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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, September 18, 2018 at 2:26 PM

When key 3-year old Stakes races are discussed it isn’t often that past graduates of the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby are recollected. And once again in 2018 the race is unlikely before, and after, to get the attention it deserves.

Part of that is due to the time of the season. The Triple Crown is long past, the Haskell has been run, the Travers has had its showcase and even scant interest in possible emerging runners from the Indiana Derby and Ohio Derby has come and gone

There is also an absence of big names. Justify is already getting some pointers from American Pharoah as he joins his fellow Triple Crown Winner and awaits the ladies at Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud. Travers winner Catholic Boy is preparing for his eventual attempt to be the thirteenth 3-year old to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic from 35 Editions of the race.

BC Juvenile winner and Kentucky Derby runner up Good Magic, who was among the Top Five 3-year olds on most lists all Spring and Summer until his unexpected disaster in the Travers will, according to trainer Chad Brown, take the rest of the year off. Also regrouping after a disappointing showing in the Travers is Gronkowski while suddenly back in the picture Mendelssohn will skip Saturday’s Grade 1  Pennsylvania Derby as trainer Aiden O’Brien plots the next move for the colt.

However, there is little reason for despair because a number of familiar hard knocking 3-year olds who have flirted with top line divisional fame as well as a number of late developers will be very much in attendance for Saturday’s affair.


Before I take a look at what can only be hailed as a no-clear-favorite-deep Pennsylvania Derby field in 2018 it is worth noting that the top finishers in this race have more than just been useful upper level runners in their subsequent races and further careers, they have done the race proud. And in creating the recent list below it is important to remember these were 3-year olds who faced older in their next starts.

2017 – WEST COAST – Winner – Ran second in the BC Classic to 2017 Horse Of The Year GUN RUNNER and then second to that one again in the Grade 1 Pegasus Cup in January of this year.
2016 – GUN RUNNER – Second in the Pa. Derby – ran second in the BC Dirt Mile and then proceeded to win 7 of his final 8 careers races, including the 2017 BC Classic and the Grade 1 Pegasus at the beginning of this year to end his career.
2015 – FROSTED – Winner - Did not fare well in the BC Classic but returned as a 4-year old to capture the Grade 1 Metropolitan at Belmont and Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.
2014 – BAYERN – Winner repeated as the winner of the BC Classic, becoming the first of three straight sophomores to accomplish the feat…AMERICAN PHAROAH in 2015 and ARROGATE in 2016.
2013 – WILL TAKE CHARGE – Winner ran a bang up second in the BC Classic to hard knocking veteran MUCHO MACHO MAN.
2011 – RULER ON ICE – Ran second in the Pa. Derby then followed up with a competitive third in the BC Classic.
2010 – MORNING LINE – Winner was a speedy miler went on to a just miss second in the BC Dirt Mile.

The collective legacy is deep. So here we go. Which runners collect the Win and underneath positions in the Pennsylvania Derby combo bets and then how do we speculate they fit in the upcoming Breeders Cup Races?


We’ve had the buildup. Now let’s get down to the essentials and take a look at the ten 3-year olds set to do battle in the mile and an eighth $1 Million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby (Race 11 on the 13 race program which includes 5 Stakes Races.)

FIRST MONDAY’S (15-1) – The lightly raced son of Curlin will be making just his fourth career start after finishing 3rd in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones here at PARX a month ago. In that local prep for this test he had a tough trip yet closed well to finish third behind winner AXLEROD, who is also in the field. Experience, distance and late development have always been Curlin progeny attributes and it doesn’t hurt that the colt is in the hands of John Servis, who is currently winning with 28% of his starters at PARX or that he gets the services of Frankie Pennington with whom he has a 32% success rate at5 the meet.

HOFBURG (3-1) – There is still considerable buzz about this Bill Mott trained son of Tapit despite the fact that he has only run 5 times and has but two wins. After he crushed his opponents in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga instead of running in the traditional local Travers prep, the Jim Dandy, the next day, he was still withheld from the Travers. The colt has had interruptions in the past and after the Jim Dandy showed no public works from August 12 until September 3. He has worked three times since, however, including “best of” breezes at Saratoga on The 9th and 16th of this month. His second behind Audible in the Florida Derby and third behind Justify and Gronkowski in the Belmont make him a good fit in here. Regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. remains.

INSTILLED REGARD (15-1) – The last time we saw this son of Arch he was collecting his fourth straight 4th place finish of the year in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby while still in the barn of Jerry Hollendorfer. The colt has obviously had problems but was thought of enough to be sent off as the 7-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds and after that disappointing effort went back west for another 4th in the Santa Anita Derby prior to his Run for the Roses 4th. Now in the barn of Chad Brown it would not be a complete surprise if the colt bounces back, especially given his five straight sharp 5 furlong drills at Saratoga and Belmont since August 19. Jose Ortiz takes the assignment.

KING ZACHARY (20-1) – Another son of Curlin, this Dale Romans trainee was not buried by his competition in the Grade 1 Travers last out. He rallied 5 wide and finished a 6 ½ lengths beaten 4th, but was only 2 lengths behind Mendelssohn and a length back of BRAVAZO. Who he’ll see again in here. He’ll also meet AXELROD and TRIGGER WARNING, each of whom bested him in the Indiana Derby when he was the 8-5 favorite and finished 2 ¾ lengths back. But in the Travers he was well clear of TRIGGER WARNING so if that Indiana Derby favoritism and Travers improvement are keys he could be a factor.

CORE BELIEFS (10-1) – If you can forgive his fourth place finish in the Haskell Invitational in his last out, when he bobbled at the break and lost all chance, the Peter Eurton trained son of Quality Road is another who fits well in here. Prior to the Haskell he was a winner of the Ohio Derby, second in the Peter Pan after stumbling at the start and rushing to make the pace and third in the Santa Anita Derby behind Triple Crown winner Justify and Bolt d’Oro. He has been back at Santa Anita since the Haskell and if his last two 6 furlong drills at his home base before shipping to PARX are any indication he is ready to fire a good effort. Jockey Joe Talamo, who was aboard for the only time in the Ohio Derby win, makes the trip.

AXELROD (5-1) – The son of Warrior’s Reward has become an interesting prospect since leaving Southern California two races back. Primarily a front running mile speed type the Michael McCarthy trained colt was an off the pace winner in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby and again in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes here in preparation for this. He seems to be improving at the right time for a conditioner who might not be a national name on the Graded Race Stakes scene but holds a 23% success rate from 39 starters in those attempts so is certainly capable. McCarthy has returned to his So Cal base after his last two wins so one has to wonder if his 5th cross country trip since Mid-July will have an impact. Jockey Joe Bravo, who was in the irons in the Smarty Jones gets the call again.

MR. FREEZE (12-1) – The son of Honor And Serve did not begin his career until April of this year and will be making just his 5th career start in the Pennsylvania Derby. The colt is in good hands with trainer Dale Romans and has been brought along slowly with 3 wins and a second from his 4 starts. The colt earned his start here by his dominant win in the West Virginia Derby in early August. If the WV Derby and his last two 5 furlong breezes at Churchill Downs are any indication, his good tactical speed could put him in this early and his stamina breeding on the grand sire and dam sire side (Bernardini and Tabasco Cat respectively) could indicate he might be this good.  Romans go to guy Albarado remains aboard.

MCKINZIE (5-2) – The son of Street Sense was on the Southern California leader board in late winter after being put up in the Los Alamitos Futurity to end his juvenile campaign and opening this year by eclipsing the Sham Stakes. In his next start he won and was disqualified to second in the San Felipe on March 4. He came up injured after that race and this will be his first start since. The phrase “in hand” is used a little too much for my liking but it applies perfectly for the colt’s return. Since he commenced public works on August 1, trainer Bob Baffert has sent him out exactly every 6 days, which culminated in a half mile blowout at Santa Anita on Monday before shipping east. Included in the process were three straight 7 furlong drills. He appears ready and Mike Smith makes the trip.

TRIGGER WARNING (20-1) – After competitive efforts in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby (third behind CORE BELIEFS and Lone Sailor) and in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby (second behind AXELROD) the son of Candy Ride ran to his 79-1 odds in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes. It does appear that the colt adds more speed to what looks to be a contested early pace race, and the shortened race, from 10 furlongs in the Travers to 9 furlongs here could help but neither trainer Mike Rone or jockey Irwin Rosendo have competed at the track and the conditioner is 0-for-20 with shippers so this guy has much to prove.

BRAVAZO (6-1) – A colt who has little to prove as far as his competitive edge and durability is BRAVAZO. The Wayne Lukas trainee might have only won 3 of 13 lifetime but he has danced every dance without a break this year, showed up virtually every time and despite only the 3 wins has banked $1,106,528 in purse money. Since Lukas switched to jockey Luis Saez the son of Awesome Again has checked in second in the Grade 1 Preakness, second in the Grade 1 Haskell and third in the Grade 1 Travers. The colt has the kind of versatile running style that puts him in position to stalk a slower pace or track a bit quicker pace before closing. This is arguably the softest spot he has seen since winning the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in February. He must be respected.  

I see a strong possibility for generous exotic returns in this race and will combine it with Race 9 (the Gallant Bob Stakes) and Race 10 (the Cotillion Stakes) for a solid PICK 3…those selections will be available after 3 PM (Eastern) on Friday, 9/21.


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