The top three finishers from this year’s Kentucky Derby (GI) — Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun Runner — all meet up for the last time as sophomores in the last major dirt derby of the year in Saturday’s $1.25 million Pennsylvania Derby (GI) at Parx. In fact, Nyquist and Exaggerator will meet for the seventh time and each went their separate ways after this year’s grueling Triple Crown trail. Now, heading into the end of the season, all eye big year-end races and potentially championship honors — which may depend on what happens in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race.
Fall may finally be settling into the Pennsylvania area, as the very warm temperatures during the week are dropping, going from the upper 80s to the mid-70s by post time on Pennsylvania Derby Day. Clear skies are expected, as is a fast main track all day.
Though the race hasn’t had any impact on the Triple Crown picture, some impressive runners have emerged as winner of the fall fixture, including Summer Squall, Macho Uno, Harlan’s Holiday, Will Take Charge, Bayern and Frosted. Perhaps the most exciting running of the nine-furlong race was in 1986, when millionaire and eventual top sire Broad Brush blew the far turn with a seven-length lead and appeared headed to the beer stands at the head of the lane without permission from jockey Angel Cordero Jr. The job the rider did to get his horse back to business and actually win the race (nearer the outside rail) is legendary and must be seen to be believed.
Hoping for no such shenanigans this year, a field of 12 will go postward in the day’s main event, which has been carded as the 11th and with a post time of 5:45 p.m. ET.
Since his runner-up performance in the Kentucky Derby, Exxagerator has either finished really well or really poorly. He won the Preakness Stakes (GI) before finishing 11th in the Belmont Stakes (GI), then won the Haskell Stakes (GI) before finishing 11th in the Travers Stakes (GI). Trainer Keith Desormeaux took the son of Curlin back to Churchill Downs to train, a smart move since the colt arguably never looked better getting ready for the Derby there back in the spring. He’s raced a lot, but at his best he’s tough.
Nyquist lost the first race of his career when third in the Preakness and then followed it up with a dismal fourth in the Haskell. Everyone knows that last year’s juvenile champ and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) winner is a better horse than his last two showed and maybe the grueling pace of making the Triple Crown caught up.
Looking a bit weary last out, trainer Doug O’Neill sent the Paul Reddam-owned son of Uncle Mo to the privacy of San Luis Rey Downs to train for the past six weeks and the colt has reportedly looked very much like his old self recently. His best makes him a very, very tough customer.
Gun Runner won the Matt Winn Stakes (GII) at Churchill after his third in the Derby, but hasn’t been much of a factor in two starts since, though he was third in the Travers, beaten 15 lengths. He’s a good horse, but when he’s up against the best in his division he’s had to settle for minor awards. Steve Asmussen is having a great year, what with that little Hall of Fame induction, and he knows how to get a horse ready for big races. This one will need the performance of his life to win, but stranger things have happened.
Cupid is looking for his third Derby win in a row and is back in top form after undergoing throat surgery after finishing 10th as the favorite in the Arkansas Derby (GII) earlier this spring. With the exception of his first race back in June off the two-month break, where he ran aggressively and failed to finish well, he’s done nothing wrong in the mornings or afternoons. Rafael Bejarano, one of trainer Bob Baffert’s go-to riders, seems to get along well with this speedy son of Tapit and the pair will no doubt set sail for the front soon after the break.
Sunny Ridge is a consistent son of the great Holy Bull and while he’s not shown a ton at the elite level, he’s certainly never one to toss, especially with a career line of 8-3-2-1. The Withers Stakes (GIII) winner was a strong third in the Haskell in early August last out, which can be argued as his best effort despite not winning. He’s only started three times this year compared to the eight starts from Exaggerator and seven from Cupid and he may be another who is a cut below the best. But he is a good, solid runner who gives his best every time and deserves an extra look when handicapping.
Summer Revolution is lightly raced and stepping up after a fourth last out in the King’s Bishop Stakes (GII) a month ago. He’s stretching out for the first time, but is absolutely bred for the distance.
Awesome Slew drew the rail and will need to hustle to get to his preferred spot on the lead after the break if he hopes to not be trapped by traffic before hitting the clubhouse turn. If he duplicates his seven-length win in the Smarty Jones Stakes (GIII) over the track last out he looks good to claim a piece for Live Oak Plantation, trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. and Paco Lopez.
Connect looked great after winning three in a row heading into the Travers for owner Paul Pompa Jr. and trainer Chad Brown, but he wasn’t much of a factor in his grade 1 debut and was beaten 21 lengths in that sixth-place finish. He’s back in maybe a softer spot, but he’d need his best to beat the top runners.
Wild About Deb was second to Awesome Slew last out and is multiple stakes placed, but this is by far the toughest field the son of Eskendereya has faced.
My Man Sam looked like a promising force to be reckoned with in the division after a second-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) in April, but in three starts since, including the Derby and the Travers, he’s been beaten double digits in two and defeated a neck in allowance company. He’ll need more than his high-profile connections (Sheep Pond Partners, Chad Brown and Julien Leparoux) to be the winner here.
Hit It Once More has been a productive New York-bred stakes performer, but takes a huge jump here.
Discreet Lover is probably better suited to the allowance and non-graded stakes ranks.