Today is Derby Day, Pennsylvania style as Parx hosts a fine day of racing in Bensalem. The highlight of the meet is the $1 million Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-olds as well as the $1 million Grade 1 Cotillion for 3-year-old-fillies. In addition, there is the $300,000 Grade 3 Gallant Bob Stakes and the ungraded $150,000 Bayern Stakes named for the 2015 Pennsylvania Derby and Breeder’s Cup Classic winner.
You know it’s a big day of racing when the great jockeys leave their regular posts to come to the track north of the City of Brotherly Love. Irad Ortiz, Mike Smith, Luis Saez, Joe Bravo, Javier Castellano, Martin Garcia, John Velazquez, Aaron Gryder and Joel Rosario have all come to Parx to try to win some extra purse monies.
The Derby, at 1 1/8 miles is the race that many thought American Pharoah would use as a prep race for the Breeder’s Cup Classic, but as we know, they went to the Travers and lost to Keen Ice. Last year, Bayern wired the field in Bensalem, and then carried that to a controversial win in the Classic at Santa Anita. Pace will be important because Parx tends to be a speed favoring track so it will be interesting to see how the undercard races shake out.
The interesting horse in the Derby is Frosted. He’s a nice horse who won the Wood Memorial, took fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and was the only horse that tried to beat American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes. A closer, Frosted pressed the pace–and Pharoah–before fading to third in the Travers. His pressure softened up the Triple Crown winner enough for Keen Ice to get there in the end to pull off the upset. Normally a closer, Frosted proved in the Travers that he can run from the lead so it will be interesting to see the strategy that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will implement in the race. Joel Rosario will ride Frosted which he didn’t do in the Travers because he was injured in an earlier race.
The other horses to watch in the Derby are Upstart, which has to show something today to go forward. His last few races have been clunkers and if he doesn’t show up today, he may be relegated to ungraded stakes and allowance races in the future. There are two Derby winners in the field with Ohio Derby winner Mr. Z trained by D. Wayne Lukas and West Virginia Derby winner Madefromlucky, the Todd Pletcher trained colt.
The Pennsylvania Derby results will be fascinating going forward. If Frosted, Madefromlucky, Upstart or Mr. Z win, will their connections enter them in the loaded Breeder’s Cup Classic? Frosted is being pointed there of course but what about a horse like Mr. Z? He might prefer a shorter distance like the Breeder’s Cup Dire Mile, but we know D. Wayne Lukas likes a challenge and if the colt can replicate his Ohio Derby win at Thistledown who knows what the 80 year old Lukas has up his sleeve?
The Cotillion (1 1/16 miles) also shapes up to be an excellent race. It is a Grade 1 race for the fillies and is being billed as a rematch of The Alabama between winner Embellish the Lace and I’m a Chatterbox. The latter is the morning line 3 to 1 favorite, but the field is pretty deep with Keen Pauline, Tara’s Tango, Take Charge Brandi, Eskenformoney and Peace and War. All seven horses are 8 to 1 are under on the morning line, so there could be good value for the bettors and the race should be a good one to see. The logical stop for the winner here would be the Breeder’s Cup Distaff.
The $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes will be run at six furlongs. Limousine Liberal is the 5-2 favorite and will be ridden by Saratoga riding champ Irad Ortiz, Jr. Grand Bili is the second choice at 4-1 with Trouble Kid third at 5-1. In addition to the Bayern, the other $100,000 plus purse race is the Alphabet Soup Handicap.
Last year, there were 16,000 spectators at Parx for Derby Day and had Pharoah come this year, that crowd might have doubled. But, take nothing away from the day. These will be good races and will play a big part in the fall racing season which will culminate at Keeneland on October 30 and 31.
Until next time.