01/07/2014 12:28PM

Dick Jerardi: Likely champions made stops at Mid-Atlantic tracks

Barbara D. Livingston
Likely champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge made a stop at Parx in September, winning the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby.

Once all the votes are tabulated, it is likely that two of the Mid-Atlantic tracks will have hosted divisional champions in their marquee events. Will Take Charge, the near-certain champion 3-year-old male, won the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. Royal Delta, a near-certain champion older female, won the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park for a second consecutive year.

Princess of Sylmar, whose first two career starts in 2012 were at Penn National, will certainly get major consideration for champion 3-year-old filly. Dance to Bristol got the first Grade 1 win for a Charles Town-based trainer when Ollie Figgins III sent her out to win the Ballerina at Saratoga. The filly will get some votes for champion female sprinter.

And Victor Carrasco, who finished his terrific year by winning the fall meet jockeys’ title at Laurel Park, is the favorite for the Eclipse Award as leading apprentice. Gary Stevens, who won the Preakness at Pimlico on Oxbow, should be a finalist for champion jockey after nine Grade 1 wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Classic. And Mike Smith, who won the DelCap on Royal Delta and the Cotillion at Parx on Close Hatches, had an incredible year, winning 15 Grade 1 races, 28 graded stakes, with mount earnings of $13.7 million from barely 400 rides.

Handle numbers

Penn National’s average nightly handle live handle ($1,078,543) for the 197-night meet was an all-time record and an increase of 6.4% over 2012.

The first Penn Mile card (June 1) featured a record $1.199 million in purses on the 10-race card. The live handle ($3,658,996) was a record by $1.5 million, a high point in the 42-year history of the track.

“This season definitely exceeded expectations,” said Christopher McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming Inc., parent company of Penn National Race Course. “A terrific new racing event was created, which should have even more growth potential going forward, and the entire racing team, along with the strong support of our horsemen, did a great job in putting together a solid product throughout the season.”

Penn is scheduled to run a 200-date meet in 2014.

Charles Town had a daily all-sources handle of $992,368, second highest in track history. The April 20 Charles Town Classic, won by Game On Dude, set a single-race handle record ($1,286,188).

Average daily handle at Charles Town has grown 28.92% between 2009 and 2013.

“To have the second-most successful wagering year at a track around for more than three-quarters of a century, the top handicap horse in the country at the time here in April to compete in one of the country’s richest races, a second graded stakes granted to us in December, a rider based here win an Eclipse Award, and a local trainer come within a Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint win of training a champion speaks volumes to how far we’ve come as a track,” said Erich Zimny, Charles Town vice president of racing operations. “Most of all, I’m incredibly proud of all the hard work the entire team at Charles Town has put forth to make it happen. We’ll do our best to continue it in 2014.”

Even though he missed the final three months of the year with an injury, jockey Jose Montano, champion apprentice in 2012, defended his Charles Town title with 195 wins.

Jeff Runco won his eighth consecutive Charles Town training title, with 138 wins. He was among the nation’s top 25 trainers by number of wins for the seventh straight year and needs just 17 wins to hit the top 20 trainers by number of all-time wins.

Charles Town is scheduled to run 220 days in 2014.

The handle on the live races (145 days) at Pimlico and Laurel Park averaged $2.057 million per day, up 4.1 percent from 2012.

“The boost in purses because of the VLTs has meant improved quality in the product and has encouraged simulcast players to watch and wager,” Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said.

Jockey Trevor McCarthy and trainer Hugh McMahon won the calendar year title at the major Maryland tracks.

McCarthy, 19, had 107 wins at Laurel and Pimlico. He was ranked 12th nationally with 69 wins when he broke his tibia. He missed five months. He had 25 multi-win days at Laurel and Pimlico.

“I am very grateful seeing that I didn’t get to ride at Pimlico after the first week,” said McCarthy, who rode his first stakes winner on February 16, winning the John B. Campbell Stakes with Concealed Identity. “I really wanted the Eclipse, but to be able to be the leading rider for the entire year in the state is rewarding. It was my goal when I returned from the injury.”

McMahon had 74 wins at the Maryland tracks in 2013. He won the Laurel Park winter and fall titles, including 15 multi-win days.

“I am really thankful to be in this position,” said McMahon, who ranked third overall a year ago. “We are at the mercy of the condition book and the timing of the races. There is a science to it. I think that is why sometimes trainers get really hot then kind of cool off. I don’t mind the cool times because it makes the winning that much more wonderful.”