By Dick Jerardi
Last year, 128 horses ran in 13 races over 6 1/2 hours on the most successful Pennsylvania Derby Day in history. This year, 151 horses were entered for this Saturday’s 14 races scheduled to be run over 7 hours. Don’t know if the Parx record $18.8 million handle can be eclipsed, but it won’t be for lack of trying by the racing office, which has once again put together a fabulous card for Pa. Derby Day 2023.
There are 10 stakes, two $100,000 maiden races and $4 million in purses, all anchored by the two $1 million Grade I events, the Cotillion for 3-year-old fillies and the Pennsylvania Derby, the final major race exclusively for 3-year-olds, racing’s glamor division.
Saudi Crown is two noses away from being unbeaten, but has not yet won a graded stakes. That may be about to change for the late bloomer from the Brad Cox barn who did not make his first start until April 16. This very fast colt may be the speed of the speed in a race with three other fast early and accomplished colts – Magic Tap, Scotland and two-time stakes winner Reincarnate from the powerful Bob Baffert barn which has won four of the last eight runnings of the Pa. Derby.
The Cotillion will be run 50 minutes before the Derby, but it is no afterthought as it features the nation’s top 3-year-old filly, three time Grade I winner Pretty Mischievous who has won the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn and Test in succession for trainer Brendan Walsh. Ceiling Crusher comes from California for trainer Doug O’Neill with just one loss in six starts. Foggy Night has the best chance of the locals to break through in one of the big races as she is a two-time stakes winner for trainer Butch Reid.
The 2-year-old stakes, going as races 2 and 3 on the card, include some very promising horses with limited experience but obvious talent.
I am a huge fan of Buy Land and See, equally adept on grass and dirt who is back to defend his title in the Alphabet Soup for Pa. Breds. The Plum Pretty, also for Pa. breds, features Morning Matcha who was good enough to run second in the Cotillion last year.
Ridin With Biden is the defending champ in the 1 1/2-mile Greenwood Cup, but Next, the rare marathon specialist with two wins at the distance and one each at 1 3/4 and 1 5/8 miles, is going to be favored.
The Turf Monster is loaded, but two unbeaten grass fillies (a combined 8-for-8 on tur) are hard to look past – Roses for Debra from the Christophe Clement barn and All That Magic, stabled right at Parx for trainer Kate DeMasi.
Gunite is going to be odds on in the Parx Dirt Mile, with his two Grade I wins and eight triple digit Beyer figures. There is nobody better in the sport over the last decade with sprinters and dirt milers than Gunite’s trainer Steve Asmussen.
The Gallant Bob, perhaps the most inscrutable of the stakes races, has three local horses and seven from out of town. If you are going to play multi-race wagers, this may be one you want to spread.
Whatever you do, it will be impossible to resist getting involved in these races. I am going to frame my plays around Buy Land and See in the Alphabet Soup and Saudi Crown in the Pa. Derby. If they both get home, I better have a good day.
Regardless of how my day goes, Pennsylvania Derby Day 2023 promises to be one of the most memorable in the history of a race track that turns 50 next year.