Suburban Philadelphia is the final stop for this year’s 3-year-old crop of colts before they face off against elder horses.
Parx Racing will host the $1 million Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby Saturday afternoon that has attracted a field of 10 to compete for the top prize of $600,000. The Grade 1 Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies will be the lead-in to the PA Derby matching up Monomoy Girl with Canadian dual classic winner Wonder Gadot.
Monomoy Girl (3-5) will bring her five race win streak to Philly, which includes four Grade 1 victories and will be challenged by Wonder Gadot (6-1), Test winner Separationofpowers (5-1) and year-long rival Midnight Bisou (5-1). Mike Smith will ship in to ride Midnight Bisou, Johnny V will be back to jump aboard Wonder Gadot.
As for the boys, McKinzie (5-2) returns from a pre-Derby trail injury and assumes the favorite role over a solid field including several who were on the Triple Crown trail.
A large field of 10 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 and the track is likely to be 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) which will be run as Race 11 at 5:45 p.m. at Parx:
1 – First Mondays (Servis, Pennington, 15-1). Son of Curlin finished third in the local prep for the Pennsylvania Derby. Will need to move forward in a big way to challenge this group in just his fourth career race with a new rider on top. Pass.
2 – Hofburg (Mott, Ortiz, Jr., 3-1). Curlin winner missed the Travers due to an illness setback. Mott puts the shades on for the first time and this could be just the right place to do it. He’s likely the most talented of the group and a decent pace would advance his chances. A big strapping horse who went to the front much earlier than usual in the Curlin, will likely sit off the pace and pounce. Contender.
3 – Instilled Regard (Brown, Ortiz, 15-1). Idle since the Kentucky Derby, he was transferred to the Brown barn and shows up here for his first race since Louisville. Has some solid works on the tab coming into the race and could be a sleeper at decent value. Worth using underneath in the exotics.
4 – King Zachary (Romans, Lanerie, 20-1). One of the only horses that made up ground at Saratoga on Travers Day finishing a decent fourth in the Midsummer Derby. He’s worth a look at his morning line price based on his effort last out and could be sitting on a big one for the big guy. Don’t discount the son of Curlin’s chances off his last two efforts.
5 – Core Beliefs (Eurton, Talamo, 10-1). After nipping Lone Sailor at the wire in the Ohio Derby he ran a lackluster Haskell. The son of Quality Road took some decent money at Monmouth and disappointed his backers. Tough to jump on this bandwagon as he ships in from Southern California.
6 – Axlerod (McCarthy, Bravo, 5-1). Won the local prep convincingly and is one of two who have a trip over the surface. Son of Warrior’s Reward has done nothing but improve on each effort during 2018 and if he keeps moving in that direction he’ll hit the board. Dangerous.
7 – Mr. Freeze (Romans, Albarado, 12-1). Interesting that Albarado, usually Dale’s first call rider, jumped off his Travers mount for the son of To Honor and Serve. He ran a huge West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer destroying that field by eight lengths. It’s hard to back off a top speed figure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he put forth another big effort. Against my handicapping principles to back him against classier foes in here. Holding my breath.
8 – McKinzie (Baffert, Smith, 5-2). Connections won this race with West Coast last year and Baffert brings his big gun to the fight in Pennsylvania. Before Justify came onto the scene in February, Baffert was talking up this horse as his Derby horse. Son of Street Sense could walk on this field, but we’ll play him in the runner-up spot in his return to the races.
9 – Trigger Warning (Rone, Rosendo, 20-1). Love that they took a shot with this horse in the Travers, finishing sixth. Strong efforts in the Midwestern Derbys (Ohio and Indiana) still have him a cut below the cream of this race. A $6,000 Keeneland purchase, he’s already won over $292K in his career, so there’s that. Rone takes the blinkers off to try and get him to respond.
10 – Bravazo (Lukas, Saez, 5-1). He has to be tired, no? He ran in two Derby preps, the entire Triple Crown series and the Haskell and Travers this summer. Whew. He managed two second place Grade 1 finishes in that stretch, but he’s hard to back after such a difficult campaign. The son of Awesome Again will beat me if he wins.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Hofburg; 2 – McKinzie; 3 – Axelrod; 4 – King Zachary
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.