Round two commences at Parx on Saturday in the Grade 2, $1 Million Pennsylvania Derby. Alpha and Golden Ticket stand as the only two entrants coming from the Travers and as a result, will take the lion’s share of betting action on in the Derby. Making a case for others entered is for the most part a stretch, but a dark horse or two can be found in the field of eight.
1. Stephanoatsee – Many times lofty expectations get put on a horse with this kind of pedigree. Stephanoatsee is a half to Shackleford and three other stakes winners, but thus far hasn’t lived up to his siblings’ billing. He only has five lifetime starts, and has only missed the board in one… but this would still be asking a lot off a win in a four horse field.
2. Casual Trick – A victim of the Derby Trail this spring, Casual Trick makes his return to stakes company on a two race win streak. A breathing problem hampered the Bernardini colt this summer, but Nick Zito’s colt appears to be a new horse after two route wins at Parx. He was a $425,000 purchase two years ago. Stablemate Fast Falcon gets the nod against older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but the barn’s confidence shows in stepping CT up. Gets a class test, but being the only local winner intrigues this handicapper.
3. Handsome Mike – Has the look of one that hasn’t moved forward from two to three. Turf treated him well on the west coast at two, but the pool of juvenile turf runners in California wasn’t exactly the deepest last year. Reddam has had plenty of success this year with three-year olds but this isn’t one of them. An owner that likes to dance every dance, but appears in deep.
4. Alpha – The slight favorite also rides a win streak into this for McLaughlin. Sure looked like he was going to pass Golden Ticket with a few more feet but settled for a tie in the Travers. He’s always showed promise but nagging injuries and a loathing for the gate have held him from being the dominant three-year old in America. With the classic winners enjoying retirement, it appears to be his division to take. He finally gets three races in a row without a layoff as well, and off two bullet works it appears all systems are go.
5. Junebugred – Steve Hobby’s horse isn’t exactly entering the Pennsylvania Derby with his best races in tow. Similar to Handsome Mike in coming to hand early and not progressing through his three-year old year. He’s been ambitiously placed in grade one and grade three company this year to no avail. Would need a lot of off races by the competition to make noise here.
6. Golden Ticket – The other half of the dead heat draws outside of Alpha this time. Ran his lifetime best by a mile in the Travers and did so off a hefty layoff. That was also his first fast-dirt victory, so was it a one-race wonder or has he improved that much? Was the Travers that questionable? I didn’t find it the toughest renewal but winning an 11-horse grade one race is never an easy task. He’s performed well in all scenarios (Turf, dirt, and poly), so there’s no reason to think Parx will present him a surface challenge. He still needs to show up as the Travers winner and not the runner-up in a shaky Tampa Bay Derby. We’ll see.
7. Csaba – This just isn’t my type of horse. Seven of his races (Three of his four victories) have been taken off the turf, though at one time he was tested on the Kentucky Derby trail. He took a womping in the Fountain of Youth, and then promptly returned to his on-again-off-again campaign on the grass. The Hall of Fame was a nice effort, but set up for him quite nicely with the track surface and pace setup. Unless he’s left alone on a crawling pace, this will be a challenge.
8. Macho Macho – The only other graded winner in the field was flattered by Bourbon Courage’s win in the Super Derby. Asmussen shelved the West Virginia Derby winner since August in preparation for this, and hasn’t missed the board with him since turned over from Neil Howard. He’s taken a different route to get to this race but seems to be cranked pretty tight off a strong string of works. The son of Macho Uno hit the track 9 days after his WV Derby win, and has worked a total of six times since the race. He’s a versatile sort that should be able to make a trip for himself from the outside post. Possible value to be found here.
It appears Alpha’s race to lose, but will his gate antics get the best of him? Who do you think will step up? Feel free to comment on the Pennsylvania Derby and join us for a stakes-filled card at Parx! First post is 11:25 Central, we’ll see you right out here at the Park.
This blog was written by Canterbury Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann. Angela Hermann is just completed her second year as Canterbury’s Paddock Analyst after previously serving in a similar role at Lincoln Racecourse and Columbus Ag Park. She blogs about both local and National racing.