Bensalem, Pa. is the next stop for this year’s group of 3-year-old colts and fillies.
Parx Racing, located in suburban Philadelphia, will host the $1 million Grade 1 Cotillion for fillies and the $1.25 Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby for the colts.
Songbird will bring her 10-race win streak to Philly and will have some tough competition in Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia, runner-up Land Over Sea and Grade 1 Acorn winner Carina Mia. She comes off a successful meeting at Saratoga claiming the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama, both Grade 1 races.
As for the boys, the two top 3-year-olds to date will square off for the seventh time in their respective careers. Nyquist won the first four meetings with Exaggerator, including the Kentucky Derby, however his rival has captured the last two in the Preakness and Haskell albeit on sloppy surfaces.
The 3-year-old crown could be at stake, with Nyquist holding two Grade 1 victories (Florida, Kentucky Derbies) and Exaggerator holding three (Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, Haskell). While the PA Derby is a Grade 2, it surely attracted some star power in third-place Derby and Travers finisher Gun Runner and horses that have matured over the summer like Summer Revolution and Cupid.
A large field of 12 will show up looking to cash in on the big purse and look for a primer before the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The race has played to speed in the past (see Bayern) and the track is likely to be wicked fast on Saturday once again.
Here’s a look at the entries for the Pennsylvania Derby (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
1 – Awesome Slew (Plesa Jr., Lopez, 10-1). Don’t discount this speedy son of Awesome Again, who surely has the stamina to last the 9-furlongs. He won the local prep (Grade 3 Smarty Jones) by seven lengths and Paco sure loves to be on the lead. Catch me if you can, is the likely scenario here. Interesting.
2 – Exaggerator (Desormeaux, Desormeaux, 9-2). He still needs to prove himself on a fast track after his disappointing Travers performance. It could be he just didn’t enjoy the deep Saratoga track. He will likely enjoy the pace up front to make his late run at the leaders and the speedier it is the more dangerous he becomes. I’m not convinced that he’s fresh at this point with the schedule he’s led through the Triple Crown and then Haskell, Travers appearances. I’m sitting this one out on the son of Curlin.
3 – Summer Revolution (Rodriguez, Smith, 8-1). Lightly raced son of classic winner Summer Bird had a rough trip in the King’s Bishop and stretches out for Rudy. Workouts tend to lean him towards a big effort and if he sits nicely behind the leaders he could spring the upset at a nice price. Considering.
4 – Connect (Brown, Castellano, 12-1). Son of Curlin won his father’s namesake race at Saratoga in the prep for the Travers. He didn’t fire in the Travers, but still gathered a decent speed figure, but the winner was not to be outdone that day. His price should be right and could find a way to hit the board at the shorter distance.
5 – Cupid (Baffert, Bejarano, 5-1). He won both the Indiana and West Virginia Derbies after flopping in the Easy Goer on Belmont Stakes day after a layoff. He’s 3-for-3 in Grade 2 races, for what it’s worth and he likes to win stakes named after states, so there’s that. Which Cupid are we going to get? Will it be the one that flopped in the Arkansas Derby and Easy Goer at odds-on, or the horse that won two straight against so-so fields?
6 – Wild About Deb (Perciado, Periera, 20-1). He finished second to the rail horse in the Smarty Jones in the local prep for the PA Derby. The son of Eskendereya will need to make a huge step up in class to compete with this group. Pass.
7 – Gun Runner (Asmussen, Geroux, 6-1). Florent Geroux in the past two weeks won graded races at Kentucky Downs, Woodbine and Presque Isle Downs. This could be the son of Candy Ride’s coming out party as he ran decent in the Travers. You can draw a line through the sloppy track disaster at Monmouth. The speedy track and his running style seem to line up perfectly here. The pick.
8 – My Man Sam (Brown, Leparoux, 20-1). Chad’s not throwing in the towel on the son of Trappe Shot. He’s been less than spectacular against graded company, his best coming in April in the Bluegrass against a ho-hum field. Another who didn’t fire in the Travers and his late closing kick may be too little too late on the speedy Parx surface.
9 – Nyquist (O’Neill, Gutierrez, 5-2). He’s 8-for-8 on fast tracks. Read that again. He’s 8-for-8 on fast tracks. He skipped the Travers after the Haskell for a brief break and point to this race. He has four straight one-mile workouts showing steady improvement so it’s likely he’s both fresh and fit coming into the PA Derby. He has to be respected and we’ll have him in our mix.
10 – Sunny Ridge (Servis, Bravo, 12-1). This progeny of Holy Bull has been a steady performer in each of the races he’s competed in. He won the Withers at Aqueduct and hit the board in the Champagne and the Delta Jackpot as a 2-year-old. He’s a bit over his head with the best of the 3-year-old class but he could surprise and grab a piece.
11– Discreet Lover (St. Lewis, Flores, 30-1). Local horse that’s 2-for-16 lifetime. No, thank you.
12 – Hit It Once More (Sciacca, Carmouche, 20-1). He’s a Hard Spun colt that won the New York Derby at Finger Lakes and Albany Stakes at Saratoga, two of three legs of the Big Apple Triple. Looked impressive on Travers Friday winning the Albany convincingly and has won four of his last five. He actually finished ahead of Cupid in the Easy Goer on Belmont day when facing non-state breds on Belmont day. Intriguing, but can’t pull the trigger.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Gun Runner; 2 – Summer Revolution; 3 – Cupid; 4 – Nyquist
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.