By Dick Jerardi
It has been two years so the anticipation for Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby Day at Parx is as high as it’s ever been. And the race card may very well be the best in the history of the race track.
The 13 races have combined purses of $3.74 million. The eight stakes, starting in race 6 and continuing through race 13, have purses of $3.4 million. The biggest names in the sport have entered horses for the biggest race day in the Commonwealth all year and America’s biggest race day in the month of September.
Four Hall of Fame trainers (Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher) have entered 11 horses. Chad Brown, Brad Cox and Doug O’Neill, all headed to the Hall of Fame, have entered five. Two Parx Hall of Famers, John Servis and Butch Reid, have entered 11.
The jockeys are among the very best in the sport – John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat, Jose Ortiz, Luis Saez, Ricardo Santana, Florent Geroux and Paco Lopez as well as Parx Hall of Famers Kendrick Carmouche and Frankie Pennington.
And it is called horse racing for a reason. There are so many fabulous horses on the card.
The $1 million Grade I Pa. Derby (race 12) has four of the top seven finishers from the Kentucky Derby, including winner Medina Spirit and Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie who finished third. Midnight Bourbon, second in the Preakness, Travers and La. Derby, is the very definition of solid. The race has every top 3-year-old in training with the notable exception of division leader Essential Quality.
Upsets are always possible, but the winner most likely will be Hot Rod Charlie (O’Neill/Prat) or Medina Spirit (Velazquez/Baffert). Both are fast, accomplished and consistent.
The $1 million Grade 1 Cotillion (race 11) has a terrific cast of 3-year-old fillies, led by Grade I CCA Oaks winner Maracuja who will be ridden by Carmouche for trainer Rob Atras. Asmussen has Clairiere (Santana) who always fires against the best of the division. Army Wife (Mike Maker/Rosario) won the Black Eyed Susan and Iowa Oaks. Servis sends out Monmouth Oaks winner Leader of the Band (Pennington) for local owner Will Schwartz.
The $300,000 Grade II Gallant Bob (race 10) features the fastest 3-year-old sprinter in the country in Jackie’s Warrior, a neck from being unbeaten in eight one-turn races for the Asmussen/Rosario combination. The colt will be a very short price and won’t take long to negotiate the 6 furlongs. The Reid-trainer Beren, with four wins at Parx, will be among those trying to pull off a huge upset.
The $300,000 Grade III Turf Monster (race 9) is headlined by the very consistent Carotari and the brilliant Pennsylvania-bred filly Caravel, unbeaten in five grass races at 5 or 5 ½ furlongs. This race is at 5 furlongs and has been won by such greats as Ben’s Cat, Pure Sensation and Chamberlain Bridge.
The $200,000 marathon that is the Greenwood Cup (race 8) includes Math Wizard, the 30-1 upset winner of the 2019 Pa. Derby, the last one run until Saturday after last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic.
The $200,000 Parx Dirt Mile (Race 7) would be a headliner many days, with multiple stakes winner such as Mind Control ($1,299,229 in earnings) and Silver State ($1,865,094) as well as millionaire Warrior’s Charge, part owned by Parx regular Marshall Gramm’s Ten Strike Racing.
It is such a strong card that lock Parx Horse of the Year Chub Wagon will run in the first of the stakes, The $200,000 Plum Pretty (Race 6) for Pa. Breds. The 4-year-old filly, trained by Parx Hall of Famer Lupe Preciado and ridden by Jomar Torres, will be making her first start around two turns. It is a strong field, but the only chance for an upset is if Chub Wagon is not at all effective at a mile and a sixteenth. She is going to be in front so she will have a distinct tactical advantage.
The $200,000 Alphabet Soup Handicap (Race 13) for Pa. Breds going a mile and a sixteenth on grass, includes the wonderful Wait for It (12 wins, $638,108 in earnings). Almost all of that money has been earned on the main track with one grass start, a third in a 2018 Pa. Bred stake.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can check it all out on PHL 17 (4-6 p.m.), with the Pa. Derby, Cotillion and Gallant Bob live and several other stakes on tape.
More than ever, horse racing is an event-driven sport, with major events more popular than ever. Over the last decade, Pennsylvania Derby Day has become one of those events. And the 2021 version promises to be one of the very best.