For the connections of 11 3-year-olds, the GI Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Saturday represents a last-ditch effort to pick up an elusive Derby win and while it's not the Derby win most started out the year in search of, the $1 million purse, Grade I status and strong history of past winners makes it a coveted race to win nonetheless.
Since Hall of Famer Woody Stephens trained Smarten (Cyane) to earn the inaugural Pennsylvania Derby trophy in 1979, a number of good 3-year-olds have also emerged from the nine-furlong feature victorious, including GI Preakness S. winner Summer Squall (Storm Bird) in 1990 and 1987 Canadian Horse of the Year Afleet (Mr. Prospector), as well as Dixieland Band (Northern Dancer), Skip Trial (Bailjumper), Wallenda (Gulch), Macho Uno (Holy Bull), Harlan's Holiday (Harlan), Will Take Charge (Unbridled's Song), Frosted (Tapit), West Coast (Flatter) and the recently retired Taiba (Gun Runner) a year ago.
In 1985, in what was one of the more memorable editions, GI Wood Memorial S. winner Broad Brush (Ack Ack), with Angel Cordero Jr. aboard on a beyond sloppy track, bolted toward the outside rail while on the lead past the quarter pole, gave up a dozen lengths into the top of the lane but made it all up in the stretch to win while racing closer to the outside rail than the inside rail.
Bayern (Offlee Wild) in 2014 and Macho Uno in 2000 are so far the only runners to complete the Pennsylvania Derby-Breeders' Cup Classic double. Will Take Charge in 2013 and West Coast in 2017 are so far the only two to be named the champion 3-year-old male after winning the Parx main event.
Bob Baffert has saddled four winners to lead all trainers and this year sends out Reincarnate (Good Magic) in his first start since capturing the Los Alamitos Derby 2 1/2 months ago. Regular rider Juan Hernandez will be at Parx to ride the colt, who drew the far outside post position, and is the slight morning line favorite at 3-1.
“We call him Moby Dick,” Baffert said of the big gray colt. “He is a big, strong white horse; he has the same coloring as Moby Dick.
“I have always been very high on the horse. We have always liked him. He is the kind of horse that will run up near the lead and be forwardly placed.”
Saudi Crown (Always Dreaming) seeks an initial stakes score after a runner-up finish behind champion Forte (Violence) in the GII Jim Dandy S. last out at Saratoga two months ago. Brad Cox trains the colt, who was also second in the GIII Dwyer S. on July 1 at Belmont Park, for FMQ Stables.
“I love how he's doing,” Cox said “We've been pointing for this ever since he ran second [in the Dwyer} at Belmont.”
Dreamlike was third in a very tight finish in the GI Wood Memorial S. as a maiden in the spring and graduated to winner status in July on Saratoga's opening weekend, but was then a disappointing fifth as the 4-5 favorite in a first-level allowance race at Saratoga a month later. Crupi was seventh in the GII Risen Star S. and ninth in the Wood as a maiden earlier this spring, but is riding a two-race win streak including his maiden and an allowance company at Monmouth Park and Saratoga, respectively.
“They're both training well,” Pletcher said. “Dreamlike is coming off a little bit of a disappointing race, but he's always shown potential. Crupi is coming off a good effort. Considering those things, it's worth a swing.”
LNJ Foxwoods's homebred Scotland (Good Magic) is coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish in the muddy GI Travers S. in his graded stakes debut after winning three of his first four starts, including the Listed Curlin S. at Saratoga in July. Bill Mott trains the gelding, who will be ridden by Junior Alvarado again.
West Coast Cowboy (West Coast), from the first crop of his Pennsylvania Derby-winning sire, was briefly on the GI Kentucky Derby trail earlier this year, finishing third in the GII Holy Bull S. and seventh in the GI Florida Derby. Saffie Joseph Jr.'s 31-1 chance Math Wizard (Algorithms) upset this race in 2019, the now significantly accomplished trainer's very first graded stakes winner.
“[West Coast Cowboy] is a big, strong horse that seems to be improving,” Joseph said. “He is not at the top level yet, but he seems to get better and better every time he runs.
“Sometimes you just have to take chances. Sometimes it works out, but most of the time it doesn't. You can't be afraid to run them in the race.”
Pretty Mischievous Stars in History-Rich Cotillion
The GI Cotillion S., run every year except one since 1969, boasts some of the more notable sophomore filly names as past winners. The names of champions Shuvee (Nashua)–who won the inaugural running–Susan's Girl (Quadrangle), My Juliet (Gallant Romeo), Revidere (Reviewer), Ashado (Saint Ballado), Havre De Grace (Saint Liam), My Miss Aurelia (Smart Strike), Untapable (Tapit), Songbird (Medaglia d'Oro) and Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lute) are all listed in the history books.
'TDN Rising Star' and GI Kentucky Oaks winner Pretty Mischievous (Into Mischief) seeks a fourth straight Grade I win after taking the tragedy-marred GI Test S. at Saratoga last out. She also won the GII Rachel Alexandra S. at Fair Grounds back in February. Tyler Gaffalione will ride for trainer Brendan Walsh.
“I was looking at her record the other day and it's unbelievable,” Walsh said of the Godolphin homebred. “It's a testament to her. Look, you have to have the ammunition, but it is a testament to her. I haven't had too many of them that have been able to keep it that consistent for that long. Generally, you hit some bump, or they'll back up, something. She's won seven of nine and the couple times she got beat she was second or third. It will be nice if we can pull it off again Saturday.”
Eight will try to take down the clear division leader, including California-bred shipper Ceiling Crusher (Mr. Big) from the Doug O'Neill barn. She is coming off a win in the GIII Torrey Pines S. at Del Mar three weeks ago and makes her first foray outside of the Golden State for the 1 1/16-mile main track affair.
“It is always a concern until you do it,” O'Neill said. “I had the great Lava Man, who was so brilliant in California, but once you had to sleep in another hotel room and try to perform on the road, he just couldn't do it. In my expectations, she ranks as one of the top 3-year-old fillies, but, until you do it against the best, on the road, it's all just hot air.”
Chad Brown will saddle GIII Monmouth Oaks winner Occult (Into Mischief) while Tom Amoss will sent out another good Into Mischief filly in the stakes-winning Hoosier Philly.
Pennsylvania Derby Undercard Loaded with Stakes
Three of the other ten stakes on the Parx Saturday card are graded, including the GIII Turf Monster, which the four-win streaking Roses For Debra (Liam's Map) for Christophe Clement in the five-furlong grass dash; GIII Brooklyn S. winner Next (Into Mischief) seeking a third straight stakes win in the grassy GII Greenwood Cup 1 1/2 -mile marathon; and the Steve Asmussen-trained GSW Ryvit (Competitive Edge) hoping to get back to winning in the GII Gallant Bob S. after a pair of disappointing fifth-place finishes in stakes company in his last two.
Dogwood Rounds Out Saturday Graded Stakes Action
Down further south at Churchill Downs, nine 3-year-old fillies will sprint the seven furlongs in the GIII Dogwood S. The lightly raced Yesternight (Midnight Storm) drew the rail and the role of 3-1 favorite after a second-place finish in the Cathryn Sophia S. at Parx in her black-type debut a month ago.