Pennsylvania Derby Preview
by Alastair Bull
Upgraded to grade I this year, the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby is the last major race for 3-year-old Classic horses in the United States.
Held over 1 1/8 miles at Parx Racing, the Pennsylvania Derby can be an important lead-up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). The most notable example was 2014, when Bayern won by 5 ¾ lengths; at his next start, he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The year beforehand, Will Take Charge won the race and subsequently finished second by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Will Take Charge’s effort to win the Pennsylvania Derby, along with the Travers Stakes (G1) at his previous start and his Breeders’ Cup effort, helped secure him champion 3-year-old status despite not performing well in the Triple Crown races.
In a year where no 3-year-old male has emerged as dominant, the Pennsylvania Derby could play a big part in deciding the Eclipse Award. The favorite for the race is the Bob Baffert-trained West Coast, who didn’t run in any Triple Crown races but who won the Travers Stakes against a field including all three winners of the Triple Crown races.
West Coast comes into the race with four consecutive victories behind him, and a win here may be enough to secure him the Champion 3-Year-Old Male Eclipse Award unless another horse of his age wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Another with some pretensions to the Eclipse Award is Irap. He broke his maiden status at long odds in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland before running poorly on a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby. Following that race he won the Ohio Derby (G3) (beating subsequent Haskell Stakes (G1) winner Girvin) and the Indiana Derby before finishing a solid third to West Coast in the Travers.
The most notable horse among the others is Irish War Cry, a two-time graded stakes winner this year who also finished second in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He has been inconsistent but on his day is capable of figuring strongly in this race.
In a year where inconsistency has been the norm, punters would be wise to look at the other entries, such as Timeline, Outplay, and Giuseppe the Great.