By Dick Jerardi
The weather could have been better, but the cause is so good that nothing really was going to stop the celebration that is Turning For Home Day at Parx.
It was Tuesday, with a terrific card that included two $100,000 Pennsylvania bred stakes and two $75,000 Turning For Home Starter Handicaps. There was TFH merchandise for sale and donations to be made. And the day culminated with the raffling off of an Afleet Alex stud halter after the 10th race, the second of the TFH races.
It was the seventh TFH Day as TFH, the brainchild of PTHA executive director Mike Ballezzi, celebrates its 13th year as the nation’s model race track horse retirement program.
“The whole idea of Turning For Home Day is to tell the story, to showcase the alumni, to remind the public that we do take care of these horses after they’re done racing,’’ TFH program administrator Danielle Montgomery said in a soggy winner’s circle.
Two TFH alums, Star of Midnight and Rainbow Valley, led the post parades in the two TFH races.
After horses are finished racing at Parx, TFH facilitates their transition into second careers, So far, more than 3,200 horses have been part of the program.
“What happens is when the owners and trainers decide (horses) can’t race anymore, they shouldn’t race anymore, they give us a call and we’re here for them,’’ Montgomery said. “Turning For Home Day started out to acknowledge our partner farms…It’s about thanking all the people that make all this happen. You can’t possibly know if you’re here and you’re betting the races on what goes on behind the scenes. But we know and I know that I’ve got some great partner farms and they love these horses when they get them and they do everything they can to make sure they go into that second career.’’
All true and for 13 years now.
The day was about Turning For Home, but it was also about some terrific races and one amazing performance.
When the rain took the two stakes off grass, trainer Butch Reid was not at all unhappy. His hot 3-year-old Beren was unproven on grass, but very proven on dirt, having just won two open stakes at Belmont Park, including one on a sloppy track by 10 3/4 lengths.
The only question about Beren, sent off at 2-5 in the mile and a sixteenth Crowd Pleaser, was how he would perform around two turns for the first time. Question answered.
Sitting third in the run down the backstretch under Frankie Pennington, Beren cruised to the lead on the far turn and just kept improving his margin, finally winning by 9 1/2 lengths.
It was, Pennington said, as easy as it looked.
“There is plenty of 3-year-old racing left to do this year,’’ Reid said. “Now that he can get two turns, we’re going to pick out something nice for him…He might have just punched his ticket to make the Saratoga squad.’’
That squad will include Mainstay, the half sister to champion Vequist and a brilliant maiden race winner at Monmouth Park, now pointed for the Schuylerville Stakes opening day (July 15) at the Spa. Reid mentioned the July 7 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand as a possible next start for Beren.
Precious was the 4-5 favorite in the Power By Far Stakes, but it was Hey Mamaluke, racing for the first time since Nov. 4, that survived an early speed duel in the 5-furlong race and got away at the finish, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over a fast-closing Precious.
“She had a little throat issue that we took care of so that’s why it was so long,’’ trainer Pat Farro said. “It seemed like she could breathe now.’’
The late Tony Correnti trained Power By Far, winner of 15 races, including 10 stakes. This year’s race was run in his honor.
“He’s my friend and I believe he was right here with us,’’ Farro said as she pointed to the sky.
The two starter stakes really did come right down the wire, the camera unable to separate two horses in the first one and a nose separating the top two in the second one.
Enough Love at 52-1 and 16-1 Atina Salsa finished in a dead heat in race 8, just ahead of 9-5 favorite Shero. In race 10, trainer Jamie Ness caught Jamie Ness at the wire, Thundershook beating stablemate Thorny Tale by a nose, with 2-1 favorite Sheer Flattery third.
The races were great, the cause even greater, as Turning For Home was justly celebrated, a source of pride for anybody associated with the race track.