August 8, 2022

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Finding Energy in the Closing Furlong: Jake Panus, Hot Rod Charlie, and the Belmont Stakes

“Very hot Rod Charlie ran a wonderful race,” said Stephen Panus, head of America’s Ideal Racing, president of Jockey Club Media Ventures, and a USC alumnus (Course of 1991). “He had a hard 1st convert and had to split a very little little bit, but he nonetheless rallied. You know a great deal of horses will not rally right after a thing like that. He confirmed his grit, his fighting Gamecock spirit.” If thoroughbred Sizzling Rod Charlie dug deep to end third in this year’s Kentucky Derby, Panus has also had to get in touch with on his Gamecock grit to withstand the unfathomable tragedy of the unexpected dying of his son, Jake Panus. Jake was sixteen many years outdated and earning programs to observe in his father’s footsteps to go to the University of South Carolina when he was killed in a automobile incident.

“Jake had just taken his to start with SAT apply check a month right before the incident and crushed it. Completely crushed it. I joked and mentioned with a score like that perhaps South Carolina must be your back again-up college, but Jake was so intent of acquiring to South Carolina and he beloved Gamecock football. He was elevated on it since I appreciate it,” Stephen discussed.

Jake’s aspiration of attending the College of South Carolina, as his father Stephen did, turned into a nightmare for people who love him and who are searching for a way to make Jake’s college ambitions a truth in an substitute way by means of founding the Jake Panus Wander-On Football Endowed Scholarship. The to start with scholarship recipient will be named during the 2021-22 educational 12 months and hold Jake’s Gamecock dream alive. “We preferred anything that was really likely to take Jake to South Carolina in spirit just like he supposed to do in individual. Jake was just the brightest light-weight in any room, he was always smiling. Individuals gravitated in direction of him,” claimed Stephen, his voice breaking. “The magnificence of both these scholarships recognized in Jake’s name (Gamecock Wander-on Soccer Endowed Scholarship and the Jake Panus Memorial Scholarship Benefitting the Kids from Red Shirt Desk in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation the place Jake volunteered) is that he’ll proceed to glow on other people.”

Although numerous donate to Gamecock Athletics, specifically defining the scholarship to honor an unique is unusual in college soccer. “It has further which means for the reason that of who it stands for and what it signifies,” stated the College of South Carolina head football coach Shane Beamer. “Walk-ons are the underdogs and Jake discovered with underdogs,” stated Stephen wistfully, the delight in his son palpable. “They are gritty and they’re tough. They are eager to hustle and set the work in to show that they belong and have earned an opportunity. And, most of all, they treatment deeply for their teammates and college. They will carry that legacy of Jake ahead in being awarded the scholarship in his name. Typically these gamers occur from more compact universities, they are unrecruited diamonds in the rough that will need to be polished and presented an option. That’s what Jake was about, encouraging other individuals and caring for others in each individual factor of his existence. And so that’s why we selected the stroll-on. It is just who Jake was as a individual.”

Panus Parents

Stephen is grateful for the aid of numerous folks as he and his family members struggle to navigate their lives adhering to the tragedy. Two of these persons are popular horse coach Doug O’Neill, who experienced Incredibly hot Rod Charlie, and Ivan Maisel, a Hall-of-Fame sportswriter who had shed a son of his very own, Max, 5 years in the past. Maisel called College of South Carolina soccer mentor Shane Beamer to tell him about Jake’s loss of life, and Beamer termed the Panus relatives in early December. “He was just a compassionate, supportive human becoming. He talked to Jake’s more youthful brother Liam on Facetime. He was just so welcoming and welcoming and supportive, and it meant the world to us at a time when we just needed to get earlier the holiday seasons,” remembers Stephen.

Doug O’Neill is a gifted horse trainer whom Stephen realized simply because of his involvement in the racing entire world. “Doug’s a quite affable, exciting loving, very chill California guy. He’s pretty good. I consider we connected more than positivity and hope. And Doug has a seventeen-year-previous son. I feel this strike house,” Stephen explained. “Doug was in get hold of the moment he discovered of what experienced took place.  I held him up to day when we decided on the South Carolina Wander-On Scholarship, and he reached out and explained probably you will find anything we can do. I was like ‘oh my God, you are kidding me.’ Doug said that we ought to program some thing for the Kentucky Derby and I could not believe that it.”

O’Neill recommended that the Gamecock brand seem on Scorching Rod Charlie’s blanket so that Jake would be existing at the Kentucky Derby as effectively as to make awareness about the new scholarship. The Gamecock logo appeared on one facet of the blanket, and an impression of a bear, meant to replicate a pendant Jake wore that symbolized his volunteer working experience on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, appeared on the other aspect. O’Neill made use of the system of the most iconic race in the United States and arguably in the globe to aid the Panus relatives. This 12 months, 15.7 million men and women viewed the derby, making it the most-viewed event on NBC considering the fact that the NFL playoffs in January.

“To have South Carolina represented in the derby was pretty neat, but when you understand the meaning guiding it and what it stood for it make it even extra particular to look at,” reported Coach Beamer.

In this sense, Warm Rod Charlie was operating with much extra than a jockey on his back again in this year’s Kentucky Derby. The joint endeavours of O’Neill and the Panus loved ones, as effectively as one particular of the group house owners of the horse, Boat Racing LLC, exemplify the philanthropic tradition of horse racing and its connections to broader concerns within just modern society. Warm Rod Charlie embodied Jake’s grit, as one of only 20-3-yr-outdated colts who experienced to run in the derby. He also called attention to the new scholarships established in Jake’s title. In addition, Boat Racing LLC, partial proprietors of the horse, donated a sixth of their race earnings to the Melanoma Study Alliance.

The presence of the University of South Carolina mascot on Very hot Rod Charlie’s blanket drew interest. “I noticed the Gamecock emblem on Scorching Rod Charlie’s blanket at the derby and I explained now what is that all about? And then I commenced to study up and it definitely hit house,” reported Kerry Tharp, who labored in the Sporting activities Data Business office at the University of South Carolina from 1985 to 2005. Tharp qualified and bought to know Stephen when he was a get the job done-review scholar at Carolina. Now, Tharp is the president of the NASCAR racetrack in Darlington, SC. “What took place to Stephen’s family members was a tragedy,” mentioned Tharp. “I have obtained two sons of my have, they’re more mature, and three grandsons, so I can not visualize the agony Stephen and his spouse have endured. And what they have performed to honor his legacy, it was definitely incredible looking through that during the time of the derby. I was devastated to listen to about the loss of his son and but incredibly proud of what they are carrying out to maintain his legacy alive.  In truth, I produced positive I bet on that horse!”

Though several audience understand the Panus family’s website link to the University of South Carolina, handful of acknowledge that horse racing is also central to the Panus spouse and children, to Stephen’s career, and racing was a thing Stephen and Jake each liked quite a lot. The relationship to horse racing illuminates the prosperous career of Stephen from USC alumnus to founder of the system America’s Greatest Racing.

Stephen is an exemplary products of the humanities as a scholar at the Higher education of Arts and Sciences who majored in authorities and global scientific tests. He remembers many professors who had a massive effects on his training in the Political Science and History Departments, together with the late Don Fowler. “He was a amazing professor, a legend,” recalls Stephen. “His course was huge, I will not know, 300-500 pupils, but it was so entertaining, I beloved it. I liked my 4 a long time at USC. I experienced a good great expertise in Columbia.”

One particular of the methods Stephen created the most out of his time at USC was via receiving involved in things to do past his self-discipline that complemented his research. He understood he needed to get the job done for the athletic section, and he experienced actual curiosity in sporting activities enterprise. Pursuing the instance of his more mature brother, who experienced worked for the Sports Facts Business at Cornell University, Stephen walked about and presented himself to Tom Selling price and Kerry Tharp at the Sports Details Office environment, and he promptly was presented the perform examine experience of his dreams. “I truly feel like I definitely got a double big working for Kerry and Tom,” explained Stephen. “I went to every single game and basically obtained paid out to go, which I could not think.”

Tharp explained that when Stephen came to work at the Athletics Information and facts Business he realized the young man would be successful. “He was a scholar of whatsoever sport he was associated with. He acquired to know the coaches, he received to know the university student athletes. He was normally, for his age, buttoned up and incredibly experienced,” stated Tharp. “Getting Stephen in the business was practically like getting yet another full-time person doing the job, he was that very good and he experienced a true enthusiasm for it.”

Stephen never lacked hustle. Among his junior and senior yr, he returned to his home state of New York and persuaded New York Town-dependent athletics publicist Joe Goldstein to retain the services of him. “He subsequently presented me a position when I graduated and I took it,” said Stephen. “Joey was the final mentor, he taught me so a lot. We had consumers like ESPN, Madison Sq. Garden, Dick Schaap, Howard Cosell, Dick Vitale, massive-time consumers and fantastic events with substantial exposure. I then went to regulation school at Loyola-New Orleans and though in university I introduced my personal firm, Workforce Professional Associates, and I started out representing athletes as their agent. But it is a challenging organization, you know. I was a little person and coming in 2nd place will not pay back.” Stephen returned to follow law for a while, until finally he obtained a simply call out of the blue from Andre Agassi. He worked for Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf for four many years. He also represented Hélio Castroneves, the Brazilian automobile racer. Stephen took Jake to see Castroneves race in the Indy 500. “I was next my enthusiasm: sports activities general public relations, marketing and advertising, branding,” reported Stephen. “Then in 2011 some horseracing representatives attained out to me they have been hunting for another person to assistance inform their tales. There are multitudes of great tales in the activity, and I took the work.”

Stephen began working with the Nationwide Thoroughbred Association and later on with the Jockey Club to discovered the platform America’s Finest Racing, built to recruit new audiences to the globe of horse racing. “No subject your qualifications, your fascination amount, horse racing is a activity for you. When I convey newcomers to the racetrack, ten out of 10 periods their eyeballs blow up and they say, ‘I did not know it was like this!'” Stephen capitalizes on what the new recruits gravitate to at the racetrack. Irrespective of whether it truly is getting them close to the horse or just emotion the adrenaline hurry of owning even a two-greenback guess and experience the horse arrive down the extend or owning the hair on the again of your neck stand up as the horses appear down the stretch, it’s just contagious, it truly is infectious.”

Jake shared his father’s passion for horse racing, attending his to start with race at the age of nine. “Jake was about currently being with persons. The much more the merrier. A racetrack provided him anything that he wanted, which was loads of men and women and a social practical experience, you know, a communal social working experience in which you satisfied with close friends. He beloved the Preakness Race (the next leg of the Triple Crown Races), he went to it three situations.” Stephen recounted how the household would push down from Connecticut to Maryland for the Preakness, and the loved ones journey factor was crucial to Jake. “Jake had terrific obtain with me, naturally. He experienced a media credential and Jake roamed a whole lot on his individual. He was generally mature past his years, so I permit him enterprise out. Jake loved the specific visitors at the race, the tunes, the racing.”

Jake was happy of his father, and he delighted in sharing the racing encounter with him. Stephen’s voice wavered as he remembered the race Jake by no means received to in human being. “Jake wanted to go to the Breeders’ Cup Races with me in 2012, it was likely to be held at Santa Anita Racetrack in California. But Hurricane Sandy strike and we missing electricity for a 7 days. We the two skipped the Breeders’ Cup that yr. I often planned on getting him to one particular. He reminded me every 12 months the Breeders’ Cup came all around that I owed him one….”

O’Neill, aware that Jake normally preferred to go to the Breeders’ Cup, has previously contacted Stephen about carrying out some thing to honor his son all through this year’s races that will be held at the Del Mar Racetrack in California. “Doug constantly said the earth needed a large amount much more Jakes,” stated Stephen.

The scholarship will consider Jake to USC in spirit and aid a deserving stroll-on player. The grittiness and Gamecock spirit that Jake possessed as a man or woman will be mirrored in the deserving university student-athlete recipient. Though the potential is a tough and daunting idea for the Panus spouse and children at current, Stephen does look forward to what the scholarship will make.  “You know, it really is heading to be astounding to see a kid come down on unique teams and make a tackle or even far better score a landing a person day due to the fact he busted his ass and was a challenging workforce-very first person,” said Stephen, who options to attend a soccer match in individual to really feel Jake’s memory alive on the discipline at William Brice Stadium.

“Sporting activities is an outlet for individuals to present their emotions, it really is an outlet to socialize and have a terrific time, and often it is an outlet for people to express unfortunate moments,” mirrored Tharp. “Outdoors of my household it really is my most important outlet. And just after a tragedy like Stephen and his relatives have endured sports activities can often be a rallying place. I think the assist Stephen and his family members are receiving from Hot Rod Charlie and his possession is a great factor.”

“We want them to know that we are with them and assistance them, they’re continuously in our prayers and they have been in mine considering the fact that I to start with got related with the Panus family members,” claimed Mentor Beamer. On football Saturdays and in the course of the 12 months we can give the family members some pleasure looking at us participate in and sharing in the accomplishment that we have.”

Tharp was preparing for the previous leg of the Triple-Crown races, the Belmont Stakes, held June 5th in New York. “I will be positioning a bet on Incredibly hot Rod Charlie again,” reported Tharp, “in support of Stephen and in memory of Jake.” And Very hot Rod Charlie carried Jake’s legacy ahead at the race by way of his emblematic blanket. As the thoroughbred dug deep to end a sturdy next in the longest and last race of the Triple-Crown races, he might effectively have felt Jake’s spirit give him the needed added energy in the remaining furlong.

The Jake Panus Scholarship Fund is now active and getting donations.  Be sure to click here to donate. 

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