Big Day in PA: 3-Year-Olds Take Center Stage in Pennsylvania Derby, Cotillion

By Richard Rosenblatt

2018 Eclipse Award Winner Jaywalk and exercise rider Angel Estrada jog at Parx Racing in Bensalem, PA on Thursday morning September 19, 2019. Jaywalk will compete in Saturday’s (9/21/19) $1,000,000 Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

What else would you expect from the 3-year-old crowd?

The latest installment in this wild and crazy season of 3-year-olds saw disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security knocked out Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) from a non-career threatening bout of colic.

“So disappointing, a big blow,’’ said two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert. “Maximum Security, in my opinion, was the horse to beat, the leading 3-year-old.’’

Baffert’s Improbable inherited the morning-line favorite’s role for the 1 1/8-mile race that also features Preakness (G1) winner War of Will and Mr. Money, winner of four straight Grade 3 races.

A field of six will head to the post at Parx Racing for a race that will broadcast live on NBC from 5-6 p.m. ET.

Mark Casse, who trains third-choice War of Will, says it’s disappointing for horse racing that Maximum Security – winner of the Haskell Invitational (G1) in his most recent race – isn’t running in what would have been the first meeting between the two since the Derby kerfuffle.

War of Will was hindered by the shuffling in the stretch as Maximum Security interfered with two other horses and was DQ’d to 17th.

“He’s doing fantastic,’’ said Casse of his War Front colt, who ran ninth in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and fifth in the Jim Dandy (G2). “He looks good. He’s put on some weight. He’s matured. He is sharp. He is ready. Now, it’s just a matter of having some good racing luck.”

It’s been quite the unpredictable year on the Triple Crown trail – and beyond. Gary Barber’s War of Will won the Lecomte (G3) and the Risen Star (G2) at the Fair Grounds, and became a top Derby contender. But after a ninth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2), coupled with Omaha Beach’s victories in the Rebel (G2) and the Arkansas Derby (G1), it was trainer Richard Mandella’s colt who moved into the Derby-favorite role.

A few days before the Derby, though, Omaha Beach was scratched due to a breathing problem. Meanwhile, Maximum Security had won the Florida Derby (G1), and was unbeaten in four starts.

On to the first Saturday in May, Maximum Security finished first in the Derby by 1 ¾ lengths, but an objection was filed and after a long review the stewards DQ’d the horse owned by Gary and Mary West for interference. Country House, who was not affected by all the shuffling, finished second and was elevated to first and Code of Honor was moved up to second.

Improbable with exercise rider Efrain Santana, gallops at Parx Racing in Bensalem, PA on Thursday morning September 19, 2019 after arriving from California on Wednesday evening. The Bob Baffert trainee is the morning line favorite for Saturday’s (9/21/19) $1,000,000 Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

After War of Will won the Preakness, Casse won the Belmont Stakes three weeks later, but with his other entry, Sir Winston. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

And now, it’s on to the Pennsylvania Derby, with Improbable looking for a breakthrough win after running second in the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby,  then running fourth and ninth in the Derby and Preakness, respectively, as the favorite in each of those Triple Crown races.

Improbable was fitted with blinkers for his last race, and the City Zip colt won the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar by 2 ¾ lengths — his first win in five starts this year.

“There’s a million dollars on the line, so the race is big,’’ said Baffert, who retained Hall of Famer Mike Smith to ride. “He needs to be ridden aggressively and Mike will have to get rolling.”

Mr. Money is stepping up to the big time after a well-conducted season under trainer Bret Calhoun. The colt won the Pat Day Mile (G3) and the Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs, and then won the Indiana Derby (G3) and the West Virginia Derby (G3) to boost his earning to more than $1 million. After taking a pass at the Travers (G1) last month, this is a statement race.

“It’s time to do it,’’ said Calhoun. “We campaigned him that way, to keep him fresh toward the end of the year. It’s a lot of money, we’d be taking on the best and maybe we get a 3-year-old championship out of it.”

The way things have played out this season, who could argue with that thinking as the buildup continues toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 2?

Improbable is the 8-5 top choice, with Mr. Money at 2-1, War of Will 4-1, Math Wizard 6-1, Spun to Run 8-1 and Shanghai Superfly 30-1.

The co-feature at Parx is another $1 million race, the Cotillion (G1) for 3-year-old fillies. The 1 1/16th-mile race features the best of the best in the division: unbeaten and two-time Grade 1 winner Guarana (9-5), Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Serengeti Empress (7-2), three-time Grade 1 winner Bellafina (6-1) and two-time Grade 1 winner Jaywalk (6-1) highlight a stellar field of 11 3-year-old fillies.

The race featuring most of the top fillies in the country is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re in Race’’ for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff on Nov. 2.

“We’ve been pointing for this race for a while,” said Chad Brown, who trains Guarana. “She’s had plenty of time to recover since her last race (Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks) and we were glad to give her that time.”

Belmont Park

NYRA News: The New York Racing Association received approval this week to run the 37-day Belmont fall meet in its entirety at Belmont Park. Back in July, NYRA said it would hold part of the meet at Aqueduct due to safety concerns involving planned construction of a new hockey arena at Belmont Park.

After assessing the situation, it was determined, with agreement from horsemen and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and approval of the New York State Gaming Commission, that construction would be less impactful than originally thought.

Also, beginning Sept. 25, post time will adjust from the current 3 p.m. ET to 1 p.m. ET. The Aqueduct fall meet will run from Nov.1-Dec.1.

Kelso Handicap (G2)

With Catholic Boy out of the race with a suspensory issue, the $300,000 Kelso has a wide-open field of seven, with Prince Lucky the 2-1 favorite.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Prince Lucky will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez and leave from the No. 5. The 4-year-old gelding is making his first start since winning the State Dinner at Belmont on July xxxxxxx.

True Timber, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, is back after a six-month layoff following a ninth-place finish in the Godolphin Mile (G2) in Dubai.

“He’s ready to get going,” said McLaughlin. Joe Bravo has the call.

Also entered are Plainsman, Pat On the Back, Tale of Silence, Monongahela and Golden Brown. Both Monongahela and Golden Brown are cross-entered in the $150,000 Parx Dirt Mile on Saturday.

Nobel Damsel (G3)

Trained by Chad Brown, the 4-year-old filly has won two of three this year, and will be ridden by John Velazquez.

Brown, the nation’s leading trainer, also sends out Stella di Camelot, a 4-year-old filly who started her career in France, will be ridden by Javier Castellano. She finished third in her two previous races, in the Intercontinental (G3) and the De La Rose on Aug. 3.

Also entered are Capla Temptress, Bellavais, Valedictorian, and Betty F.

Laurel Park

A pair of Grade 3 races, the $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash and the $200,000 Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup Stakes are the co-features at Laurel on Saturday.

Glorious Empire is set to make his return in the Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup after a suspensory ligament injury sidelined the 8-year-old gelding just before the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) back in January.

Trained by James Lawrence, Glorious Empire won the Fort Lauderdale (G2) last December to close out a campaign that saw him win four of six starts, including the Bowling Green (G2) and the Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga. He then finished a disappointing 13th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

Glorious Empire is the slight 3-1 favorite after drawing the No. 8 outside post. Daniel Centeno has the mount.

Also entered are Golden Brown (cross-entered in the Kelso and Parx Dirt Mile), Up the Ante, Just Howard, Cullum Road, Macagone, Frontier Market and Caribou Club.

The DeFrancis Dash has a field of eight sprinters going six furlongs, led by slight favorite New York Central (5-2), with He Hate Me at 3-1.

New York Central is trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen and ridden by Feargal Lynch, who teamed up to win the Dash list year with Switzerland.

The 4-year-old Tapit colt won a six-furlong spring on Preakness Day in his only other start in Maryland. In his previous race, he ran seventh in the John A. Nerud Stakes (G2) at Belmont on July 6.

You have to like a horse named He Hate Me, owned by Sagamore Farm and trained by Stanley Hough.

The 4-year-old gelding is looking for his first graded stakes win, compiling a record of 4-3-2 from 11 starts. He was second behind Bon Raison in the Tale of the Cat in his previous start at Saratoga on Aug. 9. Manny Franco has the call.

Also entered are Wonderful Light, Killybegs Captain, Altissimo, Bon Raison, Sparticle and Old Time Revival.

Churchill Downs

Covfefe, winner of the Test (G1) at Saratoga, takes on five challengers in Saturday’s $125,000 Dogwood Stakes.

The seven-furlong Dogwood serves as a prep for the 3-year-old filly before the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).

Trained by Brad Cox, Covfefe defeated Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Serengeti Empress to take the Test, and has posted a pair of bullet workouts leading up to the Dogwood.

“This race fits well on the calendar and we don’t have to ship her,’’ said Cox.

Covfefe, with Shaun Bridgmohan riding, is the 3-5 favorite leaving from the No. 6 post. Also entered are Bell’s the One, Take Charge Angel, Free Cover, Istan Council and Champagne Anyone.