JK Panache has been doing it for a long time. The classy pacer, who has been the stable star for trainer Dave Dewhurst for a number of years, usually splits his season between Vernon Downs and Saratoga Casino Hotel. JK Panache has been a steady, consistent force over the course of his career, a career that he has spent almost the entirety of in the Dewhurst barn. The pacing star has been successful no matter where he’s raced in his over the years but has always seemed to have an affinity for Saratoga. As a two year old, JK Panache’s first pari-mutual win came in his first Spa start back in 2011 and fast forward seven years and he has now achieved an almost unheard of feat of winning a local Open in four consecutive seasons.
JK Panache spent most of his first two seasons competing in New York Sire Stakes competition and earning over $100,000. At the completion of his three year old campaign, JK Panache basically turned into a full-time Open Pacer and has fulfilled that role ever since. The Central New York-based Dewhurst competes the majority of his season at Vernon Downs and a bit at Tioga Downs as well. The early portion and the final months of the year usually find Dewhurst racing at Saratoga and in JK Panache’s final two starts of 2014, he finished second in the local Open in his first two tries against the track’s top pacers.
If the first four racing seasons for JK Panache were solid, 2015 was his breakout year. After winning his first local Open Pace in July, JK Panache went on to score victories in four consecutive tries in the local feature. The Dewhurst stable star won the Open at Saratoga six times in ’15 and registered eleven total wins in Opens (four at Vernon and one at Tioga) en route to over $126,000 in earnings. That year, he set his lifetime mark of 1:47.3 at Vernon, an all-time track record, along the way. 2016 brought much of the same for JK Panache who won a career-high thirteen races and enjoyed another six-figure campaign. While he won just two of his Open starts at the Spa that year, JK Panache had six runner-up tries in the local feature in ’16 and proved that his terrific 2015 season was no fluke.
Last year was the first “down” year for JK Panache as his season was cut short by some health issues. Even in his shortened campaign, JK Panache recorded eight wins and hit the board in thirteen of nineteen seasonal tries in ’17. The veteran pacer again posted victories in the local Open Pace and he won the pacing feature twice, including once in September in what would wind up being his final start of the season. Oftentimes, when a horse who has been at the top for so long encounters some health issues, they don’t return to peak form. Well, that’s most horses, and JK Panache has proven time and time again that he is not your average horse.
Following a five-month layoff, JK Panache qualified in early February at the Spa and made his return to the $12,000 Open Pace the next week. The nine year old finished third in his first start back, closing with a flourish in the fastest final quarter of anyone in the race. The next week, JK Panache was put on the front end by driver Jimmy Devaux, who pilots the majority of Dewhurst’s trainees when they compete at the Spa. The star pacer showed that he still had it as he went wire-to-wire in 1:53.3 on a chilly February day, securing his 55th lifetime victory. JK Panache was then tasked with taking on defending Horse of the Year Artful Way in his next two starts and wound up finishing third and second, respectively, in those tries.
On Saturday night, with Artful Way competing out of town at the Meadowlands, JK Panache once again made his way to the winner’s circle. After setting sizzling fractions on the front end on a cold night, JK Panache overcame going a first half in 55.3 and getting passed around the final turn. Yes, the classy veteran looked like he had been dueled into defeat before he rallied back at the head of the stretch and held off the race’s favorite late to prevail in 1:53.1. With the win, JK Panache extended his “on the board” streak to eleven and has now finished in the money in an incredible 65% of his lifetime starts. What was historic about the wins this year for the veteran is that he now becomes a very rare horse to win an Open in as many as four consecutive years at Saratoga. The longevity of JK Panache is impressive as most Open competitors don’t keep their form for such duration of time. Factoring in his second-place finishes in the local Open in ’14, this is now five straight years in which the Dewhurst trainee has been a force in the local Saturday feature. Another thing that JK Panache has made clear in the early stages of the season is that while he may not be quite the talent that Artful Way is, he is above the rest among local pacers as the Dewhurst stable star is still thriving in Opens after all these years of tackling the track’s top-flight competition.
While JK Panache is his stable’s undisputed star, he isn’t the only Dewhurst trainee to be thriving at the Spa thus far this season. In fact, just last week Dewhurst scored a pair of training doubles. JK Panache’s win was one of two on Saturday night for the Vernon-based Dewhurst whose three best years in his incredible career were the last three years, aided in large part of course by the accomplishments JK Panache. Pantheon Hanover’s Saturday score completed the second training double of the week for Dewhurst who on Thursday afternoon saw the trotters from his stable take center stage. Young high-steppers Anja and Time Is Fleeting gave the 51 year old conditioner a training double on a matinee in which he also had a pair of second place finishes with his trotters. Dewhurst will likely hit the 2,000 career win plateau this year and is getting close to the $9 million mark in career purses. And with a few more weeks like he had last week, those milestones may be reached sooner rather than later. As for JK Panache, well, it’s business as usual. Race in Opens every week, hit the board pretty much every time, and get his picture taken on a consistent basis as he has now earned just shy of $540,000 in his career behind 56 wins, almost all of which while under the guidance of trainer Dave Dewhurst.
Live harness racing takes place on Thursday and Sunday afternoons starting at 12:15pm and on Friday and Saturday evenings beginning at 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!