It's the big racing day of the year in Philadelphia on Saturday. There are five stakes on the card at Parx, four of them graded. The first three home in The Kentucky Derby renew rivalry in The Pennsylvania Derby (Grade 2). In The Cotillion (Grade 1), the uneaten Songbird will have to bring her A game if she is to defend her unbeaten record and make it 11 in a row.
As well as some fabulous racing from Parx, there are also a quartet of stakes, three of them graded from Belmont and Woodbine previewed below.
PAUL'S ANALYSIS FROM Belmont Park, Parx Racing and Woodbine
Saturday 24 September 2016
Woodbine Race 3 (7.10pm)
The Durham Cup (Grade 3) - 3 year olds and upwards - 1 1/8 Miles - Tapeta
Are You Kidding Me (5) won a Grade 2 here in May. Since then, he's run well in a Grade 1 on dirt and finished second in back to back graded events on Tapeta and grass. He had Up With The Birds (2) almost two lengths behind him in a turf event last time. The six year old has had a light year and has worked really well since his last race last month. He is the one to beat here.
Up With The Birds (2) is a classy turf runner who hasn't raced on synthetics since a fine second in The 2013 Queen's Plate. He did have a super record on Polytrack and his workouts suggest he will handle Tapeta just fine. He is likely to sit behind Are You Kidding Me which in a paceless race may put him at a tactical disadvantage.
Freitag (1) finished six lengths behind the likely favourite in early August before running a career best when second in a stake later that month. Decision Day (3) wired an allowance field by almost two lengths earlier this month. He's been supplemented for this race on the back of that.
Are You Kidding Me (5)
Belmont Park Race 4 (8.04pm)
The Ashley T. Cole - A stake New York bred for 3 year olds and upwards - 1 1/8 Miles - Turf
The first four from a similar stake at Saratoga last month renew rivalry here. The evergreen seven year old King Kreesa (3) was the winner. It was a blanket finish with Kharafa (4) being beaten a nose with Offering Plan (5) and Tapitation (6) a neck and the same behind. Jose Ortiz got King Kreesa out on an easy lead that day. That is highly unlikely today with frontrunner Harbor King (1) and stretch out sprinter Latigo Trail (2) in this line up. New rider Jose Lezcano may be able to work out a trip from stalk mode and King Kreesa has a brilliant record at Belmont.
Kharafa, Offering Plan and Tapitation are likely to benefit from faster fractions up front. They all have stakes victories to their name at this level or higher. Like King Kreesa, they have fine records over this turf track. Very slight preference is for the former who may be suited to a mile best.
Parx Racing Race 7 (8.12pm)
The Alphabet Soup Handicap - A stake for Pennsylvania bred 3 year olds and upwards - 1 1/16 Miles - Turf
Edge Of Reality (8) beat Raging Market (5) and Granny's Kitten (3) by a length and the same in a similar event at Penn National last month. He is a class act at his best winning a stake in open company here last year and competing well in better events. At Penn National, he and the placed horses all came from well back in an event that rather fell apart late on. There is some speed in this race but it is much more likely to be steadily run.
Last year's winner Uncle Dave (7) was a below par fourth to Edge Of Reality in August. He's run much better since giving a class dropper a race in a stake in open company a fortnight ago. The six year old should sit close sedate fractions here and may poach too much of a lead to be reeled in.
Tactical speed is the in with Forward Thinker (1A) who was a head third in this event in 2015. I'll Call (4) who has been setting the pace over further may be sent hard. He has form claims but is on a long losing streak. The mare Pink Elephant (9) ran second in a stake against the gals three weeks ago. Like a few of these, she gets lumps of weight from the principals in this handicap.
Uncle Dave (7)
Combination Exacta (6 bets): Forward Thinker (1A), Uncle Dave (7) and Edge Of Reality (8)
Parx Racing Race 8 (8.41pm)
The Pa Derby Champion - A stake for 3 year olds and upwards - 1 1/16 Miles - Dirt
Tale Of Life (7) is a progressive four year old. He ran two big races at Saratoga winning the latest last month. He steps up from second level allowance events and now meets horses with stakes experience and form. Based on the level of his recent performances, he's up to the task. He did make all last time but looks equally effective as a stalker or even sat further back.
Mr. Jordan (5) came back to form at Monmouth when second in a Grade 3 last month. He did get an easy lead and may have to work a tad harder here. He has to be reckoned with on the class drop. So too does Jerry Hollendorfer's California invader Cyrus Alexander (1). He ran second in a Productive Grade 3 at Emerald Downs last time. His trainer may get off the mark before superstar filly Songbird runs a little later on the card.
Not every horse will act on this track and the trio who are likely to dominate the market are making their first starts here. Encryption (2) and Res Judicata (4) whose best recent form is below the principals have excellent records here.
Tale Of Life (7)
Reversed Exacta (2 bets): Cyrus Alexander (1) and Tale Of Life (7)
Parx Racing Race 9 (9.14pm)
The Gallant Bob (Grade 3) - 3 year olds - 6 Furlongs - Dirt
Noholdingback Bear (5) ran third in The Grade 1 Kings Bishop at Saratoga last month. He chased the all the way winner who was much the best but did stick around quite well considering his early exertions. He finished just in front of Mind Your Biscuits (2) who had previously won The Grade 2 Amsterdam at the same venue. That was Noholdingback Bear's first race on dirt and he ran close to his sharp Tapeta form. The cut back a furlong in distance is in his favour. So is being drawn outside his only pace rival on paper, Navy Hymn (4). The former cheap claimer won well under allowance conditions at Del Mar last month. He's improving and well worth his place in this line up.
Threefiveindia (3) is on a hat-trick after back to back allowance victories. His latest victory at Saratoga was a career best by far and the sort of run that makes him a player on speed figures. He's trained by Chad Brown. Jockey Javier Castellano will look to get a stalking trip not too far off the par drawn to his immediate outside.
Who's Out (11) faded badly in a stake over a mile last month. His form in California over one turn looks up to the best of these. The one worry with him is cutting back to six furlongs may see him with a bit to do unless the early fractions are contested.
Counterforce (6) may do better cutting back in distance. The unbeaten Klingon Warrior (10) has won by his starts at Parx.
Noholdingback Bear (5)
Combination Exacta (6 bets): Threefiveindia (3), Noholdingback Bear (5) and Who's Out (11)
Parx Racing Race 10 (9.55pm)
The Cotillion (Grade 1) - 3 year old fillies - 1 1/16 Miles - Turf
Songbird (5) has made up for lost time after having to miss The Kentucky Oaks. She made a perfect nine and then ten in her career with a pair of dominant victories in Grade 1's at Saratoga. She extended an early advantage over Carina Mia (1) in the first of them. Almost four weeks later, she faced a simple task. Although she won by seven lengths, her speed figure was below her previous one. Just when you thought her form may be tailing off, she has worked brilliantly since in California.
Cathryn Sophia (2) may have benefitted from the absence of Songbird when winning The Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. It was still a fine effort beating Land Over Sea (4), the perennial bridesmaid to Songbird by almost three lengths. She was a tad disappointing when third Carina Mia in The Grade 1 Acorn. Back over two turns, she slaughtered Disco Rose (3) in a stakes prep for this. She is two for two at Parx and her two big rivals haven't a race or even a workout on the track.
It is hard to say Carina Mia (1) didn't stay when five lengths behind Songbird over nine furlongs at Saratoga. Julien Leparoux has a tough draw and a difficult tactical decision whether to contest or sit off the pace. If she joins in an early battle with the other two, Land Over Sea (4) has a chance to run these down at a big price.
Woodbine Race 8 (9.56pm)
The Ontario Colleen (Grade 3) - 3 year old fillies - 1 Mile- Turf
The unbeaten Ancient Secret (1) could be another top-notcher in the making for trainer Chad Brown. She beat Thundering Sky (4) by a head in a stake at Belmont in June. That filly seemed to do her running when beaten over three lengths by her in a Grade 2 at Saratoga in July. Time off since is a slight concern but her conditioner has a fine record with freshened up runners. The biggest worry is the rail draw. Often on this turf track, the action is late and wide. Jockey Rafael Hernandez who's been riding here most of the meet will no doubt be mindful of that.
Caren (2) is the local champion with back to back Ontario bred stakes victories. Shake Down Baby (3) also won a state bred stake here last month and over this distance. They are both decent fillies but look inferior to the rail drawn one if she runs her race.
There are some possible improvers in here. Gliding By (9) drew off nicety to win an allowance event first time with trainer Josie Carroll. Conquest City Girl (8) may do better stepping up in distance. So may Calling Rhy Rhy (7) who won an Ontario bred stake well over seven furlongs earlier this month. Her new barn mate is Chiringuita (5). She ran third in a handicap at Newmarket in July in her last start. It's hard to argue with connections taking a shot with $150,000 on offer with $30,000 and $15,000 for second and third.
Ancient Secret (1)
Belmont Park Race 8 (10.16pm)
The Noble Damsel (Grade 3) - Fillies and Mares - 3 year olds and upwards - 1 Mile - Turf
Mrs Mcdougal (5) is one of two contenders here for trainer Chad Brown. She ran third in a Grade 1 over course and distance in June before trying a stronger one in Saratoga's Diana. She faded late on in that nine furlong event after making a middle move while wide. Not only is she dropped in class here but cuts back to what seems her optimum distance. That is backed up with her effort two starts back and a victory in a stake at Aqueduct in April.
Zindaya (6) is the other Brown entrant. She finished third in a deep stake for the level at Saratoga last month. She was wide on both turns and ran below her June stakes winning form. That was over seven furlongs. This one and half turn mile may suit her. A length in front of her at The Spa was Stormy Victoria (7). She was running her best race since moving from France. Her barn mate Akatea (1) is interesting cutting back in distance and from two turns. She ran well in pair of stakes at Longchamp last September and October including runner up in a Group 1.
Bureau De Change (2) earned place money in a pair of Grade 3's at Monmouth this summer without really threatening. My Sweet Girl (8) wasn't far behind Stormy Victoria and Zindaya at Saratoga. She is a progressive four year old who won a stake the last time she ran at Belmont.
Mrs Mcdougal (5)
Reversed Exacta (2 bets): Mrs Mcdougal (5) and Zindaya (6)
Combination Exacta (6 bets): Akatea (1), Mrs Mcdougal (5) and Zindaya (6)
Parx Racing Race 11 (10.45pm)
The Pennsylvania Derby (Grade 2) - 3 year olds - 1 1/8 Miles - Dirt
The two best horses on paper have questions to answer here. Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist (9) wasn't beaten that far in The Preakness and Grade 1 Haskell Invitational but ran well below form all the same. In mitigation, he received far too aggressive rides by Mario Gutierrez. Considering the stalking trip her got at Churchill and the patient one at The Breeders' Cup, his need to lead mentality was baffling to say the least. He has been freshened up since Monmouth and sports a series of one mile workouts in preparation for this.
The beneficiary of Nyquist running below form in The Preakness and Haskell was Exaggerator (2). He had previously closed well to run second to him for the third time in The Kentucky Derby. Then as at Pimlico and Monmouth, the track was wet. He seems far less effective on a dry surface. Although he had an excuse in The Belmont Stakes, his run in The Travers was awful.
Kentucky Derby third Gun Runner (7) was a distant third in The Grade 1 Travers. He was beaten 15 lengths but 13 ½ of that was made up by Arrogate who freaked, breaking the track record. If the Derby and Preakness winners blow out again, he may get his day in the sun.
Cupid (5) is on a hat-trick after winning a couple of big purses in the summer. He narrowly won The Grade 2 Indiana Derby but was more impressive gong wire to wire in The Grade 2 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. He's a talented colt but may have one or two pace partners.
Haskell also-ran Awesome Slew (1) put seven lengths between him and Wild About Deb (6) in a local Grade 3 prep for this. Summer Revolution (3) won his first two starts by open lengths and didn't run too badly in The Grade 1 Kings Bishop. He is interesting stepping up to two turns for the first time.
Reversed Exacta (2 bets): Gun Runner (7) and Nyquist (9)