Picks and plays for the Pennsylvania Derby, Cotillion Stakes

Profile Picture: Keeler Johnson

September 18th, 2019

Some of the best 3-year-old Thoroughbreds in North America will face off in a pair of $1 million races on Saturday at Parx Racing.

The Cotillion Stakes (G1) for fillies and the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), open to all 3-year-0lds, have combined to attract seven grade 1 winners, all of them potential candidates for the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.

The 13-race card kicks off at 12:25 p.m. ET, but we’ll focus our attention on the two feature events.

Race 10: Cotillion Stakes (G1)

There’s a ton of speed entered in this 1 1/16-mile “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner #1 Serengeti Empress is a tried-and-true frontrunner who figures to sprint hard for the lead after a break from the rail. But she could be pressed by the likes of gate-to-wire Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) winner #7 Guarana, speedy Santa Anita Oaks (G1) winner #10 Bellafina, reigning champion juvenile filly #10 Jaywalk, and even the longshots #5 Collegeville Girl and #6 Horologist.

The filly who can capitalize is #3 Street Band. Trained by Larry Jones, who won this race in 2015 with I’m a Chatterbox, Street Band has scored a couple of decisive wins against easier competition this year, as she romped to daylight victories in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and Indiana Oaks (G3).

But I was more impressed by Street Band’s recent third-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. Facing tough company over a sloppy, sealed track, Street Band had a tricky trip. She raced between and behind horses for much of the race and had to wait in traffic at a key moment on the far turn. Despite these obstacles, Street Band gamely split horses at the top of the stretch and briefly took the lead before she flattened out.
Street Band should appreciate the cutback in distance for the Cotillion, and it’s worth noting seven of the last ten Cotillion winners prepped in the Alabama, including five fillies who were defeated at Saratoga. Street Band’s late-running style could be a great fit for Saturday’s speed-inundated renewal of the Cotillion.

$12 to win on #3 Street Band $6 exacta: 3,8 with 3,8 ($12) $0.50 trifecta: 3,8 with 3,8 with 1,6,11 ($3) $0.50 trifecta: 3,8 with 1,6,11 with 3,8 ($3)

Race 11: Pennsylvania Derby (G1)

Following the defection of expected favorite Maximum Security, #2 Improbable has been installed as the 8-5 favorite on the revised morning line, and it's easy to understand why. Trainer Bob Baffert has won three of the last five editions of the Pennsylvania Derby, and Improbable—the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1)—recently returned to form with an easy 2 3/4-length victory in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar.

Improbable posted career-best speed figures of 104 (Beyer) and 105 (Brisnet) in the Shared Belief, so technically he’s faster than 2-1 second choice #6 Mr. Money. But Improbable defeated just three overmatched rivals in the Shared Belief, and he broke from the outside post. Improbable has done his best running when he stays clear of traffic in small fields, in part because he is slow to get going. Drawing inside posts left him buried behind horses in both the Derby and the Preakness, and I’m concerned a similar trip will be in the offing Saturday.

I won't oppose Improbable entirely, because Saturday's small field should help him stay out of trouble, but I will try to beat him for the top spot with Mr. Money, who has recorded four straight blowout wins against grade 3 company. He was tons the best in the West Virginia Derby (G3) last time out, when he powered clear to win by six lengths, and he has the tactical speed to work out a pace-pressing trip in this small field. With luck he'll get the jump on Improbable and secure a signature victory.

#5 Spun to Run, third behind Maximum Security in the Haskell Invitational (G1) two starts back, battled to victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes (G3) at Parx just 19 days ago and is one to use underneath. I’ll take a stand against Preakness Stakes (G1) winner #4 War of Will, who has come up empty without excuse in his last two starts.

$10 trifecta: 6 with 2 with 5 $8 trifecta: 6 with 5 with 2

Good luck!