2014 Pennsylvania Derby Picks, Odds and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 9/16/2014
Saturday marks the one day each year that horse racing in Pennsylvania is even remotely relevant on the national racing scene. The Pennsylvania Derby has become a reasonable success over the years for two big reasons - the timing sets up well as a Breeders' Cup prep race, and the track management is aggressive about attracting horses. This year, for example, the track is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in guaranteed bonuses to bring California Chrome to the race. Over the years there have been some prominent winners of the race. Top older horse Will Take Charge won it last year. Others, like champion Macho Uno, Preakness winner Summer Squall, and legendary sire Broad Brush, among many others of note, have their name on the trophy.
California Chrome (1/1) returns to racing here for the first time since his disappointing finish in the Belmont in June. That's a long midseason layoff, and it makes him, and this race, very tough to handicap. While he has been resting and training, other horses have been racing and maturing in action. Will Chrome be able to flash his tremendous talent again? Or will the rust be too much to overcome? It's a deep and interesting eight-horse field, so it will be no cake walk. He isn't going to be helped by drawing the rail - an easy place for a horse that likes to be near the action to get trapped or to spend too much energy finding his position before the first turn.
His biggest threat is from Bayern (7/2). That horse was stunningly dominant in winning the Haskell but then didn't fire at all in the Travers. He is a front-runner, and in this race he starts from the four hole, which suits him well. If Chrome can get lose, though, he is likely to chase Bayern and keep the pace honest.
Parx Racing is not exactly a mecca of horse racing, so most horses in the field won't have run on the track before - or even have trained there for long before the race. Track familiarity can be an asset, though, and horses that know the track have done better than expected in this race over the years. The top two finishers from the Smarty Jones, the only other graded stakes for colts the track runs, make up part of this field - Protonico (8/1), from the Todd Pletcher stable, and Classic Giacnroll (15/1). Neither seems to be up to the measure of the top contenders in this one, but their presence must be noted.
Tapiture (5/1) was a star of the early Triple Crown trail, but as happens so often he appeared to have peaked too soon. He was lucky to finish as high as 15th given how underwhelming his Kentucky Derby showing was. He has bounced back well, though, claiming a stakes victory at Churchill before taking down the West Virginia Derby. Candy Boy (10/1) was second in West Virginia and also second in the Los Alamitos to undefeated super horse Shared Belief. Their 1-2 finish in West Virginia is interesting because the third-place finisher in that race, Vicar's In Trouble, came back next time out and dominated the Super Derby. That's rarely a bad sign for the horses that finished ahead of him.
C.J.'s Awesome (12/1) had some Triple Crown buzz in January, but it never materialized. It took him six tries to break his maiden, and he makes his stakes debut here after two allowance starts at Saratoga. He seems outclassed, but I love his breeding. Rounding out the field is Noble Moon (15/1), another January star. He won a big stakes race at Aqueduct back then but has underwhelmed in two starts since. His connections are looking to find where he belongs, but I'm pretty sure this isn't it.
Pennsylvania Derby Picks and Recommended Bet
I have never been on the California Chrome bandwagon. I respect his talent but haven't ever seen value and really don't like how his connections have handled him since the Preakness. There is no value in him. Instead, I'll go with Bayern. His last race was a disaster, but I'll toss it. Beyond that, he is a special talent with eye-popping ability, and the price is right to bet that we can see his best again.
Win bet on Bayern, Exacta of Bayern over Protonico, Tapiture, Candy Boy.
The Pennsylvania Derby isn't the only race that has attracted a star-studded field on the day. The Cotillion has a loaded field of three-year-old fillies. The headliner is Untapable (7/5), the superstar winner of the Kentucky Oaks. She was by far the best filly of her class, but she tried to beat the boys last time out in the Haskell and it was a disaster. Can she find her stride again against the fillies, or has her confidence been damaged by the loss? It's a tough call, especially because she faces two horses that each have won two grade-one stakes this spring and summer -Stopchargingmaria (7/2) and Sweet Reason (4/1). Those looking for a bigger price might want to take a look at Joint Return (8/1). She was based at Parx as a two year old, so she knows the track well and has won on it, and she came very close to beating Stopchargingmaria in the Alabama. This could be a breakout race for her.
I am very concerned about the last race for Untapable, but in the spring she flashed incredible talent, and at her best she can't be beat. At even money or better she is worth a gamble to win.
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