08/19/2014 11:49AM

Jerardi: Tastefully Simple claim turns Mick's fortunes around


Steve “Snapper” Mick was one of those reliable trainers whom players at Penn National and then Parx could always count on. His horses would be well cared for and well managed. They would run where they could win. For nearly a quarter-century, Mick, first at Penn, near his native Harrisburg, Pa., and then at Parx, near Philadelphia, could be counted on to win between 30 and 40 races per year and at a 20 percent clip, some years higher.

Then, the trainer went 2 for 89 in 2009, 2 for 50 in 2011, 3 for 31 in 2012 and 4 for 26 in 2013.

“It was awful for me,” Mick said. “Everything went wrong. My business went bad. My personal life went bad. I lost my home. It’s one of those things you think can never happen to you. People forget about you. I tried to do the best I could with what I had, but I had nothing. It was god-awful. It was a nightmare.”

Mick’s brother, David, and longtime friend (and jocks’ agent), Tony Kofalt, who urged him to go from groom to trainer in 1983, suggested he come back to Penn last year. Mick won with his first starter.

Mick sits with Kofalt every night at the agent’s table overlooking the wire in the Penn clubhouse. Last fall, another regular at the table, Galen Behney, was talking about a Pennsylvania-bred 3-year-old filly named Tastefully Simple whom Behney had bred.

“He didn’t know anything about her other than he had bred her,” Mick said. “But it got me interested.”

Mick took a long look, and then he took a chance. Mick claimed the filly for $7,500 on Nov. 7 for a small ownership group, clients whom Kofalt knew. The filly now runs under the silks of PIA Stable.

Fast forward to 2014, and Tastefully Simple has won more money, $69,191, at Penn this year than any horse stabled at the track. Her five wins are tied for the most victories at the track this meet. She has won her last four, a $7,500 claimer for horses who had never won three races, a first-level allowance, and two starter handicaps. The four wins have all come around two turns and with jockey David Cora.

“Once we stretched her out, she just turned into a different kind of horse,” Mick said. “I’m not going to act like we knew she would go long. I just kind of thought she was an off-the-pace sprinter with heart.”

Tastefully Simple has turned into much more than that. Her Beyer Speed Figures during the streak have gone from 57 to 67 to 82 and 80. With those numbers, she is going to win more races at Penn and perhaps elsewhere in the right situation.

Mick has three horses in his stable. He is 10 for 34 (29 percent) in 2014, Mick-like career numbers.

“We’re looking to claim all the time,” Mick said. “I’m going to work my way back up to 30 [horses]. Twice in my career, here at Penn, I went from three to 30. When I went to Parx, I only showed up with two horses and went to 30. I want to get back to 30. I still have the vim and vigor to keep pushing.”

And Mick promises he still will be doing it the right way.

“I want to go on record and say I’m a clean trainer,” Mick said. “I’m proud of that. Never had one positive. Never been under scrutiny for anything. This will come as a surprise. These horses that I run and win with up here, they don’t even get a pre-race. They got nothing, except for Lasix. They get no bute, no this, no that. And after the race, we just give them a vitamin buildup electrolyte jug, and that’s it. The people that I work for, they get vet bills for less than $100 a month. They just love it.”

It was Kofalt who said he would support Mick as an owner back in 1983. It was at Kofalt’s table 30 years later that the trainer’s fortunes began to turn again. Now, “Snapper” Mick is winning again, just like he had done for a generation.