Amid the several thousand happy fans at Parx Racetrack on PA Derby Day, September 25, were a few hundred white tee shirts bearing an outline of a racehorse and the name ‘I Am Redeemed’. This large group was cheering loudly for their local Philadelphia ‘hero’ who was racing in the $1 million Grade I stakes on the biggest day of racing at the track in Bensalem.
I Am Redeemed is owned and bred by Dr. Larry Rebbecchi Jr., a well-respected and beloved veterinarian in Philadelphia, and Sal Calaciura. Horse racing has been in his blood forever. “I pretty much grew up at the track,” he remembered. “My grandfather was a big horseplayer, and he was friends with Dr. Penny, a long-time horse veterinarian, and the family used him as their small animal veterinarian.” Dr. Penny persuaded Larry to go to veterinary school. “Once I went to vet school, it was an easy equation to get into the horse business ownership side of it.”
The colt that puts the biggest smile on Larry’s face was born at the New Bolton Center three years ago. “All our foals are born there,” he explained, “We then brought him back to our farm at Woodstown, NJ. His mom, a Smarty Jones mare, was One Smart Filly, and she was dropped in a claiming race for $5000 about 7 years ago. I claimed her, and then I brought her back as a Broodmare.”
Early on, Larry did not get the vibes that this colt may be ‘the one’. “We’ve owned horses since 1998, but not very successfully, until this year. When he was two, I brought in three different bloodstock agents to look at him and another two-year-old I had; one was out of Jump Start and he was out of Redeemed. Out of all three agents, they wanted to buy the Jump Start filly because she was large and put-together properly, and none of the three, not one, wanted to purchase Redeemed,” he explained. “They said if they bought the Jump Start filly, I can throw that one in because he has no value. So I believed he had no value, until Richard Simoff broke those horses for us, and Penny (trainer Penny Pearce) said he’s very very fast, and we never knew until we brought him to the track just how fast he was.”
I Am Redeemed went into the PA Derby off a win in the Storm Cat Stakes at Parx on August 23rd. “We were very much over our head with the PA Derby, but a friend of mine really wanted a Derby horse; he’s ill; so we did the Derby. We were outclassed and really didn’t belong there, but we did it just to say we did.”
Once the horses entered the paddock on race day, the nerves started to set in, but Larry took it all in stride. “When those horse came in, I thought Redeemed was standing in a hole,” he laughed. “He looked like a little pony compared to those monsters that were in there.”
Unfortunately, the racing gods weren’t smiling down on I Am Redeemed on race day, as Hot Rod Charlie took home the win. “We took a chance, and we have no regrets,” he said emotionally. “The race set up exactly the way we thought, based on handicapping that race. We were ‘in it’ for a short period of time, but we realized, in slow motion, that the length of the stride of those larger horses really dominated over Redeemed because his stride was very short and choppy, and after a half mile, he could not compete.”
The colt came out of the race 100%, and ready for his next challenge, which will be at Parx on Tuesday, October 12th in the Michael P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile Stakes, which is race 10. He will start from post 6 with Abner Adorno up.
Larry has high praise for jockey Adorno, who he describes as being very much in tune with Redeemed. “He’s very gentle and respectful, as we expect our jockeys to be on all our horses. We brought him on, and he listens to us. He won his very first stakes race of his career in the Storm Cat Stakes with us! He actually thanked us for not taking him off Redeemed, and I told him I would never take him off the horse! He was worried we would put a more renowned jockey on him, but I said, that’s bad karma! He’s your horse. You ride him in the morning, and he belongs to you.”
After all the excitement of the big stakes day, and after his next race on October 12th, Larry and trainer Penny will look ahead to find a race that best fits Redeemed, whether it be at their favorite track, Parx, or elsewhere. But the memories of PA Derby Day will last. “It was exhilarating, and Parx treated us so well. We had such a great day. It was one of the best days we ever had in racing.”
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