ALL SORTS OF STORY LINES IN SATURDAY’S GRADE 1 PENNSYLVANIA DERBY…WHO WILL TAKE CHARGE?
With the 3-year-old rankings (if there even is one) as wide open now as it was during the preps leading up to the Kentucky Derby, there are a pair of late season restricted Graded Stakes, the $1 Million Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at PARX on Saturday, which could, if it is even possible, determine a division leader and the $400K Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park on Sunday. (Check back Saturday Night for the Preview of the Oklahoma Derby.)
As we look forward to the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) on Saturday at PARX following his commanding 3 1/4-length victory in the Aug. 26 Travers Stakes the Bob Baffert trained WEST COAST will look to become another of the conditioner’s patiently handled late developers on the Major Sophomore Stakes Scene.
The son of Flatter (A.P. Indy) out of the champion race mare Caressing will look to make it five straight after putting together 4 triumphs in a row at 3 different distances over 4 different ovals…something that even Baffert’s 2016 late-developing wunderkind Arrogate couldn’t do.
WEST COAST looks like the one to beat in the Pennsylvania Derby, but we have heard that in many of the stops along the road that this year’s 3-year old crop has mapped out.
Obviously, a win in the Pennsylvania Derby would leave Baffert and owners Gary and Mary West with little choice but to seriously consider a run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
In the Pennsylvania Derby, WEST COAST will face from his nine opponents a trio of challengers who have themselves been considered potential claimers to the division leader crown, only to regress to one degree or another.
Heading into the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth at the end of July, Chad Brown’s undefeated TIMELINE was sent off as the 9-5 favorite following a 4-for-4 start to a career that included daylight wins in the Grade 3 Peter Pan at Belmont and Grade 3 Pegasus at Monmouth.
He hesitated dramatically at the start of the Haskell and never recovered. He has been in a break since and enters this adventure following 4 straight bullet works at Belmont. Can the son of Hard Spun be forgiven his one transgression? Javier Castellano remains aboard.
Also looking to snap WEST COAST’S streak will be IRAP. The Doug O’Neill trained son of Tiznow was a no show in the Kentucky Derby following a promising victory as the 31-1 upset winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland. But following the Run for the Roses the colt was not seen again until winning back-to-back in the Ohio Derby (G3) and Indiana Derby (G3), which put him under a spotlight when he entered the Travers.
IRAP got little help from the outside 10 post or the fact that he was 4 wide on both turns at Saratoga. He did make a mid-stretch bid before flattening out and settling for show honors. Will returning to 9 furlongs (2 of his 3 career wins from 3 starts have come at the distance) in a career that has seen only 3 wins from 12 starts be to his advantage?
Also looking to bounce back towards the top will be IRISH WAR CRY. And “bounce” is a carefully chosen definitive. The son of Curlin was an impressive winner of the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and was next beaten 21 lengths in the Fountain Of Youth (G2.) He showed up next in the Wood Memorial (G2) and won off impressively. That made him a major consideration in the Kentucky Derby (sent off at 4.8-1) and he veered left out of the gate and was a 16 lengths beaten 10th.
Nonplussed, the public sent him off as the 2.75-1 favorite in the Belmont Stakes (G1) (likely expecting another bounce upward) and the colt set the pace throughout before being caught by Tapwrit inside the furlong marker. Of course next out was a sluggish effort in the Haskell (G1.) He has been training at Fair Hill since for Graham Motion and the conditioner has changed from Rajiv Maragh to Feargal Lynch while the public just might once again invest in the potential for his patterned uptick.
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Looking to make names for themselves are the remaining six entrants.
OUTPLAY – The speedy son of Bernardini exits an easy front running score in the 9 furlong Curlin Stakes 7/28 at Saratoga after a third place finish in WEST COAST’S Easy Goer victory on the Belmont Stakes undercard. He has worked well for his return and John Velazquez once again takes the call for Todd Pletcher.
WATCH ME WHIP – The lightly raced Smart Strike colt will be making just his 5th career start for trainer Dale Romans. His last was a distant 4th in the Indiana Derby so this might be the last chance the colt has to prove he can race at this level.
TALK LOGISTICS – The good news is that his consistency is evidenced by four straight second place finished, two of which were in the Pegasus (G3) and the Smarty Jones (G3), the local prep for this engagement. The bad news is, he is still eligible for Non-Winners of Two Lifetime after 10 career starts.
GAME OVER – In his last, just the 4th of his career he was an impressive second in the West Virginia Derby (G3.) Interestingly that was also under the guidance of his 4th different trainer, currently the under-suspicion Jorge Navarro, who is still permitted at PARX but has been denied privileges at many other venues. The son of Mineshaft was a 40K maiden claiming breaker and prior to the West Virginia derby was unplaced in the Ohio Derby.
TERM OF ART – The second of the uncoupled Doug O’Neill entry, the Tiznow colt will be making his 8th Graded Stakes try of 2017. Those who believe in O’Neill will take a flyer. Those who look to the evidence will wonder why it will be any different for a colt that has managed but a pair of show finished in those seven previous tries.
GIUSEPPE THE GREAT – The last half decade has not been particularly kind to trainer Nick Zito and on paper it appears as though this colt had his shot two back when second in the topsy-turvy Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga, which was followed by an up-the-track 6th in the Travers Stakes (G1.) For those looking for any reason it should be noted that Zito goes back to jockey Luis Saez, who steered the colt to that placing in the Jim Dandy.
Handicapping says the first four mentioned are the main players with the edge to WEST COAST
If we look back to 2013 we see a pattern that could presage 2017.
That year a colt by the name of WILL TAKE CHARGE ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown without placing. He developed in the fall as he upset the field in the Travers and then followed with a win in the Pennsylvania Derby before being beaten a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by MUCHO MACHO MAN.
What was also similar in 2017 to 2013 was that a different 3-year old won each of the three Triple Crown races just as happened in 2013.
So, does WEST COAST follow the 2013 pattern of the Travers winner or does the new hero each race syndrome rule the day at PARX on Saturday? In other words…who WILL TAKE CHARGE?
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