By Tom LaMarra
When the connections of Page McKenney saw the overnight for Aug. 25 at Parx Racing and the field for the $100,000 Sal DeBunda President’s Cup, they knew the 8-year-old gelding had won his MATCH Series division.
Majority owner Adam Staple and trainer Mary Eppler regularly follow series developments and are well aware of how important the minimum number of starts is to qualify for bonus money. The popular Pennsylvania-bred had raced in the first three legs of the 3-Year-Olds and Up Long-Dirt Division with success-a win, a second and a third-but no other horse will have enough MATCH Series starts to qualify for the prize money in the division.
Page McKenney is one of six entered in the 1 1/8-mile President’s Cup on the Saturday program as Parx reopens after a brief August break. He is seven-for-10 at Parx with multiple stakes victories and is listed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite under regular rider Horacio Karamanos.
“We keep close track of the series,” Staple said. “We knew when we saw the entries he won (the division title). He’s getting older, and having a MATCH Series division title is a nice feather in his cap.”
As it turned out, Page McKenney didn’t compete in the President’s Cup. A few days before the race, his connections announced he has been fighting a tendon injury and would be retired. That leaves the door open to several other horses in other MATCH Series divisions to vie for the overall championship on Sept. 15.
Page McKenney won more than $1.9 million with 22 wins–15 of them stakes.
“We consider it a great run and a fantastic experience,” Staple said.
With graded-stakes winner Page McKenney out of the President’s Cup, it appears Joseph Besecker’s Aztec Sense, trained by Jorge Navarro, will be the favorite. The 5-year-old gelding is four-for-four at Parx and has a few stakes wins under his belt after being claimed for $12,500 last summer.
By Tom LaMarra
Joseph Besecker’s Aztec Sense made his MATCH Series debut a winning one in the $100,000 Salvatore DeBunda PTHA President’s Cup Aug. 25 at Parx Racing, but victories have been commonplace for the 5-year-old gelding this year.
The President’s Cup marked his sixth win in six starts in 2018 for trainer Jorge Navarro, who claimed Aztec Sense for $12,500 on behalf of Besecker at Parx a little more than a year ago. Aztec Sense won the Turning For Home Stakes at Parx in June and a restricted stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida in February.
Ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, Aztec Sense stalk front-running Two Weeks Off for the first five furlongs in the 1 1/8-mile President’s Cup, took over on the far turn and pulled away to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Small Bear. G Zap finished third.
The time for the distance on a track rated fast was 1.51.64 and Aztec Sense paid $3.40 to win as the heavy favorite in a field of five.
The President’s Cup was the fourth of five legs in the MATCH Series 3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt Division, the title for which to go to points leader Page McKenney, who started in the first three legs. He was entered in the President’s Cup but was scratched after his connections announced his retirement due to a tendon injury.
Navarro credited the 8-year-old Pennsylvania-bred gelding for his accomplishments and noted that his trainee Shaft of Light finished second to Page McKenney in the grade III Salvator Mile, first leg of the division, at Monmouth Park in May. Shaft of Light later tackled grade II company in a sprint stakes at Belmont Park.
“I like the MATCH Series,” Navarro. “I just need to find some horses for it next year, maybe claim a few.”
Aztec Sense, by Street Sense, is now undefeated at Parx in five starts. The President’s Cup win pushed his 2018 earnings to more than $200,000.
Navarro has four wins, two seconds and one third in nine starts at Parx this year. He is based at Monmouth, where he already has won his sixth consecutive training title with a few weeks remaining in the meet.