-By Dick Jerardi
Aztec Sense lost the first 12 races of his career, won a race and then lost the next 10 before winning his second race and then losing by 32 1/4 lengths at Saratoga on July 23, 2017. Exactly 15 days later at Parx, owner Joe Besecker decided he wanted to claim the horse for $12,500. It was the claim of a lifetime.
“(Trainer Jorge) Navarro and I were there together which is rare,” Besecker said. “I don’t get to go very often. I had told him I really liked this horse. He didn’t see it (on the past performances).”
Navarro agreed to look at Aztec Sense. He then agreed that the claim made some sense. Aztec Sense won the race and then went to his new home with Navarro.
“Three days later, he texted me and said we might have a monster here.” Besecker remembered. “I don’t know how he knew it, but he did.”
Turned out they did have a monster. Aztec Sense won big right off the claim and then was a very good fourth after a very difficult trip in one of the 2017 Claiming Crown races at Gulfstream Park. And that was just the prelude.
Aztec Sense ran eight times in 2018 and won them all, including four straight at Parx from June to September. He won the $100,000 Turning for Home Stakes, a starter allowance, the $100,000 Salvatore M. DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup and the $150,000 Pa. Derby Champions Stakes. None was close.
“There is no doubt his favorite track is Parx,” Besecker said.
Because of his perfect season, including those four Parx wins, Aztec Sense has been nominated for best 4-year-old and up colt or gelding at Parx in 2018. Winners in various categories will be announced at the annual Horsemen’s Awards Banquet to be held at Celebrations on Wednesday, March 27. Aztec Sense is probably the favorite in his category and also figures to be a strong contender for Parx Horse of the Year.
“It would be really cool (to win),” Besecker said. “We took him there. It’s his favorite track by far. He’s done well other places, but (Parx is) his home. I’m confident with him running on that track against damn near anybody. At Parx, he acts like King Kong and he performs like King Kong.”
Aztec Sense finished off his 2018 season with a win in the $196,000 Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream Park. In his first 2019 start he didn’t miss a beat, capturing the $150,000 Fred W. Hooper Stakes on January 26. Unfortunately, he pulled up badly after the race. Turned out he had a small chip at the bottom of the sesamoid.
“It was removed,” Besecker said. “The surgery was excellent. The prognosis is pretty good, but you never really know.”
The plan had been for Aztec Sense to go to Dubai to run in the Mile race at the end of March. Plans are on hold for now.
Regardless of what happens next, it has been some ride for Besecker’s stable. Aztec Sense has won over $500,000 since the claim. Besecker looks like he is going to be leading owner at the Gulfstream championship meet. He has 19 wins, compared to 10 for the next closest owner. He is also leading the standings at Laurel Park. He has 36 wins in 2019, the most in the country.
You make enough moves in the game, you may hit a home run every once in a while. Aztec Sense was a grand slam; one the owner never imagined hitting.
“Absolutely not,” Besecker said when asked if he expected anything like what happened. “We had some conditions that we could go through.”
They blew through a first-level allowance condition and then just bypassed most of the rest of them. Now, they are just hoping they can get the six-year-old gelding back to the races.
“The likelihood of him continuing on and being something like he was is about 65 percent,” Besecker said.