02/18/2014 12:37PM

Dick Jerardi: Weather taking its toll on Mid-Atlantic racing

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Bandbox, making just his second start following a 17-month layoff, upset the General George Handicap at 13-1 Monday at Laurel Park.

It is the winter that will not end in the Mid-Atlantic. It has been a steady supply of snow, ice, rain, brutal cold, and really brutal cold, a nightmare for track superintendents, trainers trying to keep horses in shape and find races to run them in, and owners trying to pay bills with far less income.

From Dec. 6 to Feb. 16, Parx Racing had to cancel 17 cards and stop two more in the middle due to track conditions. It was the freeze/thaw disaster in early December that makes it just about impossible to maintain a track surface. Then, it was the unrelenting cold and snow in 2014.

During the Dec. 6-Feb. 16 time frame, Parx was able to run 23 cards even though it had two quarantines due to suspected equine herpes. If it was not one thing, it has been another for the track just over the city line from Philadelphia.

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Charles Town ran 25 cards and had to cancel 21 entirely and part of one other in that same 10-week stretch of terrible weather. West Virginia winters are notoriously unforgiving. This has been worse than that.

Penn National, just north of the state capital in Harrisburg, about 100 miles west of Philadelphia, only lost one day prior to January. But, for the first six weeks of 2014, Penn was able to run just 12 times and had to cancel 15, including all eight scheduled days in February.

“It’s been a very rough winter for our horsemen, fans, and the track,” Penn racing secretary David Bailey said.

Laurel Park really avoided the worst of the weather with just two cancellations until a foot and half of snow fell at the track last week. The central Maryland track lost three consecutive days, including last Saturday when it was going to run the $300,000 Barbara Fritchie and $100,000 John B. Campbell. Those races will now be run this Saturday.

Laurel was able to run its Presidents Day card, which featured the $250,000 General George Handicap.

Successful plan for Bandbox

Those with really good memories will remember a promising New York-bred 2-year-old in 2010 from the barn of Rodney Jenkins. Bandbox won the Charles Town Juvenile by 9 1/2 lengths and the Sleepy Hollow at Belmont Park by 1 1/4 lengths. He was fourth in the Remsen behind two very serious horses, To Honor and Serve and Mucho Macho Man.

It looked like Bandbox had a chance to be a good 3-year-old when he was second in the Miracle Wood and won the Private Terms, both at Laurel in early 2011.

Then, the injuries began to take a toll. The horse was still competitive. He finished second in three straight races, including two stakes. And he ran fast with Beyer Speed Figures of 94 and 101. But he just wasn’t winning.

In fact, Bandbox went nearly three years without winning a race and, after fracturing a sesamoid, 17 months without even running in a race until Jenkins brought him back in an optional claimer Jan. 30 at Laurel. The horse finished third, but the trainer had a race in mind, the General George.

Bandbox was 13-1 in the General George and crushed the field, winning by four lengths and running seven furlongs in 1:24.18, earning a 101 Beyer, tied for his career best.

The trainer got the horse all the way back to his top form, and Xavier Perez rode him with confidence. Jenkins took as much time as the horse needed, had a goal, and got it done.

“I have always dreamed of winning this race and today our dream came true,” Jenkins said. “We don’t really have a plan for him after this race because our goal was to get the job done today.”

Plan that well and get that result, you really don’t need another plan.

Familiar names atop standings

When the tracks have been able to run, it has been mostly a continuation of 2013 in the trainer standings.

Patricia Farro, who won her first Parx training title in 2013 with 86 winners, is off to a great start in 2014. She has started 63 horses, with 10 wins, 16 seconds, and 8 thirds.

Tim Kreiser, who dominated the Penn National standings again last year, has 8 wins, 5 seconds, and 4 thirds from 26 starts to lead again.

Hugh McMahon, who won the Laurel Park fall meeting, has started 50 horses at the winter meet with 9 wins, 7 seconds, and 9 thirds.

Perennial Charles Town leader Jeff Runco (12 wins) is one behind Ronney Brown, but it is very early.

◗ Trainer Gary Capuano has sent out 14 starters at Laurel Park in 2014. Every last one has hit the board. He won two on the Presidents Day card, giving him 5 wins, 4 seconds, and 5 thirds at the meet. Got to figure that would be a pretty nice show parlay.

Fred Reardon More than 1 year ago
Remember this next December when someone (and you know they will) starts singing, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow". Screw them!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi Mr. Jerardi. I always enjoy your articles. Remember when the only track that raced in the northeast during the winter was Bowie ? Remember when the stands at Aqu on opening day (mid- march) were full ? Garden State opened in April, same thing stands full. Maybe less racing and more attraction ? Tell me what you think, I truly respect your experience and opinion. Thanks PS. also Tropical - Hialeah- Gulstream. Fall through Spring.