2021 Horsemen’s Awards Banquet
2021 Parx Year in Review
By Dick Jerardi
Keystone/Philadelphia Park/Parx is closing on its 50th anniversary. A strong case can be made that 2021 was the greatest year in the history of the race track.
Pennsylvania Derby Day was back, delivering the best card in the track’s history, capped by Hot Rod Charlie’s wire-to-wire win in the Pa. Derby, Clairiere’s come-from-behind win in the Cotillion, and Jackie’s Warrior’s tour de force in the Gallant Bob. Hot Rod Charlie had been third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont Stakes before getting disqualified after finishing first in Haskell. The colt surely deserved a Grade I win and got one at Parx for trainer Doug O’Neill, jockey Flavien Prat, and his eclectic ownership group.
The overall Pa. Derby Day handle ($13.2 million) shattered the track record set in 2014 when California Chrome came to Parx. Speaking of handle, the track’s daily average handle on its races was $2.644 million, a 71 percent increase over 2019. The track finished off the year with five new $100,000 stakes right after Christmas. The handle on those three days between Christmas and New Year’s was a very impressive $14 million.
All those stakes that were not run in 2020 because of the pandemic were back in 2021. Big money attracts really good horses and that was proved again in 2021 at Parx.
Chris Griffin made his debut as Parx’s announcer, succeeding Keith Jones who retired at the end of 2021. Griffin’s first year was marked by his crisp calls, his selections, his videos, and his enthusiasm.
As in 2020, Jamie Ness dominated the trainer standings, with 186 wins, 107 seconds and 79 thirds, winning with a cool 34 percent of his starters. Ruben Silvera got his first jockey’s title. He won 217 times from 912 mounts, with 164 seconds and 149 thirds.
Chub Wagon, the incredible Pennsylvania bred filly, was an obvious choice as 2021 Parx Horse of the Year. All she did last year was go 8-for-9 with a close second for earnings of $487,400. In the year he had his 2000th winner, Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado demonstrated just as he did with Favorite Tale that when he gets a really good horse, he knows just what to do to maximize that talent.
There were so many standout performers at Parx in 2021. In addition to Chub Wagon, Beren, trained by newly minted Hall of Famer Butch Reid and Leader of the Band, trained by inaugural HOF class member John Servis, deserve special mention.
Beren was voted top 3-year-old male because he had seven wins, including five stakes, in 2021. The colt won twice at Belmont Park, once at Penn National and four times at Parx.
Leader of the Band with her Monmouth Oaks win, second in the Cathryn Sophia and third in the Delaware Oaks, was a deserving winner of the best 3-year-old filly at Parx.
The 2-year-old awards went to Dance Code for the males and Disco Ebo for the fillies. Dance Code, trained by Juan Vasquez, won three times at Parx, including in the Dec. 29 $100,000 Parx Juvenile. Disco Ebo could not keep up with the super impressive Witty in the Dec. 5 Pa. Nursery, but when she ran with her own sex, she was dominating with three wins, two at Parx and one at Penn National. She won those races by a combined 26 3/4 lengths.
Chub Wagon was obviously voted champion older female. Magic Michael, with his seven wins and three seconds from 12 starts, was the champion older male for trainer Ness.
Thorny Tale was the outstanding claim of the year. Ness and Jagger Inc, claimed the horse for $12,500 on Jan. 12. The gelding won that day and five more times after that while going up the ladder.
There were so many good claiming horses at Parx in 2021, including Sevier who won an incredible 11 races for that man Ness and Why Why Paul Why for trainer Penny Pearce. The voters chose Sweet Willemina as the best claiming horse. Trainer Scott Lake claimed her for $32,000 at Churchill Downs back in June because she had all her conditions and would fit well at Parx. She did even better than he could have imagined, with seven wins, a second and a third after the claim. She blew through her conditions, then won the PTHA President’s Cup and topped off her year with a win in the Dec. 4 Claiming Crown Glass Slipper at Gulfstream Park.