The team of Bob Baffert and Mike Smith could add to their record-setting resume at the Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday.
The Hall of Fame trainer and jockey are in position to win the Grade 1, $1 million race for the third consecutive year. Last year, the pair won with McKinzie; in 2017, they won with West Coast.
Baffert and Smith are the only trainer and jockey to win back-to-back editions of Parx Racing’s signature race. They have a chance to make it three in a row when they team up with Improbable, the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the 1 1/8-mile stakes.
“Anytime you can win a race of this magnitude more than once is pretty incredible,” Smith said. “No one has ever done it. It would be pretty cool.”
The only rider to ever win three editions of the race in its 39-year history is Joe Bravo, who won in 1994, 2003 and 2008.
Baffert is one of two trainers to win three Pennsylvania Derbies (his other win came with Bayern in 2014). The others are Hall of Famers Nick Zito, who won with 2005, 2008 and 2010; and Woody Stephens, who won the first running in 1979 and then in 1984 and 1988.
“I really don’t think about it.” Baffert said of the individual honors. “It’s a big race and I want to see the horse win it. We thought so highly of him earlier in the year. He has been like the young recruit who hasn’t shown his best stuff yet. Hopefully, this can put him back in the 3-year-old picture.”
Improbable has one win in five starts this year, that coming on his last start, the ungraded Shared Belief Stakes Aug. 25 at Del Mar. He was the beaten favorite in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. In the Preakness, he acted up in the gate and was never a factor, finishing sixth.
“At Del Mar, he was fine in the gate,” Baffert said. “When we school him, we take him up there and he is a puppy dog. We school him and school him … hopefully, he gets in there and behaves himself.”
Drayden Van Dyke is the regular rider for Improbable. He was involved in a spill at the end of the Del Mar meet, suffered an injury to his right arm and is unavailable. Baffert turned to his big-money rider Smith, who has been on Improbable once, in the Preakness.
Baffert said that Van Dyke would have ridden the colt if he were healthy.
“Sometimes this happens and the timing is just horrible,” Smith said. “(Van Dyke) will be back. He is feeling good.” - Tim Wilkin
Mr. Money strong again in final Parx gallop
Peter Mudd stood in the shedrow in front of Mr. Money’s stall, wiped a few drops of sweat on his forehead and upper lip and gave trainer Bret Calhoun the two-word scoop on the colt’s second day of training early Friday morning at Parx Racing.
“Whew. Strong,” Mudd said after riding the second choice for Saturday’s Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on his 1 1/2-mile gallop.
Calhoun, ready for owner Tom Chester’s arrival Friday in advance of the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, liked what he saw from the 3-year-old son of Goldencents.
“He’s strong,” Calhoun said. “That’s the way he trains every morning, that’s the way he breezes every morning. He’s very forward, puts a lot into it, and loves his job. You’re always concerned with how sharp he is. We’ve talked about it this week, but that’s pretty much him for the last several months through this win streak. That’s who he is.”
Calhoun hopes Mr. Money stays as sharp in the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby, the headline of Saturday’s card at Parx that includes the Grade 1 Cotillion and five other stakes. - Tom Law
Smarty Jones winner Spun to Run set for second Grade 1
Robert Donaldson’s Spun to Run will make his second Grade 1 start in Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Parx Racing-based trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero.
The Hard Spun colt won the Smarty Jones at Parx Sept. 2 by a head after a stretch battle with Grey Magician. The Smarty Jones was the first graded stakes victory for Spun to Run, who looks to add a Grade 1 to his resume.
“Everything is going very well with him right now,” Guerrero said. “He came back out of that race very good. All systems go so far. He’s been training really good since he ran and never really missed a beat. We worked him the other day then gave him a little blowout, and he came back good off his work.”
The Smarty Jones was the breakthrough race Guerrero and his connections waited for. The victory came roughly a month and a half since his third behind Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
“He ran big, ran huge, but that’s what I expected of him,” Guerrero said of the Smarty Jones. “He’s been unlucky before that. In the Haskell he ran big too, but Paco (Lopez) moved him out a little bit too soon, and he lost some lengths there. He was real mad at himself because he knew. He said he should have waited a little longer to go outside, but you can see this horse runs inside, outside, it doesn’t matter. It was a crazy day with the heat and all, but we still got a nice check.”
Spun to Run brings a record of 3-for-5 at Parx into the Pennsylvania Derby, including a maiden victory in his fifth start Jan. 19 and an allowance win March 23. Guerrero hoped to try graded stakes, with a prep in the April 20 Federico Tesio at Laurel, but a setback that required surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis halted those plans heading into the late spring and summer campaign.
“I was going to run him in the Tesio because I thought he could win that,” Guerrero said. “We were training toward the Tesio and one morning I’m walking next to him after a workout, and I can hear him making weird noises. I knew that wasn’t him, so we went ahead and scoped him and that’s when we found out he was entrapped.
“I was so mad. He missed the Tesio and I was going to send him to the Preakness from there, then all this happened. We didn’t know when he was going to come back. When he came back he was training really well. He had been training well before, and now he was still going well, but now I had no race to run him in. I was even looking at allowance races, but there was nothing anywhere.”
With no place to run, Guerrero opted for the July 20 Haskell and took a shot.
“I called down to (Monmouth) and I asked them if they wanted to invite me to the Haskell,” Guerrero said. “At first they were like, ‘who?’ But a few days later they called back and said they would love to have me. Everybody thought I was crazy. They were saying to me ‘why would you send that horse?’ He's young, but I see him everyday.
“When you work a horse five-eighths and more, the gallop-out usually tells you everything. This horse was galloping out after working 59 and change, he was galloping out in 12. One time I got him at a mile in (1:42), and I was like ‘wow!’ Then he did it again. The harder you train him the more he gets into it. That’s why he’s able to take these close races.”
Guerrero is confident Spun to Run is in peak form heading into the Pennsylvania Derby. The defection of Maximum Security leaves a field of six and only one – Spun to Run – with a local start.
“Parx is home for us. He loves Parx and loves the dirt,” Guerrero said. “It’s still going to be a tough race. His numbers are good with everybody in the race now. The West Coast shipper, Improbable, I really loved him in the (Kentucky) Derby. I loved him early but he’s never performed. He loves California and that’s it. It’s wide open and we have a good chance.” - Anthony Affrunti
Math Wizard adds Grade 1 start to resume
Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. visited Parx once as a fan. The third generation horseman, a native from Barbados, returned for the second time this week and will saddle Math Wizard in Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.
The Kentucky-bred colt by Algorithms stretched his legs over the Parx main track Friday to get acclimated before he makes his Grade 1 debut Saturday.
“He flew in (Thursday), and he galloped this morning and got over it (track) well,” Joseph said. “It’s going to help him with the deeper kind of track here. He doesn’t really want a hard surface. It’s going to help him run a little bit better.”
Math Wizard began his career with a fourth at Churchill Downs last November. He was claimed in three straight starts in late 2018 and early 2019, moving to Joseph’s barn Jan. 31 after leading from gate-to-finish in an 18 1/2-length victory at 1 mile against claiming foes.
A second in his debut for his new barn was followed by a fourth at 64-1 odds in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct April 6. Still seeking his first graded stakes victory, his conditioner has been pleased with his colt’s efforts.
“He’s come a long way,” he said. “We claimed him for $25,000, and have been fortunate. He’s an overachiever. He tries hard. He’s had a hard campaign over his last few races, but we freshened him up a bit, so we’re here to hopefully get a piece of it.”
Following the Wood Memorial, the colt was shipped to Oaklawn Park where he added another fourth in the Oaklawn Invitational Stakes May 4. He returned in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby June 22 at Thistledown, and closed through the stretch to lead by a head before being beat by a half-length by Owendale. A third in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby July 13 was followed by a lackluster sixth in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby Aug. 2.
The Pennsylvania Derby, now with the defection of multiple Grade 1-winning speedster Maximum Security, is a different race than what Joseph and his connections entered Monday. They hope to see their colt rebound from his last performance and display his usual effort.
“With Maximum Security out it opens the race up,” Joseph said. “If we get some pace up front, it looks like Improbable is going to the lead, but if they let him go he’ll keep going. Mr. Money and a few have to watch him closely for their best chance to win. They could hook up and the race could fall apart. You never know. We’ll be thankful if he runs third or fourth. Whatever happens after that is a bonus.
“If people knew Maximum Security wasn’t coming it would be a 12-horse field. It was John’s (owner John Fanelli) decision, the majority owner, to come here and take a shot, and I’m glad he entered. We were looking at Remington, to enter the Oklahoma Derby, and it was coming up pretty competitive also, but the way it worked out this may be the better spot. It’s a smaller field, but it’s a good field.”
Math Wizard, co-owned by the trainer with John Fanelli, Collamele Vitelli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannia Zoumas, Wynwood Thoroughbreds, is one of 56 horses Joseph conditions at his home base at Gulfstream Park.
The 32-year-old trainer, who became the youngest trainer to win the Barbados Triple Crown with Areutalkintome 2009, credits those who employ him and those who work for him as the reason for his success. Math Wizard will be his first Grade 1 starter in the U.S. since coming from Barbados in 2011.
“We have good owners, and that’s the key,” Joseph said. “Without good owners and good workers, good riders, good grooms, et cetera, they’re the reason for us to have success. You need team players.” - Anthony Affrunti
War of Will set for Saturday morning arrival
Five of the six horses scheduled to run in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby are on the grounds at Parx Racing. The sixth, Preakness Stakes winner War of Will, is shipping from Belmont Park early Saturday morning.
Trainer Mark Casse said that the Gary Barber-owned War of Will would leave Belmont at 5 a.m. EDT Saturday and is set to arrive at Parx around 8 a.m.
“This is something we do all the time,” Casse said. “We have had horses ship five or six hours the day of a race. My thought is that I would rather have him in his house in the morning until he has to race.”
When Casse announced that War of Will was going to run in the Pennsylvania Derby, he decided he was going to send the son of War Front to Belmont once the meet at Saratoga Race Course ended on Labor Day. War of Will spent the summer in upstate New York but, because of the destination of his next race, the colt was shipped to Belmont rather than Lexington, Ky., where he trained after the Triple Crown races.
“Shorter trip,” Casse said about comparing the journey to Parx between Belmont and Keeneland. “He is a pro. He will be fine.”
Casse said he planned to arrive at Parx at approximately 11 a.m.
War of Will is the only horse to run in all three jewels of the Triple Crown. He was seventh in the Kentucky Derby (via the DQ of Maximum Security) and ninth in the Belmont Stakes. He finished fifth in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga last time out July 27. - Tim Wilkin
Serengeti Empress settled in for Cotillion
Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress has settled in nicely in her barn on the Parx Racing backstretch since arriving from Kentucky Wednesday for her start in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion.
“She really shipped in well,” said Katy Allen, who traveled with the filly for trainer Tom Amoss. “She’s been really relaxed since she’s been here. When we shipped in for the Acorn (at Belmont Park) that was like the first time she really shipped long distance, and had to run like that with Guarana. She was just looking to run then, but now she’s been super relaxed. She’s usually just chill. She’s the nicest horse I get to travel with disposition-wise.”
The Alternation filly will make her 11th career start in the Cotillion, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She brings two runner-up finishes with her in the Grade 1 Acorn and Grade 1 Test since her victory in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs May 4.
The Oaks win was her second as a 3-year-old along with a front-running score in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in February.
Joel Politi’s filly is now familiar with the Parx landscape, after being given a tour of her surroundings under Allen’s care of Allen until Amoss arrives Friday afternoon.
“We came in on Wednesday and we jogged Thursday, then just jogged 1 mile and galloped 1 (Friday),” Allen said. “We stopped at the paddock and went through it, then she went to the gate, and stood, so everything went good. We couldn’t ask for anything to go better.
“This is a deep field. It’s arguably tougher or as tough as the Oaks. All these fillies in here all have a shot.” - Anthony Affrunti
Bellafina handles Parx surface in gallops
Kaleem Shah’s multiple Grade 1 winner Bellafina spent two days settling in at Parx Racing after shipping from Southern California for her start in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion.
The Simon Callaghan trainee will make her fourth consecutive Grade 1 start Saturday. She’s taken several laps of the 1-mile Parx ovals in her two morning training sessions, galloping and jogging under the supervision of assistant trainer Carlos Santamaria.
“We got here on Wednesday,” Santamaria said. “She travels pretty well. She handled the track pretty good, both yesterday and today. She just galloped and went easy, and she’s done really well. She seems like she’s pretty happy and likes the track and everything.”
Santamaria and members of Callaghan’s team readied the Quality Road filly for a visit to the paddock late Friday morning for schooling, but skipped a trip to the starting gate unlike others who arrived this week for Saturday stakes engagements.
“I don’t like to take them to the starting gate,” Santamaria said. “Because she’s running a mile and a sixteenth, you don’t want to get her too sharp and get her to run off or something like that. She’s OK with that.”
Bellafina began her career as a winner first-out then stepped up and captured the Grade 2 Sorrento at Del Mar. She then rattled off two straight Grade 1 wins in the Del Mar Debutante and Chandelier at Santa Anita Park. The Kentucky-bred ended her 2-year-old year with a fourth as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs.
Bellafina started her 3-year-old season strong with three victories beginning with the Grade 2 Santa Ynez at Santa Anita, then the Grade 2 Las Virgenes before a 5 1/4-length win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. She finished fifth as the favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, 8 lengths behind Cotillion rival Serengeti Empress, before a resolute third in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga.
The earner of $1,162,125 from 10 starts will return with blinkers in the Cotillion. She hasn’t worn them since her third career start in the Del Mar Debutante. Callaghan removed them for her next start in the Chandelier.
“She’s going to run back with blinkers again so that’s going to help a lot and hopefully it will keep her closer on Saturday,” Santamaria said. “It’s a speed track but I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how the track has been deep lately, and the track might be a little more even for everybody tomorrow. The blinkers will help keep her a little closer and a little more honest.” - Anthony Affrunti
Jones takes lighter approach with Street Band
Larry Jones and Street Band put some mileage in during Wednesday’s trip from Churchill Downs to Parx Racing for the $1 million Cotillion Stakes – roughly 700 to be somewhat precise – and the veteran Kentucky trainer hopes a lighter training regime for the Istan filly produces a result in Saturday’s Grade 1 co-feature.
“We know we’re fit,” Jones said. “We’re probably looking at a lack of miles though from the last race to her, but by design. We haven’t trained her as hard.
“She still comes in with only two works. We’re finding out that we don’t need to work her every week. We’ll work her one week, skip the next and she doesn’t seem to get as rank on us that way. And that’s the way Sophie (Doyle) is liking her.”
Doyle, who will ride the 8-1 fifth choice in the field of 11 3-year-old fillies, breezed Street Band 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 Monday at Churchill. She also worked her 12 days before in the identical time in Street Band’s only other work between the Cotillion and her third-place finish in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Alabama Aug. 17.
“The work (Monday) wasn’t as quick as how we worked for the Alabama, but she told me she did it better, she started off so relaxed,” Jones said.
“Sophie said, ‘once I squeezed on her at about the three-sixteenths pole, she came home.’ She galloped out in 13 and 2. Sophie said she thought it was a better work than before.”
Street Band shipped to Parx Wednesday, walked the shedrow Thursday and took her first trip around the main track Friday after the break. Under Jones and decked out in her usual draw reins and blinkers, Street Band made about a quarter-mile walk on the horse path along the backstretch before going on the track near the half-mile pole gap. She galloped around the far turn, through the lane and pulled up approaching the backstretch.
Jones walked her to the starting gate, arriving to a short schooling session at the same time as fellow Cotillion entrant and Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress. Jones originally planned to give Street Band a look at the paddock near the entrance to the first turn just past the finish, but changed plans when he got a look at the scene galloping the filly through the lane.
“The rail was up and I didn’t want to jump it,” he said. “That was OK. She was good out there and good at the gate. She didn’t want to walk back there at first but she followed Serengeti Empress. She said, ‘I’m used to following her anyway.’ I did let the gate crew know her and that if she’s a little apprehensive that it’s just her.”
The Cotillion, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, attracted a field that also includes last year’s champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk, unbeaten two-time Grade 1 winner Guarana and three-time Grade 1 winner Bellafina.
“It’s the best filly and mare race of the year,” Jones said. “These are some of the best ones out of the Kentucky Oaks. And Chad Brown’s horse (Guarana) didn’t run in the Oaks yet here she is and she’s the favorite. It’s a tough spot. We have to hope everything goes well and she gets the trip.” - Tom Law
Hollendorfer on the scene with King Jack
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer made his first appearance this week on the Parx Racing backstretch Friday to oversee the training of King Jack, the 2-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes.
“He is doing really good,” said Hollendorfer, who made the trip in from Southern California. “His works have been very good.”
The Michael Stinson-owned King Jack, a winner of two of three career starts, galloped on the main track just after 9 a.m. Friday during the time allotted to horses running in the Saturday stakes at Parx.
Before heading East, King Jack worked a half-mile from the gate in :48.60 last Saturday at Los Alamitos.
“It was slow the first part and then he really picked it up and came home,” Hollendorfer said. “We were pretty happy about that.”
Unraced at 2, King Jack won his first two starts this year and was last seen in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar Aug. 25. He finished a distant second in that race, beaten 7 1/2 lengths by Improbable, the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.
Hollendorfer originally considered sending King Jack to Saratoga Race Course to run in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens on Travers Day, Aug. 24. He changed his mind when trainer Richard Mandella decided not to run Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby who did not run because of an entrapped epiglottis, in the Shared Belief.
“When Richard Mandella decided not to run, we thought we would have a better chance staying home with a short field, but you had Bob Baffert’s horse (Improbable) to contend with,” said Hollendorfer, who finished second in the 2007 Gallant Bob with Double Action. “We got a little more behind the pace than we intended to and it was hard to close ground. We thought running second n that race was a pretty good race going around two turns.”
Joel Rosario will ride the son of Jimmy Creed in the Gallant Bob. Mike Smith was aboard King Jack in his first three starts. - Tim Wilkin
Wagering opportunities abound Saturday
Parx Racing will offer four Pick 4s on Pennsylvania Derby Day, including two all-stakes Pick 4s.
The first Pick 4 kicks off the card with the opening four races starting at 12:25 p.m. EDT.
The second Pick 4 of the day – and first all-stakes wager – starts in the fifth race with Alphabet Soup Handicap and continues with the Plum Pretty, Turf Amazon and Parx Dirt Mile.
The third Pick 4 starts in the eighth race with the Parx Dirt Mile, continues with the Grade 2 Gallant Bob and Grade 1 Cotillion and ends with the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.
The final Pick 4 of the day features the last four races on the card – the Grade 1 Cotillion and Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby and races 12 and 13.
The opening races on the card are named for TVG and run as the TVG Future Stars. Caton Bredar will make the winner’s presentation for the first, a 7-furlong $75,000 maiden for 2-year-old fillies on the main track. Rich Perlof will make the presentation for the second, a 7-furlong $75,000 maiden for 2-year-olds on the main track.
The Gallant Bob, Cotillion and Pennsylvania Derby are part of the New York Racing Association’s Cross Country Pick 5. The special all-stakes edition of the Cross Country Pick 5 starts with the Gallant Bob at 4:34 p.m. and continues with the Cotillion at 5:14 p.m. The Sweet Briar Too at Woodbine is the third race in the series, with the Pennsylvania Derby and Kelso Handicap at Belmont finishing the wager.
The wager features a minimum bet of 50 cents and includes a mandatory payout of the entire pool.
Cap giveaway, family fun in Picnic Grove
Fans who come out to Parx Racing Saturday will receive a free Pennsylvania Derby baseball cap (while supplies last) and can enjoy some family fun in the Picnic Grove and throughout the facility. Activities include pony rides, face painters, Moonbounce, temporary tattoo, live music, a jockey t-shirt toss, souvenir merchandise for sale, horseshoe decorating with a donation and food and beverage specials.