06/22/2016 11:56AM

Parx rider Pennington closing in on 2,000 wins

Barbara D. Livingston
Frankie Pennington, 29, came into Wednesday's program at Delaware Park needing three wins for 2,000 lifetime.

Frankie Pennington has been a top rider at Parx Racing so long that it’s easy to forget he’s only 29 years old. He’ll begin the Saturday card at Parx on the verge of his 2,000th career win.

He started out at Thistledown in September 2003 at age 16 but by early 2004 was riding days at Philadelphia Park, now Parx, and nights at Penn National while living in the home of jockey agent Robert Martel and his wife, Dianne. Martel still represents Pennington.

“We call him our first teenager,” said Martel, who now has a 17-year-old son, Hunter, and a 13-year-old daughter, Logan.

Pennington has a family of his own now and lives in Bensalem, Pa., with his wife, Jennifer, and their children, Frankie Pennington III, 4, and Emily, 20 months.

“My agent has been like a father figure to me,” he said.

Pennington grew up in Big Spring, Texas, about 300 miles west of Dallas where Highway 87 intersects with Interstate 20. His stepfather, Rodney Faulkner, a trainer now based in Ohio, was at that time preparing horses on a farm.

“We used to gallop the horses in the cotton fields,” Pennington recalled. “Once I got started, I was a maniac with it.”

Faulkner’s father, Joe, also trained, and when Pennington was old enough, he joined them at Thistledown.

“I had 10 horses,” Pennington said. “I groomed them, exercised them, and rode them.”

Pennington did well in Pennsylvania from the beginning. He rode between 1,000 and 1,200 mounts in each of his first three years there and won 140 races in 2004 and 156 in 2005.

He had a breakout season in 2006, winning the Philadelphia Park riding crown with 259 victories, 21 more than the previous record. That mark still stands, and in this age of reduced racing dates, it’s unlikely to be broken.

Pennington has won the last two Parx riding titles and has 55 wins this season, 21 more than second-place Hector Caballero. As of Wednesday morning, he had 1,997 victories. He was scheduled to ride two horses at Delaware Park on Wednesday and then resume riding at Parx on Saturday.

A polished and patient rider, Pennington has a career win average of 18 percent and mount earnings of almost $51 million. He races at tracks throughout the Mid-Atlantic on off days at Parx but doesn’t plan to change his home base anytime soon.

“I like the year-round racing,” Pennington said of Parx. “I’ve met so many good owners and good trainers here, people that have stuck with me and been faithful to me. It’s like a family. The money’s good, so why leave?”

Pennington rode his first stakes winner, Touched by Madness, in the 2005 Jersey Derby at Monmouth Park for trainer Ned Allard. His most recent stakes win came for Allard aboard Always Sunshine in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint on Preakness Day.