This year's Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby has drawn 21 thoroughbreds nominated towards a start in the 40th Running of the 1 1/8 mile event to be held on Saturday September 21, at Parx Racing.
The Penn Derby, raised to Grade 1 status in 2017, has become an important prep race for 3-year-olds en route towards a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic and will be nationally televised for the first time on NBC from 5pm to 6pm EST.
Headlining the group amid a wide open sophomore division is Gary and Mary West's Maximum Security who comes off a game 1 1/4 length victory in the Grade 1 Haskell on July 20 at Monmouth Park.
The Jason Servis trained colt entered the gate in the May 4 Kentucky Derby perfect through four starts while boasting a 3 1/2 length score in the Florida Derby, his only start amid the Derby Trail. The son of New Year's Day topped the field of 18 others in the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths before being disqualified to 17th for causing interference at the top of the stretch.
Maximum Security skipped the rest of the Triple Crown trail, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes respectively, and instead made his next start in the $150,000 Pegasus at Monmouth Park where he stumbled at the break and finished second behind winner King for a Day. The Pennsylvania Derby could be the first time the earner of $1,279,400 will face any of his Kentucky Derby foes since the controversial and historical Triple Crown classic.
Gary Barber's Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will is one such adversary that looks to return to the winners' circle after failing to do so in his last two starts. The Mark Casse trained son of War Front's last victory came in the Preakness where he closed to win by 1 1/4 lengths before tiring to ninth in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, which was won by stablemate Sir Winston. High hopes for victory at Saratoga were dashed when he found himself on the lead, but tired to fifth in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 27. The Kentucky-bred began his 3-year-old year with a four-length victory in the Grade 3 LeComte at Fair Grounds on January 19, then returned less than a month later to win the Grade 2 Risen Star by 2 1/4 lengths.
Casse decided to continue his colt's successful Derby campaign at Fair Grounds, but the streak was broken as War of Will failed to make an impact as the favorite and finished a disappointing ninth. His next start came in the Kentucky Derby over a sloppy and sealed track, and looked to be in contention at the top of the lane before being forced to check as Maximum Security ran towards his outside. War of Will finished eighth, but was placed seventh after his rival's disqualification.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is likely to ship his Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity winner Improbable east from his barn at Del Mar for a date against the top 3-year-olds. A win by Improbable would give Baffert his third straight victory and fourth in Pennsylvania Derby history after he saddled West Coast and McKinzie to back-to-back victories three years after winning his first with Bayern in 2014. Bayern owns the stakes record at 1:46.96 for the 1 1/8 miles. The City Zip colt owned by WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club International Ltd. and Starlight Racing returned to his winning ways in his last start by beating just three others in the $100,000 Shared Belief at Del Mar.
The Kentucky-bred ran two strong second-place finishes in both the Grade 2 Rebel and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on the Triple Crown trainer before finishing fifth (4th via disqualification) in the Kentucky Derby and then sixth in the Preakness.
Allied Racing Stable LLC will send multiple graded stakes winner Mr. Money who has been living up to his name as of late as he seeks his fifth straight victory, and first Grade 1 win after drawing off to win four straight Grade 3 starts beginning with the Pat Day Mile, Matt Winn, Indiana Derby and West Virginia Derby. The Bret Calhoun-trained speedy son of Goldencents has earned $1,074,220 through 10 lifetime starts.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher plans to saddle the Wertheimer and Frere owned Spinoff for his seventh start of the year after debuting with blinkers and drawing clear to win by 5 3/4 lengths against allowance level foes at Saratoga. A graded stakes victory has eluded the chestnut son of Hard Spun who will make his fourth attempt at a Grade 1 win after placing 18th then sixth in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes respectively. Pletcher tested his Kentucky-bred's turf pedigree in his start two back when he broke from the gate in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. Spinoff tired to 11th amid the field of 14. Pletcher won the Pennsylvania Derby in 2002 with Harlan's Holiday.
Godolphin's Endorsed may be the most lightly raced colt among the field, but the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained son of Medaglia d' Oro seems to be maturing at the right time. A winner in his debut at Saratoga as a 2-year-old, Endorsed returned with a tiring sixth place finish in the Grade 1 Champagne to end his freshman year. Endorsed returned off an eight month break and bested allowance foes at six furlongs, then stretched out to 1 1/8 miles and ran a strong second in the $100,000 Curlin over muddy going at Saratoga. Still searching for his first graded stakes win, the Kentucky-bred closed belatedly for fourth in the Grade 1 Travers. A victory by Endorsed would give McLaughlin his second Penn Derby win after Frosted captured the race in 2015.
Robert P. Donaldson's Spun to Run may be the lone entrant in the field to boast a home field advantage over the course after earning his first graded stakes victory in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes on September 2. The Juan Carlos Guerrero-trained son of Hard Spun has three wins from five starts at Parx, and displayed his talent in Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 20 when he debuted with blinkers and finished third behind Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto, who went on to finish a strong third in the Travers.
Others nominated to the Pennsylvania Derby are: Cairo Cat for owner Walking L Thoroughbreds LLC and trainer Kenneth McPeek; Chilly in Charge for owner Newtown Anner Stud and trainer Miguel Vera; Code of Honor for owner William S. Farish and Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey; Extra Hope for owner Jay Emm Ess Stable and Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella; King Jack for owner Michael Stinson and Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer; Majid for owner Zayat Stables and trainer Rudy Rodriguez; Math Wizard for owner John Fanelli, Collamele Viteli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannis Zoumas, Wynwood Thoroughbreds & Joseph A Saffie Jr. and trainer Joseph A. Saffie Jr.; Mucho Gusto for owner Michael Lund Peterson and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert; Olympic Village for owner Jeffrey Lambert and trainer Robert B. Hess Jr.; Omaha Beach for owner Fox Hill Farm and Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella; Parsimony for owner Reddam Racing LLC and trainer Doug O'Neill; Tacitus for owner Juddmonte Farms and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and Tax for owner Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and R. A. Hill Stable and trainer Danny Gargan.
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