I thought the only way Maximum Security could lose Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby at Parx was if the colt did not run. Well, the Kentucky Derby “winner for 20 minutes” is not running after a severe bout with colic Monday.
So, it’s on to Plan B which, in this case, will be Bob Baffert and Mike Smith, the trainer/jockey exacta that won the last two Pa. Derbies with West Coast and McKinzie.
A very good friend, who also happens to be one of the sharpest gamblers I know, got 125-1 the morning of Nov. 2, 2018 on the Baffert-trained Improbable to win the 2019 Kentucky Derby. That afternoon at Churchill Downs, before the Breeders’ Cup Friday races commenced, Improbable crushed the field in the Street Sense Stakes; running every bit as well as stablemate Game Winner did later that afternoon in winning the BC Juvenile.
Six months later, Improbable, with late money pouring in, went off as the 4-1 Derby favorite. My friend had made a great bet, but the colt never really fired and finished fifth before being moved up to fourth when Maximum Security was disqualified from first and placed 17th. Two weeks later, Improbable was no better in the Preakness, finishing sixth.
Baffert gave the colt a long vacation and did not bring him back to the races until Aug. 25 at Del Mar. Improbable overwhelmed three other horses in the Shared Belief Stakes, getting a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure, a number that will definitely win the Pa. Derby.
This, finally, was the colt that showed all that promise last year. Combine that figure with an obvious tactical advantage (unless Improbable has gate issues that he has had in the past, the colt looks like he can control the race from the front) and the Baffert/Smith angle, Improbable is the most likely winner.
After two poor efforts in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy, Preakness winner War of Will appears as if he was much better in May than he is now. I am going to try to get him off my tickets.
I have nothing bad to say about Mr. Money. The colt has been brilliant in winning four straight in Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia. This is his first try in a Grade I since he was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup. But he may be this good. And Parx players will remember his trainer, Bret Calhoun, who brought the wonderful Chamberlain Bridge to the track five times to run in the Turf Monster, a race the great grass sprinter won in 2009 and 2010 when the track was still called Philadelphia Park.
The Improbable-Mr. Money exacta is not going to pay anything so I am going to play the Pennsylvania Derby like I played the Haskell, substituting Improbable for Maximum Security on top.
That day at Monmouth Park, I used Maximum Security on top of Parx-based Spun to Run in an exacta and on top of Mucho Gusto and Spun to Run in a trifecta. It came Maximum Security-Mucho Gusto-Spun to Run, and I had time to visit the cashier’s window before the post race press conference.
Spun to Run came off that race to run brilliantly in winning the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx on Labor Day. I think he’s going to run great again, but not quite good enough to beat Improbable.
So it’s an Improbable-Spun to Run exacta and an Improbable-Mr. Money-Spun to Run trifecta, a 2-5 exacta, a 2-6-5 tri.
The Pa. Derby will be the highlight of a 13-race card that features seven stakes, $3.24 million in pursues and many of the biggest names in the sport _ jockeys Jose Ortiz, his brother Irad, Joel Rosario and Mike Smith, as well as trainers Chad Brown, Jerry Hollendorfer, Todd Pletcher, Doug O’Neill and Bob Baffert.
Brown, America’s dominant trainer with nearly $120 million in earnings over the last five years, has unbeaten 3-year-old filly Guarana in the Cotillion Stakes, with post time set for 5:14 p.m., 34 minutes before the Pa Derby.
Unlike the Pennsylvania Derby, which has just six horses, the Cotillion has 11, including Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress and 2018 2-year-old filly champion Jaywalk.
Serengeti Empress drew the rail that is perfect for her running style. There are no secrets. She will be sent to the front and try to stay there the whole way. She has won four stakes races doing it exactly like that.
Guarana has only raced three times, but she has already won two Grade I stakes and breezed by Serengeti Empress in the Acorn. She will be favored and not at all easy to beat.
Jaywalk was much better last year than she has been this year. She did not draw favorably with the 11 post and Rosario will have to find a way to get her comfortable.
If you are looking for a semi-longshot, consider Street Band who has been solid all year.
If you are looking to solve a mystery, look hard at Bellafina. She has won six straight in California, but has been 0-for-3 on trips east, losing badly each time as the favorite.