-By Dick Jerardi
Josiah (Joe) Hampshire’s distinguished riding career was nearing an end when Mychel Sanchez first began to ride at Parx in June 2013.
“I remember thinking, ‘why can’t this kid catch on, he’s the best bug boy here?’” Hampshire said.
Hampshire, who went “from a kid standing on the corner in South Philly with a quart of beer,” to winning 3,801 races over 33 years, understood what a good jockey looked like.
Hampshire retired in 2014. Almost immediately after he stopped riding, Sanchez asked him to become his agent.
“I wasn’t going to do it and (trainer) Ron Dandy told me that I should,” Hampshire said.
So, he took Sanchez’s book.
“That kid, he’s come a long way,” Hampshire said. “Nobody gave him anything. He worked hard. He would be out there every morning and he still is. He’s got a great attitude. When bad things happen, he handles it well. He doesn’t get mad, he doesn’t get angry. He’s the full package as far as I’m concerned.”
Sanchez won 16 races in 2013, 34 in 2014, 91 in 2015, 79 in 2016, 118 in 2017 and 137 in 2018.
Do you notice a pattern?
This year through October 20, Sanchez has already won 131 races and is making a strong run at ending Frankie Pennington’s record five-years-straight run atop the Parx jockeys’ standings. With 10 weeks to go, Pennington has 117 Parx wins, Sanchez 112.
“I think it means a lot for every jockey’s career,” Sanchez said. “I think it’s a big thing. I’ve still got to appreciate having an amazing year… Frankie’s a great guy, a great jockey. Hopefully, I can get it done. He needs some competition and I’m giving him some competition.”
Hampshire, who would know, thinks Sanchez is on the cusp of greatness.
“(Trainer) Kate DeMasi calls him an old soul,” Hampshire said. “He’s very mature.”
According to Hampshire, Sanchez emerged from the jockey’s school in Venezuela as “the top pupil”.
“He wants to go as far as he can in this game, I know that,” Hampshire said. “Not that I’m looking to lose him, but I think that kid can ride anywhere.”
And if they have their way, jockey and agent will stay very close to a Parx-based horse that may be able to compete anywhere.
Sanchez rode Spun to Run in his second start, but, due to a combination of circumstances, did not ride the colt again until Oct. 12 in the $100,000 M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile.
All Spun to Run and Sanchez did was deliver the performance of the year at Parx. The three-year-old colt took off on the far turn like the race had just begun and crushed a very good field of older horses by 6 3/4 lengths. The 110 Beyer Speed Figure was the best of 2019 by any three-year-old in America going two turns. The only two-turn figure as good at Parx in the last decade was when Bayern set the track record in the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby.
“I broke, I put him in the race; I thought he was the best horse in the race,” Sanchez said.
He was so right about that.
“I kind of just let (Carlos L.) go (to the lead),” Sanchez said. “I let him do the first half, the next half was mine.”
The feeling Spun to Run gave Sanchez “was awesome”.
Owned by Robert Donaldson and trained by Carlos Guerrero, Spun to Run looks like the kind of horse that can win big races at any track in the country.
When Sanchez heard about the 110 Beyer, he was not surprised.
“I think he has the ability to compete with the best horses in the United States,” Sanchez said.
Hampshire won 18 riding titles. He won 300 races in 2002. He knows what it is like to be on top. Now, he would love to help get his rider there at Parx.
“That’s our goal,” Hampshire said. “It would be a small miracle to beat Frankie just because of who he is. We’re still trying and I want to say it’s going to go down to the last couple of weeks.”
Sanchez also is the regular jockey for DeMasi’s excellent Pennsylvania-bred Word on a Wing, who like Spun to Run is one of the top three-year-olds at Parx. Word on a Wing is 0-for-2 with other riders, 4-for-4 with Sanchez.
So, jockey and agent will stay very close to those “big” horses while they try to stay close or perhaps pass Frankie Pennington.