Field set for 2019 Pennsylvania Derby

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The $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing on Sept. 21 is the final marquee race restricted to members of a very competitive and unsettled 3-year-old dirt male division before they begin competing against older horses in races such as the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2.

The buildup to Saturday’s race was significantly altered Tuesday after a late scratch of Haskell Invitational Stakes winner and disqualified Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve first-place finisher Maximum SecurityPreakness Stakes winner War of Will and Mr. Money, currently riding a four-race graded stakes winning streak, headline the six-horse field. The 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby will be televised nationally on NBC with a scheduled post time of 5:48 p.m. ET.

Whether you are interested in making a couple of bucks on the race or just want to know a little bit about this year’s runners, we’ve got you covered with our 2019 Pennsylvania Derby Cheat Sheet.

1. Math Wizard  (6-1 mornng-line odds)

Jockey: Edgard Zayas

Trainer: Saffie Joseph Jr.

Owners: John Fanelli, Collarmele Vitelli Stables, Bassett Stables, Ioannis Zoumas, Wynwood Thoroughbreds, and Saffie Joseph Jr.

Career record: 12 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $260,073

Earnings per start: $21,673

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After being claimed by co-owner John Fanelli and trainer Saffie Joseph following a blowout win at Gulfstream Park in January, this colt has steadily improved his form to build a bankroll in graded stakes all throughout the eastern U.S. He nearly won the Grade 3 Ohio Derby three starts back, losing by a half-length to Preakness Stakes third-place finisher Owendale, and also ran well in the July 13 Grade 3 Indiana Derby, losing by four lengths to dominant Mr. Money. In his most recent start, Math Wizard regressed, dropping to a 93 Equibase Speed Figure and checking in sixth in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby Aug. 3, beaten 11 ¾ lengths by Mr. Money. He’s been training steadily at Gulfstream Park for Joseph since that loss, and if he can regain his midsummer form, Math Wizard could sneak into the trifecta as he has a good, stalking running style for a renewal of the Pennsylvania Derby that, on paper, should have several horses competing for the early lead. But he’s a longshot as a win candidate.

2. Improbable (8-5)

Jockey: Mike Smith

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Starlight Racing

Career record: 8 starts – 4 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $829,520

Earnings per start: $103,690

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt, one of the leading winter-book favorites for the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, restored some of his luster with a sharp 2 ¾-length win at Del Mar in the Aug. 25 Shared Belief Stakes. That was his first start since running sixth in the Preakness Stakes and fourth (moved up from fifth) in the Kentucky Derby, where he did not show the high cruising speed he had displayed during his 2-year-old campaign and his two Derby preps at Oaklawn Park. Shortened back to a mile and facing only three opponents, Improbable was much the best in the Shared Belief, and he’s posted three swift workouts at Santa Anita Parkfor Bob Baffert since that win. But there’s still an unanswered question about distance limitations for Improbable, as he’s yet to win a race longer than a mile and a sixteenth. He should contest the early pace in the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby, but should have plenty of company up front in Mr. Money, Spun to Run, and possibly War of Will. One big boost to his win chances resides in the irons, as Mike Smith has won the most recent two Pennsylvania Derbys for Baffert aboard West Coast in 2017 and McKinzie in 2018. Baffert also won the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby with Bayern. Co-owner Jack Wolf’s Starlight Racing owned 2002 Pennsylvania Derby winner Harlan’s Holiday.

3. Shanghai Superfly (30-1)

Jockey: Frankie Pennington

Trainer: Marcos Zulueta

Owners: Morris Kernan Jr. and M-Z Racing Partnership

Career record: 8 starts – 0 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $28,330

Earnings per start: $3,541

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: In a Grade 1 stakes featuring four graded stakes winners and one runner that has placed in multiple graded stakes races, this colt’s presence is a surprise to say the least. He started his career racing in maiden special weight races earlier this year at Gulfstream Park and Keeneland, but made no impression and was dropped into the maiden claiming ranks, where he finished second twice at Churchill Downs before being claimed in June and moved to the Mid-Atlantic circuit. He’s since finished fourth in a maiden special weight at Monmouth Park and second, defeated by eight lengths, in a one-mile maiden claiming race on Sept. 7 at Parx Racing. Shanghai Superfly does draw the services of Parx’s top jockey, Frankie Pennington, who is tied for most wins at the track and leads in earnings as of Sept. 17, but this son of champion Shanghai Bobby has shown nothing through eight starts to suggest that he’ll be a factor in any stage of the Pennsylvania Derby.

4. War of Will (4-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Mark Casse

Owner: Gary Barber

Career record: 12 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $1,515,569

Earnings per start: $126,297

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Three and a half months after briefly receiving strong support as a leading candidate for champion 3-year-old during the middle of the Triple Crown series, Preakness Stakes winner War of Will heads into Saturday’s Pennsylvania Derby in comeback mode. He was never really involved in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, finishing seven lengths behind stablemate Sir Winston in ninth, and then set the pace for six furlongs in the Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets before tiring to finish fifth in his most recent start on July 27 at Saratoga. The general assessment of War of Will after that race was that a rigorous campaign over the first seven months of 2019 — seven starts, all in graded stakes, including all three Triple Crown races — had caught up with him. He’s conducted excellent workouts in New York for Mark Casse in recent weeks in advance of his highly anticipated return, and it will be interesting to see if regular rider Tyler Gaffalione positions War of Will in a stalking spot similar to his Preakness trip on Saturday against a field with several high-caliber speed horses or is more aggressive with him early. His speed figures are lower than those of his main opponents in the Pennsylvania Derby, but this classic winner should be joining them in the stretch with a chance to win if he can regain his best form.

5. Spun to Run (8-1)

Jockey: Paco Lopez

Trainer: Juan Guerrero

Owner: Robert Donaldson

Career record: 8 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $360,520

Earnings per start: $45,065

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Mr. Money, War of Will, and Improbable (and especially late scratch Maximum Security) have captured nearly all of the prerace attention for this year’s Pennsylvania Derby, but this locally-based, improving colt deserves consideration as an upset candidate. He’s 3-for-3 in 2019 at his home track of Parx Racing, winning a maiden race and allowance race earlier this year by a combined 10 ½ lengths and, in his most recent start, outfinishing stakes winner Gray Magician by a head to score a breakthrough Grade 3 win in the Smarty Jones Stakes on Sept. 2. In his start prior to that, Spun to Run finished a well-beaten third at odds of 34.60-1 behind Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park, but the colt did not give in and kept running through the stretch while chasing the above pair who had separated from the field coming out of the far turn. His 113 Equibase Speed Figure from the Smarty Jones matches up well against the top contenders in the Pennsylvania Derby, and Paco Lopez, aboard for his two most recent starts, retains the mount on Saturday. Look for Lopez to keep Spun to Run close to the early pace through the backstretch at the very least, and maybe set the pace from the outset if no other horse takes the initiative.

6. Mr. Money (2-1)

Jockey: Gabriel Saez

Trainer: Bret Calhoun

Owner: Allied Racing Stable

Career record: 10 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,074,220

Earnings per start: $107,422

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A strong case can be made that no 3-year-old has had a better summer than this fast, professional runner, and his success is a result of a series of well thought out decisions by owner Chester Thomas and trainer Bret Calhoun. After flashing potential as a juvenile with a decent fourth in the 2018 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but still showing some immaturity in his two Kentucky Derby preps earlier this year at Fair Grounds, Mr. Money was shortened up in distance by his connections and showed a new level of talent on the Derby undercard when he romped in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by LG and E and KU. In his subsequent three starts, Mr. Money has bettered that form while stretching back out to two turns, winning the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes by 6 ½ lengths, the Grade 3 Indiana Derby by 2 ½ lengths, and the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby by six lengths. He’s posted three impressive workouts at Churchill Downs since his Aug. 3 rout in West Virginia, and although he’ll be facing a formidable challenge in Saturday’s Grade 1 against the War of Will and Improbable, Mr. Money’s connections have targeted this race, realizing that it’s time to test his ability against the best of his age group. Gabriel Saez has been aboard this colt for nine of his 10 starts, including his four consecutive stakes wins this summer, and should have his mount within a length or two of the leaders coming out of the first turn and through the backstretch, setting up what could be one of the most exciting stretch battles of the year.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

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Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.