By Dick Jerardi
The first Saturday of autumn was grand and glorious and, without any doubt, the greatest day in the history of Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx Racing.
The first of 128 horses in the 13 races left the starting gate at 12:11 p.m. The last horse crossed the finish line at 6:47 p.m. They ran for a record $4.1million in purses and the handle record set last year ($13,246,657) was crushed by players at the track and around the country who bet $18,844,528. The 13 races included 10 stakes, five of them graded and four for Pennsylvania breds.
The $1 million Grade I Bet Parx Pennsylvania Derby, which attracted bets of $3.34 million in all its pools, was won for the fourth time in the last eight runnings by a horse trained by Bob Baffert. The $1 million Grade I Cotillion was won for the fifth time in the last 10 runnings by a filly trained by Steve Asmussen. The Hall of Famers hold the records for most wins in the track’s signature races.
On a day when Parx Racing is showcased to the nation and the big money attracts Baffert, Asmussen and fellow HOF trainers Todd Pletcher and Wayne Lukas as well as HOF jockeys like John Velazquez and Mike Smith, Parx Racing owners and trainers had a “day’’ themselves.
Parx Hall of Fame trainers dominated early and late, with seven wins among them. Lupe Preciado won three: the Grade II Gallant Bob with 9-1 Scaramouche, the Prince Lucky for Pa. bred and Pa. sired horses with odds-on favorite Gordian Knot and the finale, the Alphabet Soup Handicap for Pa. Breds, with odds-on favorite Buy Land and See. John Servis won the opener with very impressive first time starter Tuskegee Airmen and then ran 1-2 in the Plum Pretty for Pa.Breds with Love in the Air and Leader of the Band. Butch Reid won an allowance race with 9-1 Eloquist and the Greenwood Cup with 8-1 Ridin With Biden before finishing second in the Cotillion with 48-1 Morning Matcha who has now run six times at her home track with four wins, a second and a third.
Parx trainer Michael Moore, who is having the best year of his career, got his first graded stakes win with the amazing grass sprinter That’s Right who did what he does in the Grade III Turf Monster – to the front and gone, his fourth win in five grass tries.
Owners Chuck Zacney (Cash Is King) and Glenn Bennett (LC Racing) also had a day to remember. Horses they had an interest in won three races, finished second in two others and third in yet another. When the purse earnings were totaled up, the number came to a cool $469,000. And they may have made a few winning wagers along the way.
It was a Hall of Fame kind of day with HOF performances even prior to the Grade I races. Pro Football HOF Brian Dawkins and Big 5 HOF Jameer Nelson were at Parx to give the riders’ up call for the $1 million races.
It really was quite the show on Pennsylvania Derby Day 2022.
Taiba, the brilliant colt who managed to win the Santa Anita Derby in just his second lifetime start, was always the horse in the 3-year-old division with the highest ceiling. Well, he blasted right through that ceiling with his dominant win in the Bet Parx Pa. Derby.
When the 7-5 favorite, locked in on the rail for much of the trip, finally got clear running on the far turn, it was over in an instant, the son of superstar stallion Gun Runner inhaling the frontrunners and going on to win by open lengths over Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon, with Arkansas Derby and Haskell winner Cyberknife just up for third. Taiba got a career-best 108 Beyer figure, his fourth triple digit number in five starts.
With the Breeders’ Cup Classic looming, Epicenter leads the 3-year-old division because of his terrific campaign and his consistency. Taiba and Cyberknife are the only two-time Grade I winners among the 3-year-old males and the only remaining threats to Epicenter for top honors in racing’s marquee division.
Serious late money made Cathryn Sophia winner Green Up the 9-5 favorite in the Cotillion, with Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath sent off at 2-1. Neither of those accomplished fillies were ever any threat when 7-1 Society immediately crossed over in front of the field from her outside post, got a clear lead well before the first turn and simply ran the field off its feet. The daughter of the incredible Gun Runner proved her big-figure win in the Charles Town Oaks was no fluke when she beat much more accomplished fillies in the Cotillion by nearly 6 lengths.
Nest is the clear leader of the 3-year-old filly division as we head for the Breeders’ Cup on the first weekend of November, but Society, with her consecutive 100 Beyers, at the very least, adds potential intrigue to what should be a very contentious BC Distaff.
When the decision was made to move the Pennsylvania Derby off of Labor Day to late September, a day like Saturday was not inevitable, but, at least, possible. When the Cotillion was moved to Pa. Derby Day, it was more possible. Now, with the day firmly established, the racing office, which did such a great job putting the best card in track history together, has kept adding stakes and working to get full fields.
Pennsylvania Derby Day has become the most significant September day in American racing. It is, in its way, a mini Breeders’ Cup with races long and short, on grass and dirt, and in so many different divisions.
There is the annual 2-hour live television show produced by Bruce Casella that is shown on PHL-17 and several other stations. There is significant on-site coverage from FanDuel TV and Fox’s America’s Day at the Races. And there are the fans who line up well before the doors open at 11 a.m., the vast parking lots jammed for a day that has become an event in every sense of that word.
When the sun begins to set after the last race, there is just one regret, that we have to wait a year to do it again. But there is also the anticipation of what is coming next, the very essence of horse racing.