by Dick Jerardi
When the annual August break at Parx ends on Monday Aug. 22, it will mark the beginning of the best month of racing at the track, culminating on Pennsylvania Derby Day Saturday Sept. 24. Pa. Derby Day has become not only the highlight of the racing calendar in the Commonwealth, it has become recognized around the country as a must-see event.
This year, the program, which will be anchored by the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and $1 million Cotillion, will feature 10 stakes, five graded and two new stakes for Pa. bred and sired 2-year-olds (the Prince Lucky and Imply). The Gallant Bob, Turf Monster, Greenwood Cup, Alphabet Soup, Plum Pretty and Parx Dirt Mile have all become serious races of their own. Put them together with the Grade I headliners and the new stakes, you have a card that may attract enough betting attention to break last year’s record $13.2 million handle.
The two big races and several of the undercard races will once again be shown on PHL-17 from 4-6 p.m. Fields are still taking shape, but trainer Bob Baffert said he is sending stable star Taiba, Santa Anita Derby winner and Haskell runner-up, for the Pa. Derby, a race he has won three times – Bayern (2014), West Coast (2017) and McKinzie (2018).
Pa. Derby Day is the main course, but the appetizers are served on the day live racing returns with Pa. Day at the Races, followed the next day by three preps for the Pa. Derby, Cotillion and Turf Monster – the $300,000 Smarty Jones, the $150,000 Cathryn Sophia and $200,000 Parx Dash.
Pa. Day is just like it sounds – races for Pa. Breds. There will be seven stakes on the card for horses in different divisions on varying surfaces and at several distances, all for $100,000. The Mrs. Penny, Storm Cat, Marshall Jenney, Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial and Banjo Picker are back. New this year at the Whistle Pig and Miss Blue Tye Dye, races for Pa. bred and sired 2-year-olds which will also serve as preps for the 2-year-olds stakes on Pa. Derby Day.
No horse has yet won the Smarty Jones, first run in 2010, and come back to win the Pa. Derby. 2019 Smarty winner Spun to Run ran really well in the Pa. Derby before coming back to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile two months later at Santa Anita.
However, “the’’ month plays out, it will be memorable. Each year, it somehow gets bigger and better. No reason to think 2022 will be any different.