Showdown Set for Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby
-By Tom Law
Maximum Security and War of Will, two of the leading players in the drama that unfolded at the Kentucky Derby, will meet for the first time since that controversial race in Saturday’s 40th running of the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.
A field of seven was entered Monday afternoon for the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, which highlights a stellar card at Parx that also includes the Grade 1 Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies and five other stakes. The Pennsylvania Derby and $1 million Cotillion will be nationally televised for the first time on NBC from 5-6 p.m. EDT.
Gates open at Parx on Pennsylvania Derby Day at 11 a.m. with the first post set for 12:25 p.m. The Pennsylvania Derby goes as the 11th race on the card with a post time of 5:48 p.m.
“It’s a salty race. It’s pretty tough,” said California-based Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, bidding for his third straight and fourth Pennsylvania Derby overall with 3-1 second choice Improbable. “You’ve got to bring you’re A game. Every Grade 1 is a tough race. We have to ship and everything has to go well. Maximum Security is definitely the horse to beat. You just never know who is going to show up.”
Owned and bred by Gary and Mary West, Maximum Security drew post 7 for the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby. He’s listed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite for Saturday with regular jockey Luis Saez named to ride for trainer Jason Servis.
Maximum Security left from post 7 and crossed the finish 1 3/4 lengths in front in the Kentucky Derby. The son of New Year’s Day wound up disqualified and placed 17th for an alleged interference near the top of the stretch, an incident stewards said involved subsequent eighth-place finisher War of Will. War of Will was placed seventh following the disqualification.
The two went separate ways after the Derby. War of Will won the Preakness Stakes two weeks later before a ninth in the Belmont Stakes and a fifth in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga July 27. Maximum Security didn’t return to the Triple Crown, instead prepping with a second in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth in mid-June before his victory in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational July 20.
Trainer Mark Casse opted to keep Gary Barber’s War of Will out of the Grade 1 Travers, deciding instead to train the son of War Front up to the Pennsylvania Derby. War of Will prepped for his return at Saratoga and Belmont and comes in off four-straight bullet workouts, including a half-mile in :47.40 last Saturday. Regular jockey Tyler Gaffalione rides the 5-1 fourth choice from post 4.
A Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old for Baffert and owners WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and Starlight Racing, Improbable went off as the post-time favorite for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He finished fifth (fourth via the DQ of Maximum Security) and sixth in those races before Baffert gave the son of City Zip a break. Improbable returned from three months off with a victory in the Shared Belief Stakes Aug. 25 at Del Mar.
Hall of Famer Mike Smith, aboard Baffert’s last two Pennsylvania Derby winners McKinzie and West Coast, returns on Improbable Saturday from post 2. Smith breezed Improbable Monday, guiding the colt to through a bullet 5-furlong move in 1:00.20 at Santa Anita Park.
“Mike worked him and we are happy about that,” Baffert said. “I always like to be on the outside if I can, but the draw is over. It’s a short field. He just has to break well, that’s about it.”
Allied Racing Stable’s Mr. Money makes his third straight Derby start in search of his fifth consecutive victory for trainer Bret Calhoun. The winner of the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile and Grade 3 Matt Win at Churchill Downs this spring, Mr. Money won the Grade 3 Indiana Derby and Grade 3 West Virginia Derby this summer. Gabriel Saez rides Mr. Money, the 4-1 third choice, from post 6.
Rounding out the Pennsylvania Derby field are Ohio Derby runner-up Math Wizard (Edgard Zayas, post 1, 8-1), the maiden Shanghai Superfly (Frankie Pennington, post 3, 30-1) and Grade 3 Smarty Jones winner Spun to Run (Paco Lopez, post 5, 8-1).
The Cotillion attracted a field of 11 led by undefeated two-time Grade 1 winner Guarana, last year’s champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk, Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress and multiple Grade 1 winner Bellafina. The 1 1/16-mile Cotillion goes as the 10th race Saturday.
Owned and bred by Three Chimneys Farm, Guarana blitzed a field of maidens in her debut April 19 at Keeneland before winning back-to-back Grade 1 stakes in the Acorn at Belmont Park and Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga for trainer Chad Brown. The daughter of Ghostzapper breezed five times at Saratoga and twice at Belmont, including a bullet 5 furlongs in 1:00.10 last Saturday, in preparation for the Cotillion.
The full field for the Cotillion, from the rail out, with trainers and jockeys: Serengeti Empress (Tom Amoss, Irad Ortiz Jr.), Afleet Destiny (Uriah St. Lewis, No rider), Street Band (Larry Jones, Sophie Doyle), Jeltrin (Alexis Delgado, Leonel Reyes), Collegeville Girl (Richard Vega, Angel Castillo), Horologist (John Mazza, Luis Saez), She Makes Me Smile (Trevor Gallimore, Wesley Torres), Guarana (Chad Brown, Jose Ortiz), Sweet Sami D (Patrick McBurney, Paco Lopez), Bellafina (Simon Callaghan, Flavien Prat), Jaywalk (John Servis, Joel Rosario).