Who Will Win the Pennsylvania Derby?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx Racing has been drawing strong fields for years, and its rise to Grade 1 status has only strengthened its position as a key Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) prep for elite members of the three-year-old division.

Saturday's renewal of the 1 1/8-mile race is missing division leader Epicenter (who is training up to the Breeders' Cup), but four Grade 1 winners have showed up to battle for the rich purse, and eight of the 11 entrants are veterans of the Triple Crown.

At first glance, #5 Cyberknife (3-1) looks like the horse to beat. The improving son of Gun Runner is the most accomplished horse in the Pennsylvania Derby field and enters in career-best form. During the spring, he won the Arkansas Derby (G1) by 2 3/4 lengths, counting next-out Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Secret Oath among his beaten rivals.

Cyberknife subsequently faltered to finish 18th in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but he bounced back with a gritty victory in the Matt Winn S. (G3) and then set a track record when nabbing the Haskell S. (G1) by a head over Grade 1 winners #8 Taiba (5-2) and Jack Christopher. The latter colt returned to win the H. Allen Jerkens S. (G1), flattering the Haskell form.

Cyberknife most recently came home second behind Epicenter in the Travers S. (G1) at Saratoga, edging #1 Zandon (5-1) by a nose for runner-up honors. Cyberknife has come back to post a couple of workouts at Churchill Downs for high-percentage trainer Brad Cox and warrants plenty of respect in the Pennsylvania Derby.

But let's not overlook Taiba, who arguably ran a better race than Cyberknife when finishing second in the Haskell. Whereas Cyberknife benefited from a ground-saving trip one month after his Matt Winn score, Taiba rallied outside in his first start off a 2 1/2-month break. Ground loss and fitness may have been the deciding factors in Taiba's Haskell defeat.

During the spring, Taiba posted a powerful pace-tracking victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) racing 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita, winning by 2 1/4 lengths with a 111 Brisnet Speed rating higher than Cyberknife's career-best 105 rating. The Santa Anita Derby was only Taiba's second start and his first try running long, making his performance all the more remarkable. Taiba has trained up a storm since the Haskell and figures to move forward in the Pennsylvania Derby, setting the stage for victory under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith

For exotic wagers, the above-mentioned Zandon is a must-use contender. Never out of the trifecta in seven starts (including six at the Grade 1 and Grade 2 level), Zandon rallied to a runaway Blue Grass S. (G1) triumph during the spring and followed up with a gallant third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He continued to compete with aplomb during the summer at Saratoga, coming home second behind Epicenter in the Jim Dandy S. (G2) prior to finishing within a nose of Cyberknife in the Travers.

Rounding out the list of Grade 1 winners in the Pennsylvania Derby is #11 White Abarrio (8-1), who posted comfortable victories in the Holy Bull S. (G3) and Florida Derby (G1) during the winter at Gulfstream Park. But White Abarrio is 4-for-4 at Gulfstream and 0-for-4 at all other tracks, and he'll need to bounce back from a seventh-place finish in the Haskell if he's going to turn the tables on Cyberknife and Taiba at Parx Racing.

One arguably underrated colt worth supporting is #7 Tawny Port (6-1), winner of Keeneland's Lexington S. (G3) prior to finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby. Tawny Port's post-Derby campaign kicked off with a victory over White Abarrio and next-out Belmont Derby (G1) winner Classic Causeway in the Ohio Derby (G3), after which Tawny Port finished third in the Jim Dandy. In the latter race, Tawny Port didn't get the clearest run inside of rivals, but nevertheless finished just two lengths behind Epicenter and half a length behind Zandon.

We also have to acknowledge #6 We the People (12-1) as a pacesetting threat. The Pennsylvania Derby isn't exactly stuffed with speed on paper, so We the People is eligible to shake loose on an uncontested lead and outrun expectations. He dominated the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan S. (G3) during the spring by 10 1/4 lengths, then ran fourth in the Belmont S. (G1) and second in the West Virginia Derby (G3) while posting triple-digit Brisnet Speed ratings.

On the other hand, We the People has finished behind #4 Skippylongstocking (10-1) in each of his last two starts. Skippylongstocking achieved a classic placing when third against a strong field in the Belmont and subsequently employed pace-tracking tactics to edge We the People in the West Virginia Derby, so this improving colt may have the speed to sit a favorable trip in the Pennsylvania Derby. Inclusion in superfecta wagers is a must.


1st: Taiba
2nd: Cyberknife
3rd: Zandon
4th: Tawny Port

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Pennsylvania Derby?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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