Classic Giacnroll, purchased in May 2013 for $27,000 by Saint Joseph's grad Joe Besecker on the advice of the training Guerreros (Lisa and Carlos), went off at 13-1 in the Smarty Jones. Nerveless jockey Kendrick Carmouche, one of the best ever to ride regularly at Parx, sent the son of 2005 Derby winner Giacomo though a tiny opening on the rail to get a clear lead in the stretch.
Besecker, watching 20 yards down the stretch from the finish line, started to run with his horse. The Lancaster-based Emerald Asset Management CEO was absolutely certain he was about to win the $300,000 race. Then, Protonico, a son of $85,000 sire Giant's Causeway out of a daughter of superstar sire A.P. Indy, caught stride in the final 100 yards and flew by Classic Giacnroll a few yards from the finish line and won by a half-length.
"I've never been so sure I was going to win a race and not win," said Besecker.
Instead, it was the Todd Pletcher juggernaut winning again. "Jersey" Joe Bravo, who got his start back in the day at what was then Philadelphia Park, came in for the ride on Protonico who ran the mile and 70 yards in 1:41.17.
"He had me a little worried," Bravo admitted. "Don't they say you want to make it exciting."
It was definitely that.
Smarty's owner Pat Chapman was there to present the trophy.
"I look forward to it every year," she said. "I'm always amazed at how many of his fans are still loving the horse."
Another amazing rally fell just short when Ben's Cat nearly gave 81-year-old trainer King Leatherbury his third win in the $300,000 Turf Monster. Ben looked hopelessly out of it with 100 yards to go, but was making up several feet with every stride. He fell a few feet short of 16-1 bomb Sharp Sensation.
The difference was a neck at the wire. The big difference was in accomplishment. Sharp Sensation had won just four races in his career, none in two chances on grass. Ben had won 27 lifetime and 17 on turf.
Leatherbury noted Ben beat all the horses he had to beat. There was just no way to imagine he had to beat Sharp Sensation.
The $200,000 Greenwood Cup went to 28-1 shot Cary Street. His trainer Brendan Walsh said he had been waiting to run his horse at a mile and half. He even said he bet a few dollars on the son of Smarty Jones. Nice call. Nice bet.
The $200,000 Turf Amazon was equal parts exhilarating and frustrating for two local trainers and jockeys.
Quality Lass, owned by Terry Finley's West Point Thoroughbreds, trained by Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado and ridden by John Bisono, outran all the speed for the early lead and never gave it up, holding on (barely) to win by a head.
Joya Real, owned by Pewter Stable, trained by Kate DeMasi and ridden by Carmouche, completely missed the break, a disaster in a 5-furlong race. Still, the mare ran through the field in the stretch, passing every horse but the winner, a very tough-luck loser.
Bettors around the country poured nearly $3 million through the windows on the 12-race card, an appetizer for what promises to be the greatest day in the history of Pennsylvania racing when Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome comes to Parx on Sept. 20 to run in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.
Bravo said he would not mind trying Chrome with Protonico. Besecker was thinking they might run against the big horse with Classic Giacnroll. Whoever else shows up to run, the show will be California Chrome.