It was a game of catch him if you can. In a reprise of the $1 Million Pennsylvania Derby, Bob Baffert trainee Bayern shot out of the gate to grab the lead and hung on to win the $5 Million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 1. The day before, Untapable, the 2014 Parx Cotillion Stakes winner, scored a convincing victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Parx racetrack brass must have been grinning like Cheshire cats.
Back in 2010 Parx Chief Operating Officer Joe Wilson and other executives officials decided to move the PA Derby from its existing Labor Day date to later in September, a month after the Travers Stakes in Saratoga and six weeks prior to the Breeders' Cup Classic. A year later they also tacked on a major bonus-- $200,000 to the connections of any horse who won a Triple Crown race, the Haskell or the Travers to run in the PA Derby. The race has been televised by the Philly NBC affiliate since 2011.
In addition, in 2012 the $1 Million Cotillion Stakes was moved to PA Derby Day to create a "mega-event" for Parx. In year five the "Great Switch" hit a booming home run.
On a dazzling final Saturday of summer (Sept. 20), the parking lot was overflowing at the Bensalem track as a large and raucous crowd turned out to witness California Chrome and Haskell winner Bayern battle in the PA Derby. It was the biggest racing day in the 40-year history of Parx (once known Keystone and then as Philadelphia Park) as well as in the history of Pennsylvania horse racing. Thirty minutes prior to the PA Derby, Kentucky Oaks winner and odds-on favorite Untapable powered home in the Cotillion Stakes.
The total betting handle at the track and around the country was a stunning $10,393,671, crushing the previous track handle by $5 million. More than $3 million was wagered on the PA Derby, an impressive 300 percent leap over 2013.
Racing fans also got to see a track record fall in the PA Derby, a record that was set less than a month after the track opened on Nov. 4, 1974. Selari Spirit ran a mile and an eighth in 1:47 on Nov. 30, 1974. This year Haskell winner Bayern uncorked a time of 1:46.96 for the 1 1/8 miles race, running his rivals off their feet winning by 5 3/4 lengths.
"That was just a powerful performance," said Baffert. "He broke well and they let us go and [jockey] Martin [Garcia] hustled to get away from California Chrome. When California Chrome was pinned in there, I knew it was going be tough for California Chrome. He was the target, we weren't the target. When Bayern runs like that, nobody's going to beat him."
In 2012 the Travers dead-heat winners (Alpha and Golden Ticket) traveled to Bucks County to run in the PA Derby. Another top colt, Handsome Mike, took the race. Last year, the top two runners in another Travers photo-finish (Will Take Charge and Moreno) came to Parx. Will Take Charge won the PA Derby, but six weeks later lost by a short head to Mucho Macho Man in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic. Will Take Charge became the first Pennsylvania Derby winner to be named champion 3-year-old male.
After the season wraps up in December, racing's graded stakes committee evaluates the status of existing stakes race. A few go up, others go down. After attracting the eventual 3-year-old champion male, the Derby and Preakness winner and possible Horse of the Year (Bayern or California Chrome) in three consecutive years, the odds are that the PA Derby will join the Cotillion as a Grade-1 race in 2015.
Note: Parx COO Joe Wilson did not respond to phone calls seeking comment on this story.
Main Sequence: Brilliant in BC Turf
He came. He saw. He conquered. And then some.
Since arriving at trainer Graham Motion’s stable from England last winter, Main Sequence is a perfect four-for-four. He capped off his brilliant season in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf by rallying wide and storming down the stretch to take the lead in the final sixteenth and to hold off the stubborn Brit Flintshire to win the 1 1/2 mile race in 2:24.91. The victory was his fourth consecutive Grade-1 triumph.
“I was going so good,” jockey John Velazquez said. “My concern was getting the horse to the lead too early.”
“I thought at the top of the stretch he would win,” Motion added. “It all worked out so well. The only question was whether he got to the front too early.”
A 5-year-old gelding, Main Sequence is owned by the Niarchos family (Flaxman's Holdings). He has trained at the Fair Hill Training Center throughout 2014. His victory in the $3 million race gave Motion his second Breeders’ Cup Turf win, who won the BC Turf a decade ago at Lone Star Park with then stable star Better Talk Now. Known as "Blackie," Better Talk Now is still at FHTC keeping an eye on things.
As customary, Main Sequence was well back early in the field of twelve. He made steady progress on the far turn and was seventh with a quarter-mile remaining, trailing the leader, Chester County's Hardest Core, by about 3 1/2 lengths. With Hardest Core tiring Main Sequence began closing on the leaders. Flintshire (3-1) led narrowly over Telescope (8-5) with a furlong remaining, but neither could hold off Main Sequence who blew by the two Euros to win by a neck in a time of 2:24.9.
The Arlington Million winner, Hardest Core-- owned by the Bentley family and trained by Eddie Graham-- got a bizarre ride from Parx jockey Eriluis Vaz. The strapping bay sailed to the front at the three-quarters pole running a swift 1:11.15, clocked the mile in 1:36.10 and took the lead turning for home. Tiring down the stretch Hardest Core finished eighth by five lengths.
Since last summer Main Sequence has won the United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park in July, the Sword Dancer at Saratoga in August, and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park on Sept. 27.
"He did everything so well and so easily today," Motion said. "He broke really well and went on from there and did everything great. It really was a team effort (with the previous trainer in England, David Lanigan) and the horse has been spectacular. He's really suited to American racing and he just gets better and better. He's a very impressive horse."
Ten years ago Better Talk Now put Motion on the map as a skilled conditioner.
"When you start winning Breeders' Cup races, that puts you at a different level," Motion remarked. "I'm so fortunate to train for Maria (Niarchos) and the family. I grew up watching their horses run as a kid. It was a name that was very special. When I first started training for them, quite honestly, I had to pinch myself. I can't say enough about this horse. What he's accomplished in a very short space of time here is remarkable."
Main Sequence is likely to be rested for the remainder of the year with a trip to Dubai in March for an early season target in 2015. With the BC Turf victory, Main Sequence surely locked up the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding turf horse. With the scrambled results of Bayern, California Chrome and Shared Belief in 2014, Main Sequence should also be a strong candidate for the Horse of the Year title.
"I hadn't even thought about Horse of the Year now, but I think he should be," Motion stated. "Horses don't win four Grade-1 races in a row like that. How many horses can do that? He has to be one of the best I've trained."
Main Sequence's 2014 resume looks quite a bit like Wise Dan's in 20i2 and 2013 when he was voted by racing journalists and executives Horse of the Year. So, why not?
Tapit filly sells for $3 million
Three eggs washed down by a quick pint of Guinness may not be the standard breakfast of champions. But for former Fair Hill trainer Michael Dickinson, the mixture helped fuel his grey colt Tapit who won three of six races during 2003-2004.
Today, Tapit is snowy white and is the nation's leading sire and stands at Gainesway Farm near Lexington. Reviving eye-popping stud fees of yesteryear, Tapit will stand in 2015 for a $300,000 fee.
A filly by Tapit established a record price for a weanling sold at public auction in North America, selling for $3 million to Bridlewood Farm late in Wednesday's second session of the Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
The now 13-year-old son of Pulpit out of the Unbridled mare Tap Your Heels stood for an advertised fee of $150,000 in 2014. He set the single-season earnings record for a North American-based sire October 31, when Untapable won the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, eclipsing the earnings mark set by Smart Strike in 2007.
Overall, Tapit is the sire of 448 winners, including 57 stakes winners, 33 graded winners, and four champions, from seven crops racing. From 783 foals of racing age, his 608 starters have amassed $66,772,350 in earnings. For the second year in a row Tapit was America's leading yearling sire with an earnings average of $628,289.