Field set for 2019 Pennsylvania Derby

Getty Images

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.

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland


To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Qatar Prix de Arc de Triomphe
Getty Images

PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.