Parx Day at Belmont Park
-By Dick Jerardi
A week after another memorable Pennsylvania Derby Day, two Parx horses were shipped to the western tip of Long Island and several hours later, returned with two Grade I wins, almost certainly unprecedented in the history of the racetrack, which goes back 4 1/2 decades.
There is a slight chance that sometime in the distant past, two horses have emerged from the Parx stable area and won Grade I races on the same day before, but if so, nobody remembers it. So September 29, 2018 will be marked as a day like no other—unless, of course, it happens again.
Imperial Hint, stabled in Barn 4, was the odds-on favorite to win the $350,000 Vosburgh Stakes (G1). On the other hand, Discreet Lover, stabled in Barn 23, was 45-1 to win the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).
Imperial Hint ran right to his odds, gaining a clear lead early and winning with total ease in what amounted to a paid public workout. The little horse with the giant motor finished second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint and will go to Churchill Downs this year as the Sprint favorite.
For two years, Imperial Hint has been nearly unbeatable at 6 furlongs, winning seven times with that one second-place finish in eight tries. The five-year-old, trained by Luis Carvajal, Jr., is a two-way horse with the early speed to overwhelm fields from the start or sit back and blow fields away with his mid-race acceleration.
The Vosburgh is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race, so owner Raymond Mamone will have all his fees paid as his little horse goes for the Sprint and the Eclipse Award as Champion Sprinter that would invariably go with a win.
Discreet Lover has to be the most unique horse in Parx history. Owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis has been running the five-year-old in major stakes for three years now. He would finish third here, fourth there, picking up checks, inching closer and closer to $1 million the hard way.
Making the 44th start of his career in the featured Jockey Club Gold Cup, Discreet Lover was once again ignored in the wagering. Nobody doubted that the horse would try, but to finish first, he would have to beat the winners of the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the $1.2 million Woodward Handicap and the $2.5 million United Arab Emirates Derby. Those three horses, Thunder Snow, Diversify and Mendelssohn, had won a combined $12.5 million.
So how was the horse from Parx, who was purchased for $10,000, going to beat all of them?
Well, Discreet Lover was going to need a scorching, contested pace. He got both when Mendelssohn chased a flying Diversify through the first 6 furlongs (1:09.13) of the mile and a quarter race.
Even with that pace, Discreet Lover was going to have to deliver the rally of his career. Jockey Manny Franco was in perfect rhythm with his horse and Discreet Lover was relentless as the speed horses began to tire. In the end, he would have to get by World Cup winner Thunder Snow who had a dream trip behind the two dueling leaders. And “get by” is exactly what Discreet Lover did. It was close, but there was no doubt. Discreet Lover’s seventh career victory came in the 100th Jockey Club Gold Cup, one of America’s most prestigious races for older horses.
“He’s real tired,” St. Lewis said the morning after the race. “It’s the most tired he’s ever been after a race.”
As hard as he ran, Discreet Lover, with a record of 7-7-7 from those 44 starts and earnings of $1,354,060—a cool 135 times his purchase price—had every right to be tired.
That race was yet another “Win and You’re In” for a Parx-based runner—this time for the Breeders’ Cup Classic—so the horse’s fees are paid for a trip to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of November. St. Lewis, however, said he wanted to wait a few days before committing.
If Discreet Lover does run in the Classic, there is a chance it could be his last race as the owner/trainer is getting some inquiries about standing his horse of a lifetime at stud next year.
“I was so happy, words can’t describe it,” St. Lewis said of the victory.
When he saw the fractions, his thought was simple: “just get up”.
So, in barely two hours, Parx horses won two of the most prestigious and traditional Grade I stakes in the country. One was not shocking at all. The other was a huge surprise—unless you’ve been watching Discreet Lover get better and better as he got older. With the proper setup, there was always a chance the horse was going to win one of the big ones. That chance has now become reality.