Pennsylvania Derby belongs to Bayern

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Jimmy Barnes, Kaleem Shah and Martin Garcia sat at a table in the Parx East Room and talked about the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby Saturday evening. Moments earlier, their horse Bayern set a track record in winning the $1 million Grade 2 stakes for 3-year-olds.

The assistant trainer, owner and jockey – respectively – talked about the beauty of an easy lead, the trans-continental resilience of the Thoroughbred, the thrill of taking down Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner California Chrome, the next steps in a potential championship season.

Then Garcia, sitting between the others, stopped everybody. And redirected the conversation.

“I need to say something,” he said. “We have to give the whole credit to Bayern because you need to have a horse like him to compete with good horses. Today is a really special day for him. He showed all these beautiful people that he can do anything, anywhere. I’m so happy for him.”

The jockey spoke volumes, reminding anyone that racing – for all its glitz, glamour, rich purses, big events and slots-boosted purses – is decided by the horses. Bayern, trained in California by Bob Baffert, visited his eighth track this year when he shipped to Parx. Unraced at 2, the son of Pennsylvania sire Offlee Wild won his debut at Santa Anita in January. He added an allowance win there in February, then went on the road – Oaklawn (third in the Arkansas Derby), Churchill Downs (first, disqualified to second in the Derby Trial), Pimlico (ninth in the Preakness), Belmont Park (a powerhouse win in the Woody Stephens), Monmouth Park (another romp in the Haskell) and Saratoga (a dull 10th in the Travers).

He’s flown more than the Wallendas.

Saturday, he broke running for Garcia from post four and cleared the horses to his inside. On the rail, California Chrome took up a stalking spot but was soon joined by C J’s Awesome from the outside of the eight-horse field. The Derby/Preakness winner never got clear and fought jockey Victor Espinoza on the first turn as Bayern got the first quarter-mile in :24.07. After a half in :47.89, Bayern was still galloping and still proving difficult to catch. The Kentucky-bred zipped 6 furlongs in 1:10.88, cut the corner and was gone – getting 1 1/8 miles in a track record 1:46.96. He won by 5 3/4 lengths over Tapiture with Candy Boy third. California Chrome wound up sixth.

The winner won for the fifth time in nine starts, all this year, while earning $562,000 for Virginia resident Shah. Bayern sold for $320,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s 2-year-old sale at Timonium last May. He’s earned $1.6 million and could be in line for an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old and perhaps even Horse of the Year with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 1.

Barnes said the bay colt recovered quickly from the Travers debacle.

“Once we got back to Del Mar, we gave him four or five days off and he came right back out of it,” Barnes said. “He showed that he was ready to train on. His works were very good. He’s always a really good work horse, but his works were phenomenal. His weight was good, his color, he was happy. He was just doing very good.”

Like Garcia, Barnes paid credit to the horse who bounced out of an ugly last in a field of 10 at Saratoga to work sharply at Santa Anita, get back on an airplane, fly to Philadelphia and return to form.

“It takes a pretty nice horse to do it, it takes a well-mannered horse,” Barnes said. “He’s got a very good mind on him. He handled everything very well today. He handles shipping very well. That really helps. You don’t want a nervous horse shipping back and forth across the country. They lose too much weight, they back off their feed. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all.”

Unstoppable in the Cotillion

One race before Bayern’s tour de force, leading 3-year-old filly Utapable collected her fifth win in six starts this year in the $1 million Cotillion. The Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred rated behind Jojo Warrior and Cassatt early, rallied three wide on the turn and scored by a length despite drifting in the stretch for jockey Rosie Napravnik. Sweet Reason rallied for second with Jojo Warrior third.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, the daughter of Tapit put the divisional crown on ice by adding the Cotillion to wins in the Rachel Alexandra, Fair Grounds Oaks, Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose. She was fifth in the Haskell vs. males, but is otherwise perfect this year.

 “You know horse racing, a lot of things added up to it wasn’t her day,” Asmussen said of the Haskell. “She came out of it, rebounded, performed and acted really well. It’s always a little bit of who are you afterward? To get beat in the Haskell and have it not cost you the Cotillion, a Grade 1, I think it speaks to who she is.”

In the paddock afterward, Asmussen accepted plenty of thanks from Parx staffers and horsemen for shipping the likely champion to Philadelphia.

“That is the nicest thing you could possibly hear,” he said. “When you’re with a horse like this, you just want people to feel about them the same way you do. That’s what you want. You just want people to admire and respect her as much as you do.”

NOTES: An overflow crowd packed the track, gradually filling most of the plant – from the rail on the apron to the upper reaches of the grandstand. There were plenty of purple California Chrome shirts and hats (some homemade) plus attractions such as the All Star Buglers and God Bless America sung by Philadelphia Flyers fixture Lauren Hart . . . The all-sources handle of $10,396,671 on the 13-race card smashed the record of $5,519,897 set last year on Pennsylvania Derby Day . . . Parx-based Pennsylvania-bred Favorite Tale won the Grade 3 Gallant Bob to remain unbeaten in four starts at his home track. Owned and bred by Paul Conaway, the 3-year-old son of Tale Of The Cat overcame a slight stumble at the break to make the lead and stay there under John Bisono. Trained by Lupe Preciado, the winner collected his fifth win of the year but first since May . . . The Elkstone Group’s Edge Of Reality won the Alphabet Soup Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for state-breds, by holding off Roadhog late. Trained by Graham Motion, the winner scored by three-quarters of a length as a slight favorite for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.

Pennsylvania Derby Day Slide Show.