Charlie Manuel, the horse, starts fast

Charlie Manuel cools off with help from trainer Butch Reid after winning his first race, with Frankie Pennington aboard.       TOM GRALISH / Staff
Charlie Manuel cools off with help from trainer Butch Reid after winning his first race, with Frankie Pennington aboard.       TOM GRALISH / Staff
Posted: August 13, 2014

You name a racehorse after a living person, you want it to be a nice horse. Name it after somebody a lot of people know, that ups the ante.

Name the horse Charlie Manuel?

"I didn't sleep last night," Carol Zacney said Sunday, a few minutes before Charlie Manuel raced for the first time at Parx Racing in Bensalem.

Call it racing luck that Charlie Manuel the horse was in the gate for his debut on the same weekend Charlie Manuel the man was honored with a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame.

It was no coincidence that the horse was at the local track. Chuck Zacney is a local guy, the managing partner of the Cash Is King ownership group that watched its colt Afleet Alex win the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and come within a length of the Triple Crown by finishing that close at the Kentucky Derby. Zacney, as big a Phillies fan as he is a horse fan, owns Charlie Manuel with his wife.

Last year, Zacney was in Clearwater, Fla., for spring training when he got a chance to talk to Manuel, still managing the Phillies. Zacney mentioned that he'd like to name a horse after Manuel.

"He got a clipping out of his wallet, about Indian Charlie, what a good sire he is," Zacney said.

As it happens, Zacney had bought a yearling sired by Indian Charlie. Until that conversation, he was thinking about naming a son of Afleet Alex after Manuel. But his Indian Charlie colt didn't have a name yet, either.

"A perfect match," Zacney said.

If there is any similarity between Charlie Manuel the horse and the man, it's in their big bones, providing their athletic power.

Charlie was trying to make it to the track Sunday for the debut, but he was needed at Citizens Bank Park for more festivities.

"I'm sort of glad he's not coming," Carol Zacney said by the paddock. "You don't want to let him down."

Charlie Manuel didn't break well. He had to come from the back in the seven-furlong race. But he got there, easily, winning by 33/4 lengths.

"A little green," Chuck Zacney said to trainer Butch Reid.

"A little green," Reid agreed on their way to the winner's circle.

They have high hopes for this 3-year-old, bought at a yearling sale for $250,000. Reid said he has acted like a nice horse all along, that they thought about putting him on the path for this year's Classic races to get him on the Derby trail. But Charlie had a few physical issues and was such a big, gangly horse that they didn't want to rush him.

"We absolutely did it right," Reid said.

As it happened, there also was a 2-year-old Cash Is King-owned son of Afleet Alex racing for the first time Sunday. Rambunctious in the paddock, Awesome Alex finished fourth.

"Green as grass," Reid, the horse's trainer, told Zacney, who owns this one with Joe Lerro and Barbara Judge, two of the owners of Afleet Alex. Reid added: "He's a very talented horse. He would run three strides and look around. That's what first races are for."

It was still a great weekend for the Zacneys. They don't know Charlie Manuel well, but he invited them to his suite at the ballpark Saturday night as he was being honored. They got to meet Mike Schmidt and Roy Halladay and a bunch of other former Phillies. An incredible night, Zacney said. He barely saw any of the game.

Meanwhile, if Charlie missed the race, he didn't miss a payday at the windows. A 2-5 favorite, Charlie Manuel paid just $2.80 for a $2 bet. Immediately afterward, Chuck Zacney texted Missy Martin, Charlie Manuel's longtime companion, who has been most gracious to the horse owners, he said.

Zacney's text needed three words: "Charlie won impressively."

Later Sunday, Missy Martin tweeted a replay of the race. Among the re-tweeters was Charlie Manuel, the person.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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