Pennsylvania Derby Picks and Analysis by Brian Leckie

The Pennsylvania Derby has emerged in recent years as a legitimate Grade 1 race for three year olds, continuing the series beyond the Travers Stakes, and has become a successful Breeders’ Cup prep race for this group. In 2014, Bayern parlayed a first-place finish in the PA Derby to a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Last year, runner-up Gun Runner followed with a second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. This year has drawn another great field headed by Travers winner West Coast. The Cotillion Stakes, which shares top-billing with the Pennsylvania Derby as the filly counterpart, has also drawn a great field headed by Abel Tasman. Three other stakes races comprise the undercard, including the Grade 3 Gallant Bob for three year old sprinters. All stakes races will be covered in this analysis, so let’s get right to it.

Race 7: [S] Alphabet Soup S. (T) 

Selections: 5-9-6-4

The only turf race on the card. Look at the company lines for #5 Edge of Reality. 4th to Mid-Atlantic stalwart Page McKenny (who runs in the next race) last out, nearly beat Tom’s Ready on synthetic at Presque Isle just losing by a head, Zennor won the Lure stakes at Saratoga- the company is legitimate. Gets some relief from that bunch in this state-bred spot. On the sheets this horse has run 2’s on both synthetic and turf before, and a similar effort will win this race. Edge of Reality also has a win over the Parx turf. I don’t expect him to be too far back off the speed. As Jose Ortiz was injured at Belmont this week, keep an eye on the jockey change. #9 Bern’ James Bern was well behind the top choice in that race at Presque Isle, but this one’s record routing on the turf has been pretty consistent, though he does not win often. His form looks better this year in the barn of Keith Nations than he did last year under Tim Hamm. He ran just behind Ring Weekend three back at Delaware and has mostly been racing in optional claiming company. I like him underneath for sure, but winning has been a problem for him. #6 Tasit has some good figures and has been facing good allowance/optional claiming company in New York and Keeneland. He is a contender for the top spot, but I’m wary of him being too far behind the leaders when he starts his closing kick. Interesting that he was gelded since his last race. I like either #4 Firsthand Report, #8 Threeohtwocassie, or #11 Chateau de Vizille to round out the superfecta, but I’ll go with #4 Firsthand Report since Castellano is enticed and won on him three back at this level at Penn National.

Race 8: PA Derby Champion S.

Selections: 4-8-6-2

I see this race as a pace advantage for #4 Matt King Coal. If he gets a clear lead I think he wires the field. If #1 Discreet Lover presses him, #8 Page McKenny could be the benefactor. But I’ll analyze this race as if the former will occur. This is his second race off of a regression in the Suburban at a distance that was too far for him. He’s a horse that always runs well fresh, and has not run since a 3rd place finish at Mountaineer on August 5th. I expect a big effort from him today. Page McKenny, what can you say about this ultra-consistent WARRIOR. 7 years old and still at the top of his game. I’ve always admired this horse, I mean he ALWAYS comes with his run and his only finish out of the exacta recently was in West Virginia, a 4th place finish right behind the top selection. 5 wins and a second out of 6 starts at Parx- I expect nothing different here. Even though this is a very salty field lined up for this race, if you wanted to play trifectas use him as your key horse in all slots, especially at Mid-Atlantic racetracks. #6 Mr. Jordan is a horse that I’ve never really been fond of, but he clearly has an affinity for this racetrack. I think a regression is coming since he just paired up zeros, but I think he sits a good trip off of Matt King Coal to hang on for the trifecta as Page McKenny comes flying. #2 Donegal Moon is the horse I’m afraid to leave off here so include him if you like him, I’d put him alongside Mr. Jordan. #9 Just Call Kenny is in unreal form right now. But that effort last out in the Iselin was a MONSTROUS effort for this horse. He exploded to a negative 2 on the sheets, and there’s no way I can see him duplicating an effort like that. I think he’s going to hit a wall in this race and regress badly.

Race 9: G3 Gallant Bob S.

Selections: 1-5-4

This race comes down to two horses. And it’s nearly impossible to separate #1A Coal Front and #5 American Pastime. They are both equally as fast. American Pastime is 3 for 3 at 6 furlongs while the Coal Front ran into stellar company in the Allen Jerkens at Saratoga, but has been tested against the best of his class unlike American Pastime. I expect these to run one-two in either order. Easy exacta box, but probably little value. #4 Running Mate stopped the timer at 1:09 3/5 at Delaware last out over a surface that is considered to be quite deep compared to other tracks. He gets the acid test today, but 15-1 ML seems like a worthy shot to take for 3rd place.

Race 10: G1 Cotillion S.

Selections: 9-10-5

The sheet numbers between the top two choices are very similar, but there is one glaring factor: wins vs. runner-up finishes. Obviously, I’m going to pick the horse who wins more, and that is the best 3yo filly in the country, #9 Abel Tasman. Super classy 3yo fillies such as Untapable and Songbird have dominated this race, and Abel Tasman can join that company with another win today under a pilot in “Big Money” Mike Smith that knows how to win these races. It’s tempting to take #10 Salty on top with that 5-1 ML price but wise-guy handicappers have picked this horse in her last three races and she does nothing but disappoint, although two back she hopped at the start before making a wide rally and she may not have cared for the 1 1/4 distance of the Alabama. Still, I think she’s the second-best horse in the field. #5 It Tiz Well has run two very good races in a row. But I’m skeptical of her ability to handle this track. Also-rans in the Delaware Oaks (which It Tiz Well won), run over a deeper and more tiring surface, competed in the Monmouth Oaks and ran horribly. It Tiz Well then went on to run a good second to Elate in the Alabama Stakes, beating Salty who ran third. But the Delaware surface is more akin to Saratoga than Parx, while the Parx surface is more similar to Monmouth. Now this might end up being a non-factor when this race is offer, but that’s how I see it. She’s still talented enough to hang around with the top two when the variables are equal.

Race 11: G1 Pennsylvania Derby 

Selections: 4-5-8

The last four editions of this race have been won by horses exiting the Travers. This year’s Travers was by far the best three year old field assembled this year, and I feel that the first and third finishers from that race are the two best three year olds in the country. And that’s exactly what I think the result of this race will be. #4 West Coast is a very versatile horse. Mike Smith can put him wherever he wants in the race- on the lead, midpack, near the back, and the horse will still make a bold run. Pace isn’t going to make a difference. You can bet West Coast will be around at the finish, and I’m betting he’s in front. Unless #5 Irap runs a bang-up race shortening up to 1 1/8. It seems neither horse has skipped a beat since the Travers, and they are more talented at this stage in their careers than anyone else in the field. Irap could certainly turn the tables on West Coast, but I’m going to pick it the other way around. I have a very soft spot for Jersey bred #8 Irish War Cry. I’m a big fan of this horse, but he’s disappointed me more often than not. That’s okay, because I don’t think he’s good enough to win this race, much like other early-developing horses who won races on the Triple Crown trail not named Irap. That being said, he has consistently put forth a good-race/bad-race pattern. His “bad race” in the Haskell wasn’t all that bad on paper compared to his non-efforts in the Kentucky Derby and Fountain of Youth. I expect him to run a top effort today. I think the jockey change to Feargal Lynch, his original pilot, is a positive one since Rajiv won’t be checking over his shoulder every 2 seconds only to run out of horse. Graham Motion has been effusive about his preparation for this race, and I like where he’s drawn outside, but like I said, I just don’t think he’s talented enough to pull it off at this juncture. If he does though, heads will be turning left and right at Parx wondering why I’m screaming for joy like someone who just hit a Pick Six- even though I’ll likely be losing money if that happens. #1 Timeline and #2 Outplay will find themselves duking it out on the lead, and Timeline proved in the Haskell that he needs a clear lead. Not gonna get it here. This race should be formful and kind to the best horses on paper.

 

The 2014 edition was run on a track that was a speed highway. Bayern went wire to wire in a race that included California Chrome. My selections today are based on a fair-playing track. I will be on-site at Parx providing updates via the 5minutestopost Twitter account. If I notice a prominent track bias I may change my selections accordingly, so be sure to follow along. Let’s have some fun and good luck to everyone!

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