2016 Pennsylvania Derby A Dozen Reasons to Watch
By: Laurie Ross, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds
The 2016 Pennsylvania Derby (Grade 2) attracted a dozen three-year-old colts, among them, the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby and a pretty gray colt seeking to add a third Derby to his girth. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners earn $100,000 and $200,000, respectively, just for stepping into the starting gate.
The 1 1/8 mile race will be contested around the Parx oval. While the Grade 2 event isn’t a Breeders’ Cup challenge race, the top four finishers will likely use this race as a stepping stone to either the Breeders’ Cup Classic or Mile. Let’s take a look at the contenders, pretenders and logical longshots.
#9 Nyquist (ML 5-2) picked a tough place to shake the dust out of his coat. After receiving the first loss of his career in the Preakness Stakes at the hooves of his nemesis, Exaggerator, Nyquist experienced the same thing in the Haskell, this time finishing fourth. Both races were over a sloppy track and Nyqyist battled on the front end through hot n’ heavy fractions before tiring. Trainer Doug O’Neil gave 2015’s two year old Champ a break. In Nyquist’s favor, no rain is expected and he drew outside the other speed. The colt has shown the ability to rate, so perhaps the race will set up for him.
#2 Exaggerator (ML 7-2) will be facing Nyquist for the seventh time in their careers. After finally getting the victory over Nyquist in the Preakness, Exagerator did it again in the Haskell, both times on sloppy tracks. In between those victories, Exagerator finished 11th in both the Belmont and Travers Stakes over dry tracks. Not a drop of rain is in sight for the Pennsylvania Derby, but the race has plenty of speed, which sets up for Exaggerator’s late closing kick, if he can handle the track.
#5 Cupid (ML 9-2) skipped the Triple Crown races after he tossed in a clunker Arkansas Derby. He’s faced softer company in the Indiana and West Virginia Derbies, both G2 events. Cupid likes to wing it on the lead and the pretty gray colt may have company up front ensuring a fast pace.
#7 Gun Runner (ML 6-1) has been ITM in every start over a dry track. His two off of the board placings were on a sloppy track. He’s been successful against G2 and G3 company and was third in the KY Derby and Travers. He’s another one who likes to be on or pressing the pace, but he can also sit off the pace when necessary. If Nyquist isn’t ready for Prime Time, Exaggerator doesn’t like dust and Cupid tires, Gun Runner could surprise.
#4 Connect (ML 12-1) was brought along conservatively by Chad Brown earlier in the year. The son of Curlin won his three year old debut in May. He stretched two-turns and won against allowance types in June and a month later, won the 1 1/8 mile listed Curlin Stakes by a measured length. Then Connect got tossed into the deep end in the Travers Stakes. He didn’t embarrass himself, nobody except Arrogate was running that day. Connect recorded his highest speed figure in the Travers and the colt could continue to improve. He’s another who likes to be on the pace, but will sit mid-pack if asked.
#3 Summer Revolution (ML 20-1) didn’t run a bad race in his first start against more experienced G1 runners in the King’s Bishop. After all, it was only his third lifetime start, his first sitting behind horses, and three weeks after he had beaten allowance foes. Summer Revolution is a half to two stakes winners and his dam is a multiple stakes winner, so the quality is there. The colt’s speed figures fit with the top horses in here and should he handle the stretch out to 1 1/8 miles, Summer Revolution has a decent shot of hitting the board.
#12 Hit It Once More (ML 20-1) won his maiden as an April three year old. Hit It Once More has dominated NY Breds by a combined 20 lengths. His only off the board finish in four races since then was the Easy Goer Stakes in open company. So, this colt is outclassed, right? Not necessarily. Here’s the thing about his pedigree. Hit It Once More is a son of Hard Spun. The stallion’s offspring can develop rapidly during their three and four year old seasons. Hit It Once More's first three dams are stakes winners and his dam is a half sister to a stakes winner, so there's class in his pedigree. Plus, Hit It Once More has nailed two triple digit speed figures in his last two starts. The drawback is his front running style, but the colt has settled off of the pace successfully in the past. Take a look at him in the Paddock, he could be worth an exotics play.
#8 My Man Sam (ML 20-1) has been oddly placed throughout his career. He was second in the Blue Grass Stakes (G-1), but also finished second in a pair of allowance races. The colt was far back in the KY Derby and Travers. The one thing going for My Man Sam is his stalkers running style. if the pace is hot, he can pick off runners through the stretch.
#10 Sunny Ridge (ML 15-1) may have soundness issues. He’s raced just three times since January. In his last start in the Haskell, Sunny Ridge passed tired horses to grab third place by a neck over an exhausted Nyquist, and 3 ½ lengths behind Exaggerator. Sunny Ridge shows one recorded work since July. His claim to fame is a victory in the Gotham Stakes. Sunny Ridge has a miler’s pedigree and 1 1/8 miles may be too far for him.
#1 Awesome Slew (ML 12-1) ran away to win by ten lengths in the Smarty Jones (G3), the local prep for the Pennsylvania Derby. This is a case of “who did he beat.” Finishing second in the Smarty Jones was Wild About Deb, a maiden winner who was outclassed in both the Peter Pan (G3) and listed Ohio Derby. Awesome Slew has the ability to sit off of the pace, but his rail post position and the presence of Paco Lopez, a jock noted for his deft handling of front runners, adds another speed horse to the mix.
#6 Wild About Deb (ML 30-1) couldn’t catch Awesome Slew in the Smarty Jones, bested 7 lengths.
#11 Discreet Lover (ML 30-1) finished 11 lengths behind Cupid in the Indiana Derby and a zip code behind Awesome Slew in the Smarty Jones.
Eight of 12 contenders like to set or press the pace. Either some will have to take back, or there will be a bumper car pile-up around the turn as everyone sorts themselves out. Four of the last five winners of the Pennsylvania Derby either set or pressed the pace.
If Nyquist or Exaggerator don’t run their race, this opens it up for a nice payout. Before betting, take a look at the contenders in the paddock or on the track to see who looks like they’re on top of their game. The coat will be shining, neck bowed, prancing along, but not hot and bothered or raising a fuss.
#9 Nyquist (5-2)
#7 Gun Runner (6-1)
#2 Exaggerator (ML 7-2)
#12 Hit It Once More (ML 20-1)
I like to play key boxes when there are 5+ horses who have potential to hit the board. In this case, key the contenders (#9, #2, #5) over the logical longshots (#7, #4, #3, #12). For multiple.10 cent, .50 cent or $1 key boxes for trifectas or supers, you can spread around the money, have some fun, and not break the bank.
#9/ #2, #3, #4, #5, #7, #12 / #2, #3, #4, #5, #7, #12
#2/ #3, #4, #5, #7, #9 #12 / #3, #4, #5, #7, #9 #12
#5/ #2, #3, #4, #7, #9 #12 / #2, #3, #4, #7, #9 #12
#7/ #2, #3, #4, #5, #9 #12/#2, #3, #4, #5, #9 #12
#4/ #2, #3, #5, #7, #9 #12 / #2, #3, #5, #7, #9 #12
#3/ #2, #4, #5, #7, #9 #12 / #2, #4, #5, #7, #9 #12
#12/ #2, #3, #4, #5, #7, #9 /#2, #3, #4, #5, #7, #9