For the Breeders Crown
If Jack Parker Jr. was ever getting back to the Breeders Crown finals, it was going to be with the best horse he ever had. And that’s exactly how it has played out, as Parker’s NF Happenstance has brought him to Saturday’s $250,000 Breeders Crown Mare Trot championship at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
“She’s really changed my life for the better, in all kinds of ways,” said Parker, who has the mare in his barn for a second stint. “She got me out of debt the first time and paid off my mortgage the second time. And helped me put some money in the bank.”
So, this one is at the top of his list?
“I think so, yes,” the 63-year-old said. “I’ve had some nice horses before, but she made $300,000 this year and that’s the most I’ve ever made with a horse. I’ve made in the hundreds sometimes but never the 300s.”
The 8-year-old won her elimination after going off at 9-1 and battling both horses and birds. In doing so, she put Parker in the Breeders Crown finals for the first time since 1985, when he drove Dangarvon to a third-place finish at the now-defunct Garden State Park in New Jersey.
Asked if, after several years, he thought that might be his only trip to the finals, Parker said, “I was hoping not, but you never know about this business.”
After surviving a serious injury from a Meadowlands crash in March 1984 — which left him in a coma for 19 days and had doctors thinking he might not survive — Parker returned in August of that year and promptly won his first race back. A year later he was in the Breeders Crown finals. He has been going strong ever since and has 1,769 career driving victories.
After facing what he did 34 years ago, Parker wasn’t going to be bothered by a 33-year drought between Breeders Crown appearances.
“It’s nice to be back there, but I’m just out there having fun,” Parker said. “I don’t get hung up on (the major races). I’m 63; I’ve been doing this all my life. You have a lot of ups and downs in this business. There’s no expectations (for Saturday). I just kind of have a lot of hope and we’ll see what happens. You have to have luck in this business for sure.”
Parker drives fewer than 100 races per year these days, but makes them count. In 29 races with NF Happenstance this year, the duo has won 11, taken second in 10, and earned $301,895. It’s like the old Sinatra song, love is lovelier the second time around.
In this case, it was pretty good the first time as well.
In early 2014, Parker and his wife, trainer Carol Jamieson-Parker, bought the horse for Jack’s long-time friend James “Chip” Moore, a former classmate at Lake Forest High School in Delaware. Beginning in mid-March, she won eight races over the next four months and set track records at Harrah’s Philadelphia and Harrington Raceway. A month later the mare was sold to harness racing Hall of Famer Bill Weaver.
After NF Happenstance started making some breaks, the decision was made to breed her to Sebastian K, which was a success. But when Weaver passed away in 2016, NF Happenstance was put in the mixed sale at Harrisburg.
The Parkers could not wait to buy her back, and Jack took a playful jab at his buddy.
“I just want to thank Chip’s wife (Mitzi) for buying her both times,” Parker said, adding with a laugh, “You know, the wives have to OK the husbands to do anything. I’m pretty sure it was a group effort there. But we’ve had horses before with not much success. This one changed our life.”
The purchase was made with the idea of racing NF Happenstance again once she gave birth to her filly, which was named Pure Happenstance.
“We bought her in November, she had the baby in February, and she had to raise the baby,” Parker said. “The first of September they weaned her. I started to race her the first of October (2017) until now.”
It marked the second time Parker purchased a pregnant mare with the intention of returning her to the track.
“The first time she came back just as good as when she left off,” he said. “I was hoping it would work out that way with this one, and I think she might be stronger now. She grew an inch taller and about four inches wider. I thought at 4 years old they probably stop growing, but she didn’t. She’s had a great year. After she got weaned, she’s been an amazing athlete. After 30 days, she qualified.”
Jamieson-Parker told ustrotting.com in January that “Nobody gets along with her like my husband does,” and Parker has proven that this year as he understands all the little nuances.
“She likes to work,” he said. “She likes to do it briskly and if you fight with her you’re not going to get anything done. She’s not going to race good for you.”
When it comes time to racing, she likes to get out in front, which is what happened in the Breeders Crown eliminations.
“It was a muddy night and my mare likes to leave out of there,” Parker said. “I left out, Tim Tetrick circled me with Pink Pistol. I was on the outside going around the first turn, there were three geese right in our pathway. Pink Pistol looked at them, and my mare looked at them, but we got through all right. The next time we came around they were gone.
“I got to the top and it seemed like the other two mares, the two favorites (Dream Together and Broadway Donna), couldn’t handle the track. The mud doesn’t seem to bother her. A couple horses made breaks and I got a nice lucky trip.”
Parker conceded he had an easier division, and realizes the competition is about to go up drastically in the final. NF Happenstance will be going against three previous Breeders Crown champions — Ariana G, Broadway Donna and Emoticon Hanover.
“It’s going to be real tough,” he said. “Those other two horses (Emoticon Hanover and Ariana G) drew off in (1):52.4. But it’s a horserace. You can’t hit the ball unless you swing the bat.”
And Parker is going up to the plate with the best bat he has ever had.
For Saturday’s complete entries, click here.