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  /  Backstretch Buzz   /  SERVIS’ MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR AT PARX


BENSALEM, Pa. (Thursday, September 23, 2021Family plays an integral part in both the human and equine history in racing. Like Thoroughbreds, countless horsemen are born into the sport and are descendants of a family filled with a trade and tradition.  

Thursday morning, John and Tyler Servis, father and son, stood along the outer rail on the backside of Parx, waiting for their horses to train. Tyler, with his arm draped around his dad’s shoulders, talked about their horses.  

Saturday, the veteran Parx-based trainer, will be joined by his son, now also a trainer, as they send their horses to the gate amid a stakes-filled program highlighted by the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. 

John has five horses entered on the day including stakes runners Precious (Plum Pretty), Leader of the Band (Cotillion G1) and Irish Cork (Alphabet Soup). 

Tyler will send two, led by Shooger Ray Too in the Grade 3, $200,000 Greenwood Cup. It will be just his third time saddling a horse in a graded stakes in his short time as a trainer. 

Tyler, 30, went out on his own two years ago after spending the majority of his young life in the shadow of his dad among the 10,744 starts, 1,306 victories and $52 million in earnings. He was about 14 years old with a front row seat when the ever-popular Smarty Jones made a bid for the Triple Crown in 2004, sweeping the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness before falling short as the runner-up in the Belmont Stakes.  

Together they worked side-by-side amid the long hours, through good days and bad. The elder horseman, a master at his craft, teaching his son through hands-on experience in the hope that he could one day follow in his footsteps. Now Tyler has 18 horses stabled in the barn alongside his father on the backstretch.  

“I started galloping for him when I was 14 at Oaklawn,” Tyler said. “I got on my first horse at the track and then when I turned 16, I was able to get a license and I’d gallop for him before school. I did that for a couple of years, and I’d say probably during my junior year of high school I became his foreman. Then in my senior year when I graduated, I became his assistant. Then two years ago I decided to go out on my own.” 

The decision to embark on a training career can happen too soon, too late or not at all as many have failed over the years. For the Servis’ the decision for Tyler to remain with his dad or try his own hand wasn’t easy decision. 

“It was both ways,” Tyler said. “He was pushing me a little bit to try to go out and do my own thing and see what I could do, and I was getting to the point where I think I was ready for that change and that type of task at hand.” 

John, the proud dad, recalled one dream his son had over a decade ago. Tyler dreamt about being a jockey when he grew up. As a high school freshman, he was 5-feet-7 and weighed 90 pounds. By his senior year, he was 6-feet tall, and doubled his weight. Now, as they train separately for different clients, the bond still remains. 

“He was going to be a jockey, John said. “He was 16. I have pictures of him breezing horses and his mother was so upset, saying ‘I don’t want him to be a jockey. I said, ‘honey, trust me, when he grows into those feet, he’s not going to be a jockey.” 

“It’s fun and it’s exciting”, John said. “Every time he runs a horse, he’ll call me five minutes after the race and ask, “what did you think?’ If he doesn’t call it’s because the horse won, and he’s basking in the glory. So, then I’ll call him and say, ‘hey, you never called me!’ He’ll say, ‘oh, I was so busy, I didn’t have time.’ 

“We’re right next to each other here (on the backside). After a horse runs or after they work, I’ll bring them outside the next day and go over them and jog them down the road and stuff like that. He does the same thing, but it’s funny that now when we do that, just one of us, the other will come out and look at them too so it’s neat. He does it for me and I do it for him,” John said.

When Tyler saddles Shooger Ray Too in the Greenwood Cup, he will be hoping the third time is the charm after saddling Wentz to a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Stakes in his first year on his own. He then shipped to Aqueduct and finished fifth in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap. 

Tyler will need to win 33 graded stakes if he wants to match his dad’s mark, but for now he’s focused on Saturday, and he likes his horse’s chance in the 1 1/2-mile race.      

“He is doing very well,” Tyler said. “He came out of his race really well from Saratoga (2nd in the Birdstone, Aug. 5). We have been pointing to this race all year, so obviously, we have high hopes for him. This is his home track, and he will relish the distance in this race and hopefully we’ll come out with good results.” 

“I’ll be taking ten to New York for the winter,” Tyler said. “My first time up there. I want to try and branch out a little bit and generate some business. New face, new opportunity and maybe attract some new people. The experience won’t hurt. At least I can say I tried if it doesn’t work out.” 

Win or lose this Saturday, the future is bright for the young horseman. From great lineage comes great opportunity with hopes of a promising career for years to come.