Pennsylvania Derby Day Play and Play Against Horses

September 22, 2022

Pennsylvania Derby Day is one of the last major racing days before breeder’s cup. Horses come from all over to Bensalem, PA to race at Parx Racetrack just for this day. Like many horseplayers, this is usually the only day I play this racetrack. It’s a smaller track with more modest connections. However, many great horses have raced here over the years including Smarty Jones, Spectacular Bid, My Juliet, Shuvee, and many more. They put together a great card this year, so let’s dive in and bring home a winning ticket!

Race 9: The Turf Monster-G3 $300,000:

Distance/Surface: 5 Furlongs Turf

Full Field with Morning Lines (**Favorite: AE= Also Eligible):

  1. **That’s Right 3-1
  2. Surprise Boss 5-1
  3. Dr. Duke 12-1
  4. Nothing Better 4-1
  5. Uncle Ernie 8-1
  6. Extreme Force 20-1
  7. Boat’s a Rockin 10-1
  8. War Tocsin 15-1
  9. Breezy Gust 10-1
  10. Heros Reward 12-1
  11. Smooth B 6-1
  12. Grooms All Bizness 6-1
  13. AE West Fork 20-1
  14. MTO Violent Turbulence 4-1
  15. MTO Vidal 3-1

Pace Scenario/Initial Thoughts: Like most turf sprints, there is a ton of speed signed up here. I expect That’s Right, Boat’s A Rockin, Surprise Boss, Nothing Better, and Uncle Ernine to fight for the lead. Of that group, it is difficult to determine who will be the speed of the speed. They are all capable of running under a 22 second first quarter. If I had to guess, That’s Right could be your speed of the speed. With that inside post, they will need to send especially with Surprise Boss to his outside. With all this speed, this race sets up perfect for a stalker or closer which is where I will be putting my money.

Horses I like (Will use in Pick 5):

  • 12 Grooms All Bizness: As of this writing, we don’t know who the jockey will be for this mount. This horse has raced well for 3 different jockeys, so I think any competent jockey will be able to give this horse a shot. From a pace standpoint, this race will set up perfect for an off the pace horse. That is exactly what Grooms All Bizness does best. He is a 3 year old that seems to be improving with each race. He did lose to That’s Right two races back, but this race has more pace pressure. In that race, That’s Right got to an easy 2 length lead and never looked back. Grooms All Bizness, on the other hand, closed from 9 lengths back down the rail to get a decent 3rd. I expect a pace collapse here and I think the 12 has every right to improve and close late.
  •  5 Uncle Ernie: There is a lot going against this horse I’ll admit. He’s never raced on turf, he’s a speed horse in a race with a ton of speed, and he’s never raced without Lasix. However, there is too much to like about this horse while getting 8-1 on the morning line. First, he gets a massive jockey upgrade with Joel Rosario taking the mount. Although this is a grade III race, you could argue Uncle Ernie has been facing classier horses albeit on dirt. He’s been working lights out at Parx in preparation for this race. The layoff doesn’t bother me, trainer John Servis has no problem getting his horses ready for big days. If his speed translates to turf, he should have no problem being there at the end. I’ll take a shot at 8-1.
  • 2 Surprise Boss: This is one of the speed horses I’m going to play. He’s one of the few horses in this race that has proven he can race well without Lasix. I also think Irad Ortiz will be smart enough to not get in a speed duel with the other pace setters. From the 2 post, I think he will sit and stalk the leaders while they tire each other out. He’s been facing very competitive state bred company and no one in this field scares me. I also would not be surprised if this was the favorite going into the gate.

Horses I’m Playing against:

  • 11 Smooth B: He’s got the best speed figures in the race, but he’s only raced on turf twice and did not show much in either race. Also, he’s only raced without Lasix once in his career. In that race he gave way late and got 9th. No Lasix in this race.
  •  7 Boats a Rockin: This horse wants longer. He’s only sprinted once in his career and that was a 6 furlong debacle at Penn. Love the connections, but this horse excels going longer against weaker competition.
  • 1 That’s Right: I’m against the morning line favorite. That last race showed me that this horse cannot run without Lasix. He got to an easy lead and had no excuse to give it up, let alone lose by 8 lengths. I know that was a much tougher race than this one, but the pace setup is awful for That’s Right and I think the Lasix is a much bigger factor than people think.
  • 4 Nothing Better: It scares me a little bit to leave this horse off my ticket He’s clearly a talented gelding and gets a massive jockey upgrade as Saez takes the mount. However, this is yet another horse that hasn’t shown the ability to win without Lasix. Trainer Jorge Duarte is a trainer on the decline in my opinion. He blew up in 2019 with $1.7 million in earnings. Since then, he has earned less and less each year ($1.2 million 2020, $1 million 2021, $650k YTD 2022).

Summary & Top Pick:

This is a wide-open race and a very tough race to handicap. To be honest, I wouldn’t talk anyone off a horse they like in this race. While I have my reasons to be against some of the favorites here, it would not surprise me if any of them won. I’ll take Grooms All Biziness as my top choice. He gets a great pace setup and is improving. He also has a great name which never hurts.

Race 10 The Gallant Bob-G2 $300,000:

Distance/Surface: 6 furlongs Dirt

Full Field with Morning Lines (*Favorite: AE= Also Eligible):

  1. Dance Code 20-1
  2. Of a Revolution 6-1
  3. **Provocateur 4-1
  4. Speaking 10-1
  5. Little Vic 8-1
  6. Jelly Nougat 15-1
  7. No Save Nada 15-1
  8. Witty 12-1
  9. Runninsonofagun 6-1
  10. Lightning Larry 8-1
  11. Nakatomi 9-2
  12. Alottahope 10-1
  13. Practical Coach 12-1
  14. Scaramouche 5-1

Pace Scenario/Initial Thoughts: This will be a decently fast pace, but nothing compared to the turf sprint we just covered. Lightning Larry will be your pace setter here, with Little Vic and Provocateur stalking right behind him. The rest of the field will be trying to close on these leaders. This is another wide-open race where you can make a case for at least half the field. Here the masses will spread and use 5-6 horses. We can separate ourselves from the pack by narrowing our ticket and using less horses.

Horses I like (Will use in Pick 5):

  • 10 Lightening Larry: I don’t want to leave this horse off any of my tickets. He will certainly be your leader when they make the turn. I also love horse like this that are willing to travel anywhere and face the best. This will be the 5th different track he’s raced on, and he’s been consistent everywhere he goes. He won’t have a ton of pace pressure in here. If the track favors speed, I think he could upset the field going gate to wire. Chantel Sutherland is an underrated jockey and has started to make a comeback.
  • 3 Provacateur: This is an easy pick to make. He’s the classiest horse in the field and brings it every time. Hall of fame jockey Irad Ortiz will be riding for hall of fame trainer Todd Pletcher. He’s already beaten several horses in this race. At 4-1 he’s worth a sizeable win bet, but I’ll be shocked if this horse is higher than 2-1 come post time.

Horses I’m Playing against:

  •  14 Scaramouche: He’s 5-1 on the morning line and will certainly take more money on race day. I can see why. He’s coming off two stellar races where he stalked the pace and won by open lengths. He also clearly loves the Parx racetrack. He also gets a jockey upgrade to hall of fame rider johnny Velazquez. I’m still going to play against him. He’s raced off Lasix twice in his career and lost those races by a combined 19 lengths. This is also a much classier field than he’s used to facing. Provacateur will get the jump on him and I’m not sure Scaramouche will be able to run him down.
  • 11 Nakatomi: I’m more nervous leaving this gelding off my ticket more than any other. I wouldn’t argue you against anyone that wants to use this horse. I’m going to take a shot against though. He had a very long layoff before he started his 3-year-old season. In that start, he looked good winning as a huge odds-on favorite. But then, he’s benched again all the way till now. Why an 8-month layoff followed by a 3-month layoff? To me this indicates that the connections are having a hard time keeping this horse healthy. While Wesley Arad is an outstanding 2-year-old trainer, he still struggles with his older horses. He’s decent with older horses, but not elite like he is with the juveniles. This horse could make me look silly on Saturday, but there are enough holes I can poke in his resume to go against.
  • 2 Of a Revolution: Decent horse, but trainer Saffie Joseph isn’t the same trainer outside of his home base in Florida.

Summary & Top Pick:

This is another wide-open race, so I want to separate myself from the pack and only go 2 deep. Remember, in parimutuel wagering, we are betting against our fellow horseplayer and not the house. We need to go where everyone else isn’t. While only using 2 horses is risky in a race like this, I’d rather cash less tickets, but win more money when we do hit. All that said, Provocateur is my top pick.

Race 8 The Cotillion G1 $1,000,000:

Distance/Surface: 8.5 furlongs Dirt

Full Field with Morning Lines (**Favorite: AE= Also Eligible):

  1. Green Up 6-1
  2. Adare Manor 7-2
  3. Goddess of Fire 5-1
  4. Beach Daze 30-1
  5. Gerrymander
  6. **Secret Oath 2-1
  7. Shahama 8-1
  8. Morning Matcha 15-1
  9. Society 8-1

Pace Scenario/Initial Thoughts: This is a fascinating race that is headlined by Kentucky Oaks champion Secret Oath. She hasn’t won since, then but has been facing some of the best horses in training. This field is still very competitive though filled out by Adare Manor who is back in the Bob Baffert barn, and 3 up and coming Todd Pletcher horses. Pace will be slow for this race. I expect Adare Manor to be pace setter and the leader turning for home.

Horses I like (Will use in Pick 5):

  • 2 Adare Manor: This filly was an early Kentucky Oaks favorite back when Bob Baffert had her. In her first 2 starts of the year she won by a combined 25 lengths. However, after several tracks banned Baffert, she was moved to the Tim Yakteen barn. While Yakteen was a Baffert assistant for a long time, I think we can all agree that he’s not Baffert and never will be. I still haven’t forgiven how he handled Taiba. But we’ll get to Taiba in the next race. After racing once for Sean McCarthy, she is now back where she belongs in the Baffert Barn. She’s posted 3 bullet works in a row. I have the feeling the Baffert is now trying to show the racing world that he is still the best living trainer. Adare will have the lead with very little pace pressure. She has the pace advantage and I would consider a win bet if she holds her 7-2 price.
  • 1 Green Up: That last race was spectacular. While I don’t quite believe the 100 Beyer speed figure, I do acknowledge that this horse is improving at the right time and clearly loves Parx. Irad Ortiz takes the mount for Pletcher which is never a bad thing. She will also get a great trip in this race, likely sitting just behind Adare Manor. If any horse can run down Adare its Green Up.
  • 5 Gerrymander: Chad Brown can’t figure out what to do with this horse. He’s raced her at 6 different distances hoping he’ll find the sweet spot. I’d argue the horses sweet spot is at 8.5 furlongs. Obviously, the best race of her career was two back when she won the mother goose by 3 lengths. That race was also run at 8.5 furlongs. This also seems to be a horse that follows up a loss with a great effort. If you look at her past performances, she follows every defeat with a win. Could she win after the Alabama defeat last out? I certainly think she can.

Horses I’m Playing against:

  •  6 Secret Oath: Don’t get me wrong I have a lot of respect for this horse. Trainer D Wayne Lukas is an absolute legend. He was winning Kentucky derby’s while many of us were still in diapers. All that said, I think this is a good spot to bet against. She has endured a brutal campaign going up against the best horses in the country. This will be her 8th race this year and I question how much gas is left in the tank. She’s lost 3 races in a row, and I think this field is too tough to lay 2-1 on her. I won’t be surprised if she wins, but I’m playing against.
  • 3 Goddess of Fire: She’s a very good filly but is a cut below this field. She has faced many other horses in this race already and has never broken through. She literally has not won a race since breaking her maiden last August. At 5-1 this is a big pass for me.
  • 7 Shahama: This horse could make me look silly. She’s an improving filly with my favorite jockey Flavien Prat on board. But I think she is a cut below this field. She’s also had a very demanding campaign, running 4 times in dubai to start the year. That was followed by 3 more challenging races back in the US. This is a big ask for this talented filly. I’ll wait to play her on a different day.

Summary & Top Pick:

I’m really excited to see Adare Manor back in the Baffert barn. I think this filly could be special and even a breeder’s cup contender. This is a fantastic race that I cannot wait to watch. A ton of talent shipped in for a shot at the million!

Race 12 BC The Pennsylvania Derby G1 $1,000,000:

Taiba working at Santa Anita, Ernie Belmonte, Past The Wire
Taiba in training, Ernie Belmonte, Past The Wire

Distance/Surface: 9 furlongs Dirt

Full Field with Morning Lines (**Favorite: AE= Also Eligible):

  1. Zandon 5-1
  2. Icy Storm 30-1
  3. B Dawk 20-1
  4. Skippylongstocking 10-1
  5. Cyberknife 3-1
  6. We the People 12-1
  7. Tawny Port 6-1
  8. **Taiba 5-2
  9. Simplification 10-1
  10. Naval Aviator 20-1
  11. White Abarrio 8-1

Pace Scenario/Initial Thoughts: There is a decent amount of pace in the race. They won’t be blazing up front, but I think We the People and Cyberknife will be the two fighting for the lead early. Taiba and Skippylongstocking will be stalking the front runners. Closers like Zandon will do their best to close from the back of the pack.

Horses I like (Will use in Pick 5):

  •  8 Taiba (Single): I’m only using 1 horse for this race and its taiba. Full disclosure, he was my pick for the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Looking back, they just rushed him into to a spot like that too soon. Not every horse can be Justify. It also didn’t help that he moved to Tim Yakteen’s barn right before the race. I’ll still never understand the 3 furlong workout just days before the derby. Whatever the reason, it was clear, Taiba wasn’t ready for the derby. The connections were smart by giving Taiba a month break before bringing him to the Haskell. In the Haskell, Cyberknife nailed Taiba at the wire. I encourage all of you to watch the Haskell replay. Cyberknife got a perfect trip saving ground up the rail, while Taiba lost a lot of ground going 5 wide. Yet Taiba only loses by a head. I don’t think Cyberknife will ever beat Taiba again. Taiba is back in the Baffert barn and he is working lights out. He comes into this race fresh and with something to prove. I think Taiba will blow this field away.

Horses I’m Playing against:

  •  Everyone Else:  There are very good horses in this race including Zandon, Cyberknife, Tawny Port ect. But none of these horses are special. Taiba has run some incredible races already, but I don’t even think we’ve seen the best from him yet. I just think it is a perfect spot to fade these B+ colts. 

Summary & Top Pick:

If Taiba loses, then so will I. I’m at peace with that.

Race 13 The Alphabet Soup Handicap $200k:

Distance/Surface: 8.5 furlongs Turf

Full Field with Morning Lines (*Favorite: AE= Also Elgible):

  1. **Buy Land And See 5-2
  2. Stonegate 8-1
  3. Irish Cork 12-1
  4. Wait For It 6-1
  5. Vine Jet 15-1
  6. Midnight Hauler 7-2
  7. You Must Chill 3-1
  8. Crisper 8-1
  9. O’Brien 15-1
  10. Glacier Express 20-1

Pace Scenario/Initial Thoughts: For those that don’t know, Alphabet Soup was one of the biggest upsets in Breeders Cup history. He beat the great and powerful Cigar at the 1996 Breeders Cup Classic at 20-1 odds. He was humbly bred in Pennsylvania and is well deserving of this race being named after him. As far as this race goes, this will be another slow pace. Buy Land And See will try to take this field gate to wire and I think he’s got a great shot of doing just that.

Horses I like (Will use in Pick 5):

  •  1 Buy Land And See: In a race with such little pace, I cant leave this horse off the ticket. He’s moved into the Preciado barn who is a great local trainer. He’s hitting over 26% for the meet. This horse has been facing much better in open company. He’s raced in two state bred races before and won by over 5 lengths in both. Due to the handicap race, he’s got to carry 127 lbs which is my only concern. He is by far the classiest horse in the field while having a large pace advantage. If not for the weight, I’d single here.
  •  6 Midnight Hauler: If Buy Land And See doesn’t fire or succumbs to the extra weight, I think Midnight Hauler is the one who wins. He’s a closer and does not get a great pace setup here. But he loves the distance and will not drop back as far this time. He’ll be making a run at the end, and I wouldn’t want to leave this closer off my ticket. He’s also 2-2 moving to the turf. If you look at his pedigree it baffles me that the connections waited this long to give this horse a chance on the turf. In with a big shot!

Horses I’m Playing against:

  •  7 You Must Chill: I just don’t think this is a turf horse. His breeding suggests dirt and his results also point to dirt. He’s not a bad turf horse by any means, but its not his best surface. $200,000 Pennsylvania state bred races don’t come along often, which is why I suspect the connections put him in this spot. He can hit the board, but I don’t see him winning here.

Summary & Top Pick: Buy Land And See is my top pick. The extra weight is my only concern.

Final Ticket: $1; 2,5,12/3,10/1,2,5/8/1,6; $36

Photos: Ernie Belmonte

Contributing Authors

Michael Vale, past The Wire

Michael Vale

Michael Vale is a racing fan from Chicago who wasn't introduced to the sport until later in life. No one in his immediate family was...

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@fatbaldguyracin hits a good % of winners but I have never saw anyone on the roll @jonathanstettin is on. Making very tough game look easy!

Justin Golden @justin181174 View testimonials