Math Wizard engineers Pennsylvania Derby upset, Street Band shines in Cotillion

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In the aftermath of Maximum Security being scratched from the $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby because of a colon issue, Math Wizard rallied from last to win the seven-figure stakes by a neck over Mr. Money at 31-1 odds.

Just getting to the Pennsylvania Derby was tricky enough for Math Wizard. After his horse was sixth behind Mr. Money in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby Aug. 3, trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. gave his 3-year-old some time off and he blossomed back at his Florida barn.

The original thought was to run in the Grade 3 Remington Park Derby Sept. 29, but when Joseph heard there would be a competitive field, he looked for other options. The Parx race came into play, but Joseph wasn’t sure of how he could get Math Wizard to Pennsylvania in time for the race until Fanelli arranged for a Fed Ex flight Sept. 19.

It was such a last-minute deal that jockey Edgard Zayas decided to stay in Florida, opening the door for Ortiz to win the Pennsylvania Derby for the second time, joining his win at 19-1 odds in 2012 with Handsome Mike.

Math Wizard was claimed out of a Dec. 20 race. He was also claimed in his next two starts, capped by an 18 ½-length victory when Joseph claimed him for $25,000 on Jan. 31 in a seven-way shake.

“There were seven people in there,” Fanelli said, “though the way people talk, you’ll hear there were a thousand in there.”

After running in a starter race, Joseph got ambitious and lined up stakes assignments for his new acquisition and Math Wizard did not embarrass himself.

He was fourth in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes, followed by a fourth in the Oaklawn Park Invitational as the favorite, a second in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby, and a third the Grade 3 Indiana Derby, again behind Mr. Money.

The weak effort in the West Virginia Derby was disappointing, but Joseph saw enough positive signs afterward to try graded stakes company again.

“When we got him home, he looked different,” Joseph said. “His coat came back.”

He was surely a different horse in the Pennsylvania Derby against five opponents that included Improbable, the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Preakness winner War of Will, and Mr. Money, who had beaten Math Wizard in his last two starts en route to four straight Grade 3 wins.

Improbable was the 6-5 favorite off a sharp and well-behaved win in the Shared Belief Stakes for trainer Bob Baffert, but he reverted to his wayward ways in the starting gate Saturday, rearing at the start which kept him toward the back of the pack.

“He reared. There was nothing I could do,” jockey Mike Smith said. “I was lucky to stay on. He’s a son of a gun in the gate.”

Without the ailing Maximum Security to set the pace, that job fell to Allied Racing Stable’s Mr. Money, who got away with a cushy :49.60 opening half-mile as War of Will and Spun to Run pressed him.

With the exception of the overmatched maiden Shanghai Superfly, the field bunched up at the top of the stretch after six furlongs in 1:13.44 and Mr. Money dug down and fended off the challengers — except for one.

Moving on the far outside, Math Wizard was fourth at the eighth pole, but went past Mr. Money late to narrowly prevail in 1:50.94 for the 1 1/8 miles.

“When he changed leads in the stretch, he took off,” Ortiz said.

For trainer Bret Calhoun, there was disappointment in Mr. Money’s loss but satisfaction in a body of work that includes four wins and a second in the Goldencents colt’s last five races.

“There’s no excuses,” said Calhoun who was uncertain of future plans for his 3-year-old. “It’s very disappointing obviously, but we won four in a row and that’s not easy.”

Pride was just one of the many emotions that filled the 32-year-old Joseph as he savored the biggest and most unlikely win of his career.

“I was overwhelmed by this. Everything was to be. We were blessed. We just claimed him at the right time. You dream about it, but you when think about it realistically, you can’t expect to win a $1 million race with a $25,000 claim,” said Joseph, who won the 2009 Barbados Triple Crown with Areutalkintome. “Racing gets a bad rap but nothing gives me a feeling like this, outside of my kids. These horses mean everything to me.”

Larry Jones has long held the reputation as a skilled trainer of 3-year-old fillies due to winning the Longines Kentucky Oaks three times with Proud Spell in 2008, Believe You Can in 2012, and Lovely Maria in 2015.

Yet bettors at Parx Racing seemed to overlook the trainer Sept. 21, allowing his sophomore filly in the $1 million, Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes, two-time graded stakes winner Street Band, to start as the 7-1 fifth wagering choice. And then Street Band went out and delivered like Jones-trained fillies tend to do, registering a 2 1/4-length upset over Guarana in a Parx race that shared top billing with the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.

Farther behind than usual in the Cotillion, Street Band did not look like a winner early in the race, ahead of just one opponent when 10th after a quarter-mile. But when a fast pace unfolded in front of her — with Jaywalk and Bellafina throwing down quarter-mile fractions of :22.75, :46.27 and 1:11.19 — the positioning provided a benefit, rather than a hindrance.

With plenty in reserve under Sophie Doyle, she passed one foe down the backstretch to move into ninth and then steadily began picking off those in front of her. She advanced to sixth by the six-furlong marker, caught 11-10 favorite Guarana at the eighth pole, and pulled clear. Strongest of the 11 fillies at the finish line, she completed 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.20.

The race provided the filly with her first Grade 1 triumph. Earlier in 2019, she had won the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans and the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks at Indiana Grand. She paid $17.40.

Guarana, who stalked the pace in the Cotillion before taking the lead at the top of the stretch, lost for the first time in four starts in finishing a clear second. Horologist was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and Bellafina was fourth.

Among other Grade 1 winners, 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner Seregenti Empress was sixth, and Jaywalk, the champion 2-year-old filly of last year, ran seventh.

The Cotillion, a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup prep, earned Street Band an automatic, fees-paid berth in the Nov. 2 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita Park.

She is owned by Jones and his wife, Cindy, and partners Ray Francis, Medallion Racing, and MyRacehorse.com. Bred in Kentucky by Larry and Cindy Jones and Ray Francis, she is by Istan out of the Street Cry mare Street Minstrel, who Jones also trained.

As far back as 2004, the Cotillion has proven a key Distaff steppingstone. Ashado won the Cotillion and Distaff that year, something Untapable later did in 2014. Last year, Monomoy Girl won the Distaff after crossing the wire first in the Cotillion, although Midnight Bisou was declared the Cotillion winner by stewards, who deemed Monomoy Girl impeded her in the stretch.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Awesome Again Stakes from Santa Anita Park on September 28. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.