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.”
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