With the 3-year-old male division extremely tight at the top, a pivotal matchup will take place at Parx Racing on Saturday when Nyquist and Exaggerator meet in the $1.25 million Pennsylvania Derby. The card also will showcase the undefeated champion Songbird in the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion.
On Monday, Nyquist drew post 9 and Exaggerator post 2 when 12 were entered in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby. As usual, Mario Gutierrez will be aboard Nyquist for trainer Doug O’Neill, and Kent Desormeaux will ride Exaggerator for his brother, Keith.
Both horses are expected to arrive at Parx on Wednesday, Nyquist from California and Exaggerator from Kentucky. Although it was raining in the Northeast on Monday morning, dry weather is forecast for the rest of the week, with temperatures Saturday expected to top out in the low 80s.
The unexpectedly large field is a result not only of the race’s purse but also because Nyquist has been beaten in his last two starts, the Haskell Invitational and Preakness, and Exaggerator is coming off an 11th-place finish in the Travers.
This will be the seventh meeting between the pair, with Nyquist having finished ahead of Exaggerator in four of their six previous encounters, including the Kentucky Derby and San Vicente Stakes this season. Exaggerator has taken the last two rounds, however, having won the Preakness and Haskell, races in which Nyquist finished third and fourth when favored.
While Nyquist and Exaggerator are locked in a tight divisional battle, Arrogate, who is going straight to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, is not far behind following his off-the-charts victory in the Travers for trainer Bob Baffert.
Other top contenders in the Pennsylvania Derby are Cupid (post 5), who has won the West Virginia Derby and Indiana Derby for Baffert; Gun Runner (post 7), who finished third in the Travers for Steve Asmussen; Awesome Slew (post 1), the impressive winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx for Eddie Plesa Jr.; and the rapidly improving New York-bred Hit It Once More (post 12), who is trained by Gary Sciacca.
The others are Summer Revolution (post 3), Connect (post 4), Wild About Deb (post 6), My Man Sam (post 8), Sunny Ridge (post 10), and Discreet Lover (post 11).
Cotillion: Five to face Songbird
Songbird, perfect in 10 career starts, will face five opponents in the 1 1/16-mile Cotillion, including Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia and Acorn Stakes winner Carina Mia, who finished second to Songbird in the Coaching Club American Oaks.
After her tour de force at Saratoga, where she won the CCA Oaks and Alabama Stakes, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer brought Songbird home to California and has worked her four times. She was expected to arrive at Parx on Monday following a flight into Allentown, Pa.
Mike Smith, who has ridden Songbird in all of her races, will be aboard when she breaks from post 5 in the Cotillion. Songbird, who has not been higher than 3-10 in the betting in her last six races, will again be a prohibitive favorite.
Cathryn Sophia (post 2) has the home-field advantage. Her trainer, John Servis, has long been based at Parx, and Cathryn Sophia was stabled at the track as a 2-year-old. She tuned up for the Cotillion with an effortless 6 1/2-length victory in the $150,000 Princess of Sylmar at Parx on Sept. 3.
Carina Mia (post 1) stretched out in distance to challenge Songbird in the 1 1/8-mile CCA Oaks. She looked Songbird in the eye on the far turn but ultimately was beaten 5 1/4 lengths. She has since shortened up and finished third in the seven-furlong Ballerina.
The Cotillion field also includes Disco Rose (post 3), Land Over Sea (post 4), and Queena Esther (post 6).