PA DERBY DAY STAKES NOTES
VETERAN TRAINER ‘BUTCH’ REID HAPPY TO HAVE FOCUS BACK ON PARX
After a year away, it’s good to be back. That’s what you’ve heard on the backstretch at Parx as the days get closer to the biggest day in racing in the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania Derby is back.
Following a year’s hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, a 13-race card comes to Parx Saturday, Eight stakes races – highlighted by a pair of $1 million Grade 1 races, the Cotillion and Pennsylvania Derby – worth $3.4 million will be held.
“It will be good to see the nation get a chance to look at us and look at the quality product we put out here,” veteran Parx trainer Robert “Butch” Reid said. “There are good horsemen here with good horses. Getting the national press is a very good thing for the track. It was like last year never happened because we missed out on our big day.”
Reid has horses running in five races. He will send out Beren in the Grade 2, $300,000 Gallant Bob for 3-year-olds where he will tackle the imposing Jackie’s Warrior.
Beren, owned by St. Omer’s Farm and Christopher Feifarek, is 6-1 on the morning line and will be ridden by Frankie Pennington, the second-leading rider at the Parx meet with 121 wins.
In eight career starts at Parx, Beren has four wins and two seconds. Overall, he has six wins in 12 career starts. The Gallant Bob will be his second graded stakes start; he was third in the Grade 3 Bay Shore at Belmont in April.
“It’s obviously a monumental chore,” Reid said about going up against Jackie’s Warrior, the 4-5 morning-line favorite. “But the horse always gives a good effort and we will certainly give it a try.”
Beren is coming off a front-running 6 ½-length win in the Parx Summer Sprint Stakes on Aug. 24. His trainer says his horse does not need the lead to win.
“He won a race at Belmont (Gold Fever on May 9) and he stumbled out of the gate, righted himself, and ran really well,” Reid said. “He is just an honest horse.”
Reid has also entered 6-year-old Smooth B in the five-furlong Grade 3, $300,000 Turf Monster and Ninetypercentbrynn in the $200,000 Plum Pretty at 1 1/16 miles.
HOT ROD CHARLIE SEARCHING FOR HIS FIRST G1 IN PA DERBY
The 2021 résumé for Hot Rod Charlie is missing one thing. Trainer Doug O’Neill hopes his stable star checks the box on Saturday in the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.
Hot Rod Charlie, the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the signature event at Parx Racing, is still searching for his first win in a Grade I. He has come close.
The 3-year-old colt, owned by Roadrunner Racing, William Strauss, Boat Racing and Gainesway Stable, won the Haskell at Monmouth but was disqualified.
He was second in the Belmont, third in the Kentucky Derby. As a 2-year-old, he was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
“I think he is deserving,” O’Neill said Thursday morning before Hot Charlie galloped at Parx with exercise rider Johnny Garcia. “Selfishly, I want it for the whole team, but also for him as an individual. It would be a pretty awesome result for Charlie to get a Grade 1 win, that’s for sure.”
When the draw for the Pennsylvania Derby came out on Monday, Hot Rod Charlie was one of the trio of big names entered in the 1 1/8 mile race along with Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit.
Medina Spirit, the original morning-line choice, has since dropped out, leaving Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon as the race’s headliners.
“My initial reaction was that I was glad because I respect that horse so much,” O’Neill said about the defection of Medina Spirit. :”After that wears off, the competitive part of you was like, ‘gosh, I really think if they both ran their best race and had clean trips, I think we could beat him.’ We will have to wait another day. Hopefully, we can run a bang-up race and get a chance to knock heads with him down the road.”
With eight rivals now set to line up against Hot Rod Charlie in the starting gate, O’Neill isn’t thinking the Pennsylvania Derby will be a breeze. He expects a battle.
“Midnight Bourbon has been phenomenal,” O’Neill said. “And there are a couple of up-and-comers that you can’t tell how good they might be. I am optimistic with Charlie, but there are a couple new shooters coming in from Triple A to the majors that could very easily knock one out of the park if you aren’t careful.”
MIDNIGHT BOURBON, SILVER STATE GIVE WINCHELL STRONG HAND
Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Midnight Bourbon, 3-1 morning line second choice will try to capture his first Grade 1 victory in Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, and enters after falling short of victory by a neck in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga.
Multiple graded stakes winner Silver State owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Willis Horton Racing, will look to begin another win streak in the $200,000 Parx Dirt Mile after his string of six consecutive victories came to an end in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.
Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, both look to be strong contenders according to Winchell’s Racing Manager David Fiske.
“I think both spots are really good for them,” Fiske said. “The two-turn mile for Silver State should set him up for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Midnight Bourbon, he keeps knocking on the door. I think eventually he’s going to knock one of these off. He’s a really cool horse. Big personality. I saw a little video of him schooling in the paddock yesterday. Man, he looked like something else.”
Midnight Bourbon began the year with a victory in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds and then added a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star, also in Louisiana.
Next came a second in the Louisiana Derby before finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby.
The colt by Tiznow then added a runner-up finish in the Preakness, before clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie in the stretch run during the Grade 1 Haskell and losing jockey Paco Lopez.
“Hopefully, Saturday is his turn,” said Fiske. “It’s been a peculiar year. Most years, the field for the Kentucky Derby evaporates the day after the Derby. This year we’ve had Essential Quality, Midnight Bourbon, Hot Rod Charlie, Medina Spirit — even though he scratched — he’s still going. There are a lot of them out there and they’re all quality colts.”
As far as Midnight Bourbon goes, Fiske knows this:
“He’s a cool horse,” he said. “He seems to show up every time. He ran well in the Preakness, ran well in the Travers, ran well in the Derby. He’s just a cool customer. He’s a high-energy guy. You need to be on your toes around him all the time.”
Silver State ended his 3-year-old year with a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, then returned the following year with a seven-length victory against allowance competition at Keeneland. From there the son of Hard Spun added three more victories before returning to face graded stakes competition where he won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap
“It’s unusual for any horse to win that many races in a row,” Fiske said. “We had a horse a long time ago that won an Eclipse Award named Tight Spot. He won eight in a row. Then, we had a little horse that ran fourth in the Derby [1981 Kentucky Derby] named Classic Go Go that Tony Black rode. He won seven in a row. One of those was at the old Keystone Park as a matter of fact. He would win a race on Saturday then win a race at Keystone on Thursday. He made 26 starts as a 3-year-old. You do the math on that.”
JOSEPH HOPES HE GETS THE MATH RIGHT AGAIN
The last time the Pennsylvania Derby was run, the results were shocking.
That’s what trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr., said on Sept. 21, 2019, and that is what he still says today.
Of course he does. Why wouldn’t he?
His horse, Math Wizard, made the infield tote board light up like a pinball machine after the running was done in the 40th running of the Pennsylvania Derby. He was dismissed at odds of 31-1 and returned a juicy $64.20 to those who believed.
The horse, owned by John Fanelli a familiar face at Parx, Collarmele Vitelli Stables LLC, Basset Stables, Ioannis Zoumas, Wynwood Thoroughbreds and Joseph, is coming back to town Saturday.
Math Wizard hasn’t won a race since that magical day at Parx two years ago. He has gone to the races nine times since then and has hit the board twice. Joseph is running him in the Grade 3, $200,000 Greenwood Cup at the marathon distance of 1 ½ miles.
“The mile and a half is unknown territory,” Joseph said. “That has never been tried before. Until they go that distance, you never know for sure.”
Math Wizard, a won of Algorithms, will be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr, who rode him when he finished fifth in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
When Math Wizard won the 2019 Pennsylvania Derby, it became an emotional day for Joseph, a native of Barbados. It was his first graded stakes win.
“No one knew who we were,” Joseph said. “We let people know we could train good horses. From then on, we have not looked back.”
Math Wizard, who is 5-1 on the Greenwood Cup morning line, has three wins in 22 career starts and also owns three seconds and four third place finishes. His career earnings are $1,178,840; $600,000 came from the Pennsylvania Derby.
In his last start, he finished third in the Alydar at Saratoga on Aug. 6.
“Obviously, he has been aimed ambitiously and he has run some decent races,” Joseph said. “We gave always aimed him over his head and he tries every time. He has picked up some good checks. It’s hard to be frustrated with him. Don’t get me wrong, you always want to win. I can never be disappointed in a horse that gave me my first Grade 1 and we claimed him for $25,000. I might go my whole career and never get another Grade 1; it doesn’t happen very often.”
Joseph has three other horses entered on Saturday’s card, including Awesome Gerry (8-1) in the Grade 2, $300,000 Gallant Bob and Allworthy (12-1) in the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion.
UPDATE ON JOHN SERVIS’ STAKES HORSES
Leader of the Band – Cotillion S., G 1, $1 million: “She is doing really, really good,” said John. “I like the way she is coming into the race. I wasn’t real happy about seeing Bob Baffert’s (Private Mission) horse scratch. I thought that would solidify the pace for me, but it is what it is.”
“To be back in the Cotillion again, it’s great. Will Schwartz (owner of Cotillion entree, Leader of the Band) if she would be lucky enough to win, this would be his first grade one win, it would be fabulous. He (Schwartz) got so emotional after we just got beat a half-a-length in the Catherine Sophia Stakes on August 24 at Parx so I’m sure if she were fortunate to win, he would be very excited to say the least. He is a great guy, and with her being a home-bred, it would make it even better.”
Precious – Plum Pretty, $200,000, PA Bred S: “She is coming off a stakes win (Mrs. Penny B, Aug. 23, Parx), she is going up against Chuck Wagon again. We were second to her in the sprinting (Parx, Dec. 28, 6 1/2 Allowance) I don’t know about going long. She has never been long, she’s an unknown but we’re going to give her a run for the money.”
Irish Cork – Alphabet Soup Handicap, $200,000: “Never run on the turf,” said John. “I think he’s been wanting to run on the turf for a while, but I haven’t been able to get him on it. If it comes off the turf it’s not the worst thing in the world, he runs very well on the dirt but we are looking forward to a try on the grass and see how he does, but he is doing excellent.”
Philly Big 5 Mandatory Payout Saturday, September 25
Carryover is $155,807
All Stakes Philly Big Five:
Race 9 Turf Monster
Race 10 Gallant Bob
Race 11 Cotillion
Race 12 Pa Derby
Race 13 Alphabet Soup
HOW IT WORKS:
. Pick -5 Format
. $.50 bet
. 15% takeout
. Scratches get post time favorite
. Surface change from turf to dirt will have no effect on Philly Big 5 wager