J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
races have climbed as high in recent years as the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby
(gr. I) at Parx Racing. The nine-furlong race for three-year-olds has attracted
so many accomplished runners as of late that the race will be run as a Grade 1
for the first time this year, and the opportunity to chase a Grade 1 prize
while staying in age-restricted company has brought a top-notch field into play
for the 2017 edition of the race.
before we take a look at each horse in the field, I'd like to mention that Parx
can be a rather quirky track with the potential for producing strong biases of
all sorts. On some days, speed (and horses racing on the rail) dominate race
after race; on other days, the rail is the slowest part of the track and horses
repeatedly rally wide from off the pace. As a result, watching the earlier
races on the Pennsylvania Derby card could be a key component in handicapping
said, let's take a look at the entries!
#1 Timeline: After
rattling off four straight wins to start his career, including easy 3 ½-length
victories in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. III) and the Pegasus Stakes (gr. III),
Timeline was sent off as the favorite in the nine-furlong Haskell Invitational
(gr. I), a race in which pretty much everything went wrong. A slow start left
Timeline boxed in behind horses heading into the first turn-an uncomfortable
position for a speedy colt that likes to run on or near the lead-and he was
simultaneously compromised by racing toward the inside on a day when the rail
seemed like the worst part of the track. In addition, an early move to take the
lead resulted in Timeline getting caught up in some fairly testing mid-race
fractions, so with all of this in mind I believe his fifth-place finish can be
drawing the rail in the Pennsylvania Derby, Timeline could be perfectly
positioned to capitalize on a speed/rail-favoring track if such a bias turns up
on Saturday, as it did for the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby. Then again, on a fair
track (or one favoring outside runners), Timeline will likely find himself in a
very difficult position, being hounded from the start by Outplay, Irish War
Cry, and possibly West Coast. Generally speaking, I have a lot of respect for
Timeline's speed and the talent he's flashed so far, but keeping an eye on how
the track is playing could be the key to analyzing his win potential.
#2 Outplay: After
taking four starts to break his maiden, this Todd Pletcher-trained son of
Bernardini has won three of his last four starts, including a gate-to-wire romp
against restricted competition in the nine-furlong Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.
He's 3-for-3 when securing a clear early lead and should be forwardly placed
while breaking from post two, but he may have to run hard to beat Timeline to
the early lead, and it's worth noting that Outplay has never won when beaten to
the lead, and those defeats include a distant third-place finish behind West
Coast in the Easy Goer Stakes two starts back. Outplay seems like a promising
colt, but I'll lean against him in this spot.
#3 Watch Me Whip: This
lightly-raced colt from the barn of Dale Romans ran well enough when fourth in
the Indiana Derby (gr. III), but his career-best Beyer speed figure is only an
85 and his lone win came in a seven-furlong maiden race at Keeneland. He's
improving and could be coming late if the early pace is fast, but this race
looks like a tough spot for him overall.
#4 West Coast: In
recent years, horses that ran in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) have dominated the
Pennsylvania Derby, and that trend could certainly continue this year with West
Coast. Trained by Bob Baffert, who won the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby with Bayern,
West Coast has never finished out of the exacta in seven starts and has
improved in leaps and bounds this summer while winning four straight races,
including the Easy Goer Stakes, the Los Alamitos Derby (gr. III), and the
Travers Stakes (gr. I). Even more impressive, West Coast has been effective
with a wide variety of running styles, winning the Travers in gate-to-wire
fashion and producing big rallies from off the pace in the Los Alamitos Derby
and Easy Goer Stakes.
Beyers of 108, 100, and 99 in his last three starts, West Coast is clearly the
fastest horse on paper in the Pennsylvania Derby field, and his versatility
could be an asset in a race with an uncertain pace scenario and the possibility
for an unpredictable track bias. He'll be toting the top weight of 124 pounds
and won't be coming in under the radar like he was for the Travers Stakes, but
with his rising form and proven Grade 1 talent, West Coast is clearly the horse
#5 Irap: West
Coast's biggest challenge could very well come from Irap, who finished third in
the Travers Stakes after making a big move around the far turn. You can make a
case that the ten-furlong distance of the Travers was just a bit too far for
Irap, who could appreciate the cutback in distance to nine furlongs, but it's
also worth noting that Irap got a very wide trip in the Travers and ran about
seven lengths farther than West Coast, suggesting that Irap could have finished
much closer with a better trip.
can't knock the caliber of competition that Irap has faced, for two starts back
he crushed Colonelsdarktemper by five lengths while winning the Indiana Derby
(gr. III), and that colt came back to win the West Virginia Derby (gr. III) in
his next start. Even better, Irap overcame a tough trip to win the Ohio Derby
(gr. III) three starts back over Girvin, the next-out winner of the Haskell
Invitational (gr. I).
main difficulty for Irap could be working out a good trip, as his preferred
running style-settling in mid-pack before rallying on the far turn-tends to
ensure that he receives a wide trip, conceding an advantage to his
ground-saving rivals. With a perfect trip, I can envision Irap turning the
tables on West Coast, but that trip could be hard to come by in this field, and
to bet on that chance I'd want a higher price than his 3-1 morning line odds.
#6 Talk Logistics: He
hasn't won a race since breaking his maiden at Parx last July, but Talk
Logistitcs has finished in the superfecta
in nine of his ten starts while competing in a number of quality graded
stakes races. Three starts back, he was second to Timeline in the Pegasus
Stakes (gr. III), and last time out he ran second to the promising Pavel in the
Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III) at Parx, earning a respectable 94 Beyer. He's
20-1 on the morning line, but he's consistent and will carry just 117 pounds,
seven less than West Coast and five less than Timeline, Irap, and Irish War
Cry. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets involved for a spot in the superfecta.
#7 Game Over: After
finishing fifth behind Irap in the Ohio Derby (gr. III) two starts back, Game
Over faced somewhat easier competition in the nine-furlong West Virginia Derby
(gr. III) and ran an excellent race to finish second, beaten just a length
despite racing closer to a slow rail than most of his rivals. He's
lightly-raced and might still be improving, and with the right setup he could
be one to consider for the superfecta at a bit of a price.
#8 Irish War Cry: Thus
far, Irish War Cry's career has been one of major highlights sandwiched between
significant disappointments. On his best day, he's among the fastest three-year-old
colts in the country, posting a trio of triple-digit Beyers while winning the
Wood Memorial (gr. II) and Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) and finishing second in
the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). But he was also soundly beaten in the Kentucky
Derby (gr. I) and Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) without any obvious
excuses, and last time out he was fourth in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I)
after tracking the early pace.
Irish War Cry appears to be the wild card in the Pennsylvania Derby, given how
difficult it is to predict when he'll run his best race. I'm inclined to
forgive Irish War Cry's performance in the Haskell and chalk it up to racing
too close to a very contested pace (he did leave fellow pacesetters Timeline
and Battle of Midway far behind), but a similar trip could be in the works this
Saturday with Timeline and Outplay also expected to show speed.
with Timeline, analyzing Irish War Cry's win potential could depend on how the
track is playing. A speed/rail bias would favor Timeline while putting Irish
War Cry at a significant disadvantage, while a track favoring outside runners
could put Irish War Cry in the perfect position. Analyzing the track and then
using one colt or the other, and not both, might be the way to go for the
#9 Term of Art: He's
danced pretty much every dance dating back to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr.
I) and has picked up a Grade 3 win and a couple of third-place finishes along
the way, but overall he's found the competition at the Grade 1 level to be a
bit too deep and he was soundly beaten by West Coast in the Los Alamitos Derby
(gr. III) on July 15th, his most recent start.
#10 Giuseppe the Great: This
son of Lookin at Lucky has placed in a couple of Grade 2 events this year,
including the nine-furlong Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, but he was no match
for West Coast or Irap when finishing sixth in the Travers and will likely need
to take a step forward to be a factor against this caliber of competition.
let's take all of these thoughts and condense them into something simpler. In
essence, I think that analyzing how the track is playing could be the key to
making a nice score on the race, and could help us separate contenders with
similar running styles, such as Timeline
and Irish War Cry.
if I had to pick one horse to win without any knowledge of how the track might play,
I would have to side with West Coast.
It's not the most creative opinion, and he'll probably be a short price, but
I've been a fan all year and have a lot of respect for his talent and
versatility. Look for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to take advantage of West
Coast's versatility and work out a perfect trip. For the exotics, I would focus
strongly on Irap and either Timeline or Irish War Cry (probably not both of them), with respect to Talk Logistics and Game Over as longshots that could potentially finish in the
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Pennsylvania Derby?
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.