King Cheek, who had never raced around two turns, refused to give in. And just before the wire, the New York-bred, who is stabled at Parx, took back the lead he had given up and got the win. Anybody who has followed Ness’s year-long hot streak should not have been surprised. The top trainer at Parx in 2020 and runaway leader in 2021 just finds ways to get horses into winner’s circles wherever they are.
And congratulations to Bensalem native and “Let’s Go Racing’’ alum Trish Bowman, now the stakes coordinator at Laurel Park and Pimlico. She put together all the stakes that anchored Black-Eyed Susan Day and Preakness Day. The betting public liked the cards so much that, despite attendance being limited to 10,000 each day, handle records were sent both days, with $27 million bets on Friday and $112 million Saturday.