Horse of the Year May Need a Saving Grace

in Horse Racing
Horse of the Year May Need a Saving Grace

There’s a lot of murmuring about this year’s Eclipse Award. The trophy, which recognizes the Horse of the Year, has been more of a clear-cut decision in years past. And yet, one name keeps popping up through all the hubbub: Havre De Grace.


She recently topped a poll over at NTRA for HOTY, despite finishing fourth in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Gary West of ESPN wrote a glowing article on her, stating: “clearly nobody has had a better campaign than Havre de Grace.”

What do you guys think? A glance at her record for the year makes us think Mr. West may be onto something. But, is that enough? 


Throw us some of your picks on our Facebook and Twitter

Bob Baffert: Seeing What Sticks

in Horse Racing
Bob Baffert: Seeing What Sticks

ESPN just posted a fantastic piece on esteemed trainer Bob Baffert, who has entered 10 horses in this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup Races. It may seem like an unorthodox move to enter such a large group, but maybe that’s just because no one else can pull it off. It seems like grandiose gestures such as this is an indicative snapshot of Baffert’s career as a whole.


You wouldn’t be able to take a quick glance at his past performances, as the list goes on for about 86 pages. But if you did, you might see that he was a nose away from winning three consecutive Kentucky Derbies. Or that he took home the prize in the world’s richest race in Dubai.


In a sport whose crux is money, Baffert still finds the fun in it all. With level head and a great attitude, he is a perfect example of what the sport of kings is all about.



Check out the article here and stay tuned all week long for updates on Breeders’ Cup action!

Attention Handicappers: Get ready for the World Series of Handicapping!

in Gambling & Casinos
Attention Handicappers: Get ready for the World Series of Handicapping!

It seems like every 5th person in the horse racing community is a handicapper. Everyone’s got the best stats, best picks, best odds, etc. Well, now’s time to put your money with your mouth is!


Penn National will be having the World Series of Handicappers on October 22th, 2011! Entry is $100, half of which goes to a prize pool, and the other half is for a live account-wagering card.


Here’s how to play:

  • Entrants must bet a minimum of five (5) bets
  • $10 minimum per bet; no maximum bet
  • No maximum on the number of races that may be played
  • WIN wagers ONLY
  • Only one (1) horse per race
  • Any wagers made on any races other than a win wager on the designate contest races, will result in disqualification from the contest
  • Entrants keep all pari-mutuel winnings
  • Contest Tracks: Parx Racing, Belmont, Calder, Monmouth, Laurel, Delaware and Keeneland


Contest tracks include: Parx, Belmont, Calder, Lauren Monmouth, Delaware, Keeneland. 


So, who's the real handicapper? Reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter if you're thinking of joining up! For more info on the event, check out Penn National's website

Horses in the mud and Judy Garland in the trunk: Our Racetrip to Penn National

in Horse Racing
Horses in the mud and Judy Garland in the trunk: Our Racetrip to Penn National

It’s early autumn, and my friend Mason and I strike out on a glorious afternoon for an old-fashioned roadtrip. We’re en route to the little burg of Grantville, smack dab in the middle of the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania, eager to check out an historic and beautiful landmark of our newfound love of horse racing, Penn National Race Course. We’ve never visited this part of the Keystone State before, and we’re ready for whatever comes around the next bend.

We had looked online for a different kind of place to stay and found a great room at the lovely Red Umbrella Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by a really neat lady named Anna Goss. She’s been at it here since October 2010, and has a great way of making us feel welcome. Anna’s B&B is close to the intersection of Jonestown and Firehouse Roads, which used to be the heart of the old town square of Grantville. According to Anna, during hunting season, people would hang deer hides in the square to dry in the sun. Safe to say we don’t see any sign of such activity this time.


Anna and her family also own Old Grantville General Store Antiques, which sells a cacophony of vintage household oddities, décor, jewelry, and other fun finds that can quickly fill the back seat of your car. (Gotta be really careful here; do I truly need that cameo brooch and the antique orange juicer?)

Like most B&B people (I think they’re a little bit crazy, in a very good way), Anna’s great about chatting with her guests. She’s pretty engaging. “My favorite part of running the Red Umbrella is meeting so many different kinds of people,” said Anna. “I don’t consider this work so I think I’m in the right business. I really enjoy the people contact. And this is such a beautiful part of the country.” Anna gets excited when we tell her we’re off to the races.

“I think a lot of people should go check out the old race course,” Anna tells us. “It’s a really different experience for folks, especially if you don’t know a whole lot about horses. What a great way to get to know ‘em!”

She gets Mason and I all comfy in our room and after a quick freshen-up, we head out for adventure. (Mason’s always ready before I am, but I think it’s important to keep him waiting just a wee bit.) We wanna wander around the back roads of the old town before heading over to the track. It’s pretty peaceful around these parts. We stop and look at a classic 1953 Chevy the exact color of Mason’s shirt and we have a short fantasy about hopping in and heading west to whatever comes next. But we don’t, and keep strolling, past a lazy dog sleeping on top of his dog house, as if he’s keeping an eye on things even while he’s napping.
We find a local farmer’s market, and grab some tasty snacks. There’s all sorts of great produce here and veggies and pretzels. We don’t wanna fill up too much, because we’re hoping for a big dinner after cashing in on a couple of winners.


We arrive at Penn National and the excitement builds. The track is part of the Hollywood Casino, a crazy place unlike any we’ve visited or even seen before. As soon as we walk in it’s like the back lot of a classic Hollywood movie stuido and includes large buildings, a docked ship and a forest. That’s right, a ship and a forest.


There’s also a pretty cool little Hollywood museum, and we wander past clothes worn by Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and there’s even the motorcycle that Harrison Ford rode in the Indiana Jones trilogy. Which is one of Mason’s favorites, so he pretends he’s cool Mr. Jones for a couple minutes and makes cute vroom-vroom noises with his lips. Funny guy.

Luckily, we’re hooked up with Jeffrey Cassel, the manager of the racecourse and he offers to take us on an extensive tour of the track and stables. There’s nothing cooler than getting behind the scenes. As we walk and gawk, Jeff tells us about some of the pretty cool modern features happening at historic Penn National.


“We’ve taken advantage of new handheld technology,” Jeff tells us. “We’ve gotten some of our pari-mutuel clerks out from behind the counter and into the crowd. We call ‘em Walk Abouts,” Cause they walk about the crowd carrying remote laptops on which you can make a wager. This way, you don’t even have to leave your table or your bar stool to pick your favorite horse.”

And if you wanna just sit and cool your jets, Penn National also has what Jeff calls a “simulcast theatre,” where you can watch and bet on races all over the world 24/7. After Jeff shows us around the track, he takes us out to the stables to meet some of the horses up close and personal. At any given moment, about 1,000 beautiful horses live at Penn National in 28 different barns. We walk into one, and stroll along the stable aisle and head after pretty head pops out of a line of stalls and greets us with perked ears and curious stares. Along the way, a barn cat falls in love with Mason’s sneakers and tries his best to tangle himself up in the laces during the whole time we’re there.

Everything’s warm and clean and bright, and the horses look really happy. No doubt some of them are getting ready to run for the winner’s circle. And with any luck, that’s where we’ll meet ‘em next.

We say our goodbyes and share our thanks with Jeff, and Mason and I head back to the track to watch a few races and pick a few winners. That’s where we find our favorite place at Penn Nat, the Mountain View Terrace and Dining Restaurant. Here before us is an elegant, enclosed, high-rise view of the beautiful oval racecourse, with the green, green infield glowing beneath the bright lights below. At the Mountain View there is luxury box seating that folks take for their own and design to fit their tastes, no matter how wild they might be. In my mind, I’m already decking out my luxury seats with a couple of Lay-Z-Boys and a big old bearskin rug.

We’ve had enough tourism for one day, and now it’s our happy hour. We grab a couple of excellent cocktails and contemplate our first bets. It’s been raining off and on for a good bit and the track’s a sloppy mess. The races go on, of course, and the sloppy conditions coat both the horses and jockeys in a thick film of mud.


Mason picks himself a pretty good mudder and winds up a winner. I take a little more time to peruse the program and try my best to remember some of the handicapping lessons I’ve been learning lately. Something clicks right and in the next race I make well informed decision and bring home $10 on a $2 bet. Not too shabby.


We’re having a pretty time rooting for each other, but in the last race of the night, we bet on different horses. We give each other the hairy eyeball as the horses file into the starting gate. We jockey for position near the glass and elbow each other as the horses fly down the backstretch. Our two ponies are racing neck and neck, as if they know they’re racing just for us. They storm toward the finish and we both start screaming along with the rest of the crowd.


“Go five! Go five! Go!” Mason yells. I fist-pump the air, willing my number seven horse to dig into the mud just a little bit harder.

And bang, the long shot comes out of nowhere and passes both our horses to our disappointment. We call it a night, actually a great success filled with real fun, good food, great cocktails and more goose bumps than we deserve. We mosey on back to the Red Umbrella and sack out with visions of magnificent horses racing in our heads. Next morning, we rise and shine to a home cooked breakfast prepared by our new 

friend Anna. She lays out amazing French toast, crisp country bacon and muffins stillwarm from the oven. We say our goodbyes and head down to Memorial Lake Park, a beautiful park Anna tells us we just have to see. So we find it not far away, park the car and hike a two mile trail around the lake. It’s early fall with just a hint of the color yet to come. The trees around this lake will be aflame with autumn colors in a week or two.


A crazy goose startles me and I slip into a creek while trying to make my way across a makeshift log bridge. I have a deep seated fear of geese stemming back to my childhood which is a whole other story better saved for another time, no doubt, so I make peace with my wet shoes as Mason and I head look around one last time before getting back into the car.

On the way home, we see a quaint little country ice-cream shop that boasts of tasty homemade pies. We pull off the highway and treat ourselves to a couple of slices and hand-scooped a la mode. It’s a delicious way to invest our winnings from the night before.
As we pull out of the parking lot, we notice a couple of odd looks from other drivers, which weren’t the last ones we get on the way home. Turns out Mason bought a life-sized Judy Garland statue from the Hollywood Casino gift-shop yesterday and we drive home with her sticking out of the trunk car, which is awkward, to say the least.

Wet shoes, Judy Garland in the trunk and bellies full of homemade French toast and good country pie. Oh yeah, and horses. And a whole bunch of bends and back roads yet to come before we get home. Now that’s a roadtrip.

Stephanie Weaver,

Have you seen Animal Planet's “Jockeys?” (Well you can, for free!)

in Just For Fun
Have you seen Animal Planet's “Jockeys?” (Well you can, for free!)

In 2009, Animal Planet launched a reality series under their “Surprisingly Human” branding initiative called Jockeys. One could label it as a 'sports-drama,' but it has its fair share of lighthearted moments. The show lasted for 2 seasons with 19 total episodes- but unfortunately it has gone into hibernation.


We’re specifically calling it a ‘hibernation’ because we believe there’s a bright shot at it coming back. If HBO’s Luck does impeccably in the ratings, it would be a wise decision on Animal Planet’s part to make another season. Plus, reality shows are dirt cheap to make- so there’s not much risk involved.


Good news for now is that all seven episodes of the second season are available online for free! Wanna watch it with us? Perhaps we'll recap an episode on a weekly basis. 

Cameo's inlude: 2011 Cotillion winner and Plum Pretty rider Rafael Bejarano, 2010 Breeder's Cup winner and recent Pennsylvania Derby participant Garret Gomez, and the one and only Zenyatta


Let's all write to Animal Planet asking for the show back! After all, how many Pawn Shop-Antique-Bidding shows do we need?

From Tears to Triumph: Ann's Smart Dancer

in Horse Racing
From Tears to Triumph: Ann's Smart Dancer

On Saturday, a horse with a vibrant white stripe on her nose will run in the ninth race at Parx. She will most likely have favorable odds, as her record currently stands at five wins and a second-place finish. She is Ann’s Smart Dancer.


In 2006, Handicapper Craig Donnelly went to a claims race after receiving the life-shattering news that his wife Ann was diagnosed with cancer. He purchased a horse, which was soon carried off the track with a fractured ankle. Most people would have taken this as an omen and quit. But, Donnelly decided to breed the horse. It was soon after that his wife Ann passed on.

Craig and Ann's Smart Dancer


Depressed, and with nothing to show from his horse- Donnelly persisted. With the help of his father, famed handicapper Russ Harris, as well as his son, Donnelly kept breeding his now lame horse, and eventually foaled a filly. Donnelly’s father had one name for the horse: Ann’s Smart Dancer.


Watching the horse in its first race was excruciating for Donnelly. But she won. And she kept winning. With $216,480 in winnings, it’s safe to say Donnelly got a return on his investment. Although, it’s about more than the money. The legacy and memory of his wife is preserved in the horse. Donnelly is happy again. He frequently visits his favorite horse at Walnut Green farms in West Grove, PA.


Ann’s Smart Dancer is slated to race in the ninth race Saturday, October 1st at Parx. The night’s main card will be the $750,000 G2 Cotillion Stakes.

Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby Will Be a Star-Studded Event

in Horse Racing
Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby Will Be a Star-Studded Event

Saturday’s million-dollar Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing will surely be a race not to miss, nor will we. This marks only the second time in the history of the race that a Triple Crown winner will be making an appearance. Yes, Belmont-victor and mudslinger Ruler on Ice (pictured) will be partaking in Saturday’s showdown- and his chances look promising.


Also making an appearance is Kentucky Derby champion John Velazquez, riding Rattlesnake Bridge.


The complete field for Saturday is as follows (Horse, Jockey, Morning Line Stats):

  1. Ruler on Ice, Garret Comez, 5-2
  2. Arthur’s Tale, Alan Garcia, 12-1
  3. Pender Harbour, Luis Contrera, 12-1
  4. Norman Asbjornson, Pimentel, 12-1
  5. Rush Now, Cornelio Velasquez, 9-2
  6. Isn’t He Perfect, TBA, 20-1
  7. To Honor and Serve, Jose Lezcano, 3-1
  8. J W Blue, Cornelio Velasques, 8-1
  9. Rattlesnake Bridge, John Velazquez, 4-1


Rush Now and J W Blue have both been entered by trainer Tony Dutrow, who has said it is unlikely that both horses will run. This explains Cornelio Velasquez’s place on both horses. We were hoping for something much cooler, but oh well.


The Pennsylvania Derby will be the 11th race in a 12 card race slated for Saturday, September 24th, at Parx Racing! First post is at 12:05pm.


Stay tuned with us as we keep you updated on all the stats, entries, and excitement for the Pennsylvania Derby!

Is the racetrack a Sport or a Sports Bar? How about both

in Food & Drink
Is the racetrack a Sport or a Sports Bar? How about both

[Pictured is the Copper Mug at Harrah's Philadelphia, a no-sport-discriminating sports bar.]


We are in the thick of the most dramatic of sports seasons. With Red October right around the corner, the Phillies making it to the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, and football and hockey seasons starting up, many sports fans I know are stationing themselves in barstools and living-room Lay-Z-Boys to cheer on their autumnal heroes.

Unfortunately, I am not one of these people. Thanks to a youth full of embarrassing sports moments including always getting picked last for kick-ball on the playground and scoring a goal against my own soccer team, I have been permanently turned off to most team sports. Well honestly, if Jayson Werth were still with the Phillies, I’d be a more faithful fan. I have a thing for bearded men.

This autumn and winter, you may want to make it a point to discover another awesome sport that too many people in my generation have been missing out on. Best of all, you get to round up the gang and head down to the track for a great day of racing. “But why?” you ask. “Why should I leave my living room during a seven hour baseball game to go and enjoy some fresh air and interaction with real live people?” I’ll tell you why. TrackPackPA robot, BEGIN THE COUNTDOWN:

1.) You will always get fabulous seats
There’s always an open seat by the finish line, and you don’t need a ticket. Autumn is the perfect time to head down to the track with a group of your buddies, buy a round of pints, and sit outside to enjoy the cool air while betting on ponies. Along the Delaware River, outside Chester, Harrah’s stadium seating allows you to have a clear picture of the track as well as the picturesque river view just on the backside of the track. You’ll get to enjoy big, bold and beautiful horses racing each other while pulling their crazy drivers behind in teeny-tiny little carts. Neat, huh?



(SkyBox Sports Bar at Penn National)


2.) There’s the money to take home
Everybody loves winning. There’s something about it that caters to the five-year-old in all of us who more than anything just wanted to throw that ball into the bucket so that they could win a gold fish at the local fair. If you go to the track and place smart bets on the horses, you could win some money. Or just lucky bets. I mean, if I can win, anybody can. This will give you the chance to spend even more money at the bar and tip that really cute bartender you’ve been eyeing up all afternoon. (And as the song says, when one of us wins, we all win. When your horse comes in, you might wanna buy a round for your pals.)



(Chicki and Pete's at Parx)


3.) Ok, ok. You can still watch the game at the track
Don’t want to miss any of the action of your favorite Philly team while you’re at the track? Not a problem! The ractrack bars have plenty of TVs. And at Harrah’s, their sports bar features flat-screens a plenty; all the games you need to follow in beautiful high-def. And between innings – or fumbles, as the case may be – you can tear yourself away from the reality TV to the reality reality that’s going on outside. At the track, the sports bars have real sports just outside along the rail. You won’t miss a bet, or a Cliff Lee homerun.


4.) At the very least, it’s good bonding experience.
When you go to the races, not only do you have a chance to witness thundering steeds and win money, you also get to reconnect with your friends. There are plenty of outside tables that you guys can at sit at and enjoy some yummy food and brewskies. Just be sure not to Bogart that pitcher, dude.



Stephanie Weaver is a TrackPackPA field correspondent, and political leader for P.W.D.R.C.A.S (Philadelphians Who Don’t Really Care About Sports). Make sure to check out some of her past excursions to the track, they’re fun!

Meet Katie Mikolay, The Prettiest Handicapper in the Whole-Wide-World!

in Horse Racing


Ms. Mikolay is a lifelong horse racing fan. Her knowledge and love for the sport runs deep. She chats with us about handicapping, racing, and even tid-bit of fashion advice Katie is the host of "Saturday Morning Stretch" along with track announcer Ron Mullis.

If you’re heading to Presque Isle Downs, (perhaps for the upcoming Masters Weekend) make sure to tune in for picks and tips!

Zenyatta: A Legacy Untarnished

in Horse Racing
Zenyatta: A Legacy Untarnished

Our unabashed love for female jockeys is well documented on the site. It’s not obsession or anything; we just think they’re awesome. Alright?! So, for Women’s Equality Day, we wanted to do something special. We asked ourselves: Who’s the most dominant female in the sport of “kings?” The answer was obvious.


“She may be the greatest racehorse in history.

“Mentally perfect.”

“The most splendid creature we’ve ever seen.”


Zenyatta. Her talents transcend gender, age, and heck, even species. Those close to her don’t see an animal, but instead an equal. They chat with her as if she’s an old friend- sometimes even over a Guinness.
There’s plenty of articles, analyses, and breakdowns on the horse available online; but for a nice overview and up close and personal time with the horse, check out this 60 Minutes piece. There’s even some behind the scenes footage to supplement.


The piece takes place as she’s preparing for the 2010 Breeders' Cup- her final race. At this point in her career, she’s won 19 out of 19 races. She was the oldest horse in the impending race at a mere six years old, and not to mention a full-blown celebrity. Yet, she’s not a prima-donna. She’s friendly, serene, calm- all unique and uncommon qualities for a thoroughbred.

She started racing at age three, a bit late in the world of racing, but immediately showed promise. Her racing style could be described as no less than theatrical; often starting at the back of the pack blasting her way to the front. Her flamboyant personality became her trademark and garnered her fans worldwide. She was a girl’s girl, but when it came to racing it was all business.


The 60 Minutes piece ends on a hopeful note for her final race in the Breeders' Cup. “She knows something big is coming up,” said her jockey Mike Smith. “But her mind’s in a good place right now.”



After coming from behind, showing amazing strength, grit, and steel, she lost by a head. The heartbreak was quick, sharp, and real. But you know what? It didn’t matter. The emotions were quickly replaced by a feeling of gratitude. It was an amazing race by an amazing horse. We’re sure we’re not the only ones that thought: “Damn, I love this horse.”


She’s now living the luxurious life of a retired horse. Now a proud mama, and has foaled with fellow champion Bernardini several times; surely getting a higher asking price on her pups what she was purchased for: a measly $60,000.


Her legacy lives on her in passionate and caring fanbase. Check out her website for more news, events, and merchandise. 

More Blogging