Hello, Pennsylvania. Take a bow for 2018, a year where your Thoroughbred racing accomplishments included four – yes four – Eclipse Award winners with ties to the Keystone State. The quartet consisted of two horses bred in the state and two more who trained and raced there.
All show the strength of an industry allowed to develop and prosper.
First, champion female sprinter Shamrock Rose was bred in Pennsylvania by Tommy and Lori Fackler’s Best A Luck Farm. The Facklers live in Florida, operate a breaking/training/sales business and breed a few mares. They bred Slew’s Quality to Florida stallion First Dude and sent her to Pennsylvania to foal at Horseshoe Valley Equine in Annville.
Second, champion older dirt female Unique Bella was bred in Pennsylvania by Betty Moran’s Brushwood Stable. As old-school as it gets, Brushwood was breeding Pennsylvania-breds before it was cool. It’s nice to see such a staunch supporter of the state’s Thoroughbred industry get rewarded again.
Third, trainer John Servis stabled 2-year-old filly champion Jaywalk at Parx Racing for most of 2018. The Kentucky-bred made her debut at Monmouth Park, won her second start at Parx and became a stakes winner at Delaware Park before going off to Grade 1 glory in the Frizette at Belmont and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs.
Fourth, and this one will sound a bit more traditional, trainer Ricky Hendriks’ Pennsylvania-based stable produced champion steeplechaser Zanjabeel (GB).
Must be something in the water, right?
“I really like the Pennsylvania breeding program and I have a farm I really trust and send my horses to,” said Lori Fackler. “Florida has changed quite a bit so I was looking for somewhere else to go. We also do Maryland, but Pennsylvania is my favorite. You have all kinds of racing options with Penn National, Parx and Presque Isle Downs.”
Shamrock Rose sold as a 2-year-old to Conrad Farms and went to trainer Mark Casse in Florida before making her first three starts at Woodbine in Canada in 2017. The meandering early path started with a win, but then went the other direction with five consecutive losses. Thanks to the state-bred option, Casse regrouped and sent Shamrock Rose to the restricted Malvern Rose Stakes at Presque Isle in August 2018. She won by 101⁄4 lengths, the first of four consecutive wins to close her championship campaign.
“That was interesting,” said Fackler. “She was with Mark Casse, but was still able to come back and run in the region and win a race like that.”
The options presented by three racetracks (year-round at Parx and Penn National and seasonally at Presque Isle) help Pennsylvania compete with other state programs, offering a variety of choices for horsemen. Two-year-old Call Paul did something similar, finding success on the national stage but then returning to win the Pennsylvania Nursery for state-breds in December before going back to the big time with a Grade 3 win in February.
The results prove one big point.
“Most importantly, it’s the fact that Pennsylvania-breds can run anywhere in the world and be competitive,” said Brian Sanfratello, executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association. “Most people will think Pennsylvania-breds aren’t your best-bred horses in the world, but we’re showing them by both running around the world and making sure that quantity and quality count. We’re increasing the registered Pennsylvania-breds and we’re showing they can run anywhere too.”
Like most of the other regional Thoroughbred incentive programs, Pennsylvania depends on revenue from slot machines and wagering handle and that revenue counts on a productive political climate. Legislators want to know state incentive programs are working, and high-profile horses help make that case – over and over.
Many credit the success of Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby-G1 and Preakness-G1 with helping slots get passed in the first place, and Eclipse Awards have a similar effect. Pennsylvania-breds have won three consecutive female sprinter titles – Finest City in 2016, Unique Bella in 2017 and now Shamrock Rose.
“When we have results like this it’s much easier to put our point across that the racehorse development fund really has helped,” said Sanfratello. “We put that in a trust two years ago which basically means it can’t be touched other than for breeding and racing. People who had left the state to breed other places or people who didn’t invest because they weren’t sure what was going to happen, they’re coming back. I get a call every day it seems in reference to it. That’s really spurred on a lot of people to breed in Pennsylvania.”
And success breeds success. More interest in Pennsylvania breeding will mean more business for stallions (Fackler said she’s sending a mare to Hoppertunity this year), higher volumes at farms that board mares, bigger fields on the racetracks and – apparently – Eclipse Awards too.