Welcome to this week’s edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each week in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past seven days, detailing a story that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next week’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
This week’s story involves a new face on the Triple Crown trail and a refreshing lesson in loyalty.
The difference between Aqueduct and Parx Racing is much more than a few hours in a car. There’s far more pressure in New York, as well as enhanced competition and richer stakes.
It’s because of that glaring spotlight that out-of-town horsemen will often look to match their horses with New York’s top jockeys – especially when they have one of the favorites in an important stakes.
Undefeated after two lopsided wins for trainer Robert “Butch” Reid and owners Chuck Zacney’s Cash is King stable and Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing, Maximus Mischief had been ridden in those victories by Frankie Pennington, who has a lock on an unprecedented fifth straight riding title at the Pennsylvania track.
Among the jockeys aboard the other 2-year-olds in the field of seven for the Kentucky Derby stepping stone stakes were Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, Eclipse Award winner Jose Ortiz, and two of New York’s best young riders, Irad Ortiz Jr. and Manny Franco.
And Frankie Pennington.
Pennington and Maximus Mischief were the 7-5 second choice in the race and once the starting gates opened it wasn’t long before they were on the lead and it became Pennington’s job to ration his colt’s speed so that he could stretch out beyond seven furlongs for the first time and handle a demanding mile-and-an-eighth distance.
Turning for home, Pennington went to work on Maximus Mischief with the aplomb of a seasoned, skilled rider and the son of Into Mischief pulled away, beating the 6-5 favorite Network Effect, a rival ridden by Castellano and trained by two-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown, by 2 ¼ lengths and earning 10 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Minutes later, in a career that started in 2003 and has featured more than 2,300 victories, Pennington was savoring every moment of his biggest win.
“I worked so many years and so hard to get a horse like this and to finally have one, it means everything to me,” said Pennington, whose previous graded stakes wins before the trip to Aqueduct were a trio of Grade 3 victories. “When you go to the bigger tracks like this, you have to compete with the bigger jockeys, so when the owners and trainer stick with you and bring you along for the ride, it makes it even more special.”
Prior to the race, Reid said that when he raced in New York in the weeks leading up to the Remsen, he had been approached by “the agent of every big rider in New York who wanted to put their guy on Maximus Mischief.”
Yet for Reid, Zacney, and Bennett there was never a question about who would ride their talented 2-year-old in the Grade 2 stakes.
“Frankie is our No. 1 jockey at Parx and we certainly owe it to him,” said Zacney, who also owns Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk and is best known for Afleet Alex’s 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes victories and the colt’s association with the Alex’s Lemonade Stand charity. “He gave him a terrific ride. You can’t argue with anything he did. It was perfect. Everything worked out really well for Maximus.”
And for Pennington as well.
“Butch Reid did an awesome job getting him ready,” Pennington said. “I’ve been getting on the horse before he ran and I appreciate Cash is King Stable, Butch Reid, and everyone else for sticking with me. It was a great feeling. When I asked him in the stretch, he responded very well. He’s absolutely the best 2-year-old I’ve been on.”
A year ago, Pennington rode Diamond King for Zacney and Reid in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs and was sidelined for a month after a spill in the race. Diamond King recovered and ran in the Preakness but had Castellano aboard for a seventh-place finish there.
Now, with Maximus Mischief, it’s Pennington’s mount going forward after a race that produced an exciting Kentucky Derby candidate who gave his jockey the ride of his life.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other noteworthy stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: