Saffie Joseph, Jr. is well aware of what it means to win his first Grade 1 race in North America. The Barbados native had a lot of success in his home country, becoming the youngest trainer ever to saddle a Triple Crown winner at the age of 22. Ten years later, co-owner Joseph sent out $25,000 claim Math Wizard to win Saturday's Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby for his partners John Fanelli, Collamele Vitelli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannia Zoumas, and Wynwood Thoroughbreds. The 31-1 longshot and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. ran nine furlongs in 1:50 4/5 over Parx Racing's fast main track.
“I've got to retire now! I feel blessed. I'm at a loss for words,” said Joseph. “John (Fanelli, co-owner), he made a gutsy call. A lot of the credit goes to him. You've got to take chances in life. If you're going to get anywhere you've got to take chances.
“John made the gutsy call to come here. It was a crazy call. Maximum Security scratched, and I was taking a nap that day. I woke up to all these crazy messages so I thought something happened at the barn when I saw all these messages. When I started reading them I realized. I still don't believe it. I would've walked away happy with a third or fourth. It's amazing.”
A 3-year-old son of Algorithms, Math Wizard ran down 8-5 second-choice Mr. Money in the stretch to win by about a half-length. Up close at the wire were also Preakness winner War of Will in third and 6-5 favorite Improbable in fourth after missing the break.
Well-known for his issues in the starting gate, Improbable acted up a bit when loading and reacted when Spun to Run reared a few slots to his outside. When the starter sprang the doors, Improbable hopped up and spotted the field at least three lengths down the stretch for the first time.
“I don't know why he does it,” said Improbable's trainer Bob Baffert. “He doesn't do it in California. Mike (Smith) said he was really good and then heard a noise and it set him off. It's just bad luck. It is very frustrating when you go that far and he pulls that stuff. He had been doing really well. He still ran pretty well.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Money broke like a rocket from his outside post in the six-horse field. He immediately rushed over to claim the rail and the lead, while War of Will and local star Spun to Run were content to maintain pace pressure by angling to Mr. Money's outside.
Gabriel Saez eased back on the gas to set mild fractions on Mr. Money, a first quarter in 24 2/5 seconds and the half in 49 3/5. The colt had plenty of steam left after the steady pace, but Improbable was looming from behind horses in fourth and Math Wizard, second-last down the backstretch, had yet to start running.
Rounding the far turn, Mike Smith tried to take Improbable on the inside as Tyler Gaffalione went to work aboard War of Will. Neither were making up any ground on Mr. Money, but the leader was beginning to drift out just a bit in mid-stretch.
Taking the overland route, Ortiz had Math Wizard in top gear and was rolling toward the wire once the field straightened for home. Math Wizard eyed Mr. Money and ran down his target with gusto, thundering to a half-length victory in the last sixteenth of a mile. Mr. Money had to settle for second, while War of Will was able to hold third over Improbable.
“It was great. I got a perfect trip to be honest,” Ortiz said. “He broke, put me in a good position. I saw the favorite didn't break and I didn't panic. I just said, 'he's going to come from somewhere. He's just not forwardly placed in front of me.' He got through inside of me and from there I just tried to follow him. Then on the backside my horse jumped on the bridle. When I put my hands down he jumped on the bridle and I said, 'whoa, wait a little longer.' I wanted to wait a little longer and not get inside of Improbable so I just wait, wait, wait and at the half mile I made my way outside of him. He was coming little by little but when he turned for home and he switched leads then he took off. He ran hard. When I turned for home and I opened the reins and he started taking off I said, 'I'm going to get there.' ”
Bred in Kentucky by Lucky Seven Stable, Math Wizard is out of the Deputy Minister mare Minister's Baby. Claimed three times before his fifth career start for tags as low as $16,000, Math Wizard found his niche with Joseph's stable. The day Joseph claimed the colt for $25,000, he won by 18 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream Park, earning an 87 Beyer figure. Though he didn't win again in his next six starts, the colt placed in both the Ohio Derby and the Indiana Derby, the latter behind Mr. Money.
“Obviously disappointing and not the way we drew it up,” said Mr. Money's trainer Bret Calhoun. “We won four in a row and it's hard to win four in a row. We were hoping today would be the fifth for a million dollars in a Grade 1 but it wasn't meant to be. We'll regroup. I have no idea where to go from here but we'll figure it out. I don't know that we'd go to California or not for the Breeders' Cup. I'm not sure.”
Well-beaten last out by Mr. Money in the West Virginia Derby, Math Wizard turned the tables on that rival on the big stage when he came rolling down the center of the track to win the Pennsylvania Derby. Overall, the colt has won three of his 13 career starts and boasts earnings over $850,000.
“People give racing a bad rap, but this is the greatest game.” Joseph concluded. “The only thing I can describe to this feeling is my kids. When I see my kids smile, that's the only thing that compares in life to these horses. That's how good racing is. These horses get so much care. The people work so hard. People who have bad things to say about racing have to come see. A lot of effort goes into it. They get treated better than most humans.”
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