The 2022 Pennsylvania Derby according to Geo Sette

September 23, 2022

Geo was on a streak of Grade 1 winners earlier in the year. He looks to get back on track with a win in The Grade 1, Million Dollar Pennsylvania Derby. So here it is, The 2022 Pennsylvania Derby according to Geo Sette.

Geo Sette, Past The Wire
Geo, Game Face!

So now the scene shifts over to Parx, in the township of Bensalem, Pennsylvania and it’s by a wide margin their very best racing day of the year.  It’s a robust 13-race card with numerous Stakes events, highlighted by this $1,000,000.00 Grade One PA Derby.  Inaugurated back in 1979, it has shifted gears over the years (started out as a Spring event) but it has now become a well sought after Grade1 event for three-year-olds. I feel it’s perfectly placed at what is a long campaign, and following all the major Graded Stakes races at the Saratoga meet. 

Being born and raised in New York,  over the years I took some weekend steams down to what once was Keystone and later called Philadelphia Park. Of course, now like many tracks around the country, it has become PARX, a casino/racetrack enterprise and attraction. 

I was also in attendance last year watching Hot Rod Charlie outgun and out-finish Midnight Bourbon to the wire (Yeah, it was chalk, but I nailed the exacta strong). Sadly, Midnight Bourbon, a fabulous hard-hitting colt, tragically died earlier this year at the age of 4.  

Absent from this year’s race is the three-year-old division leader, Epicenter, who won the Grade 1 Travers, and who we’ll see at the Breeders’ Cup in early November; however, there are many familiar colts running who are Grade 1 winners themselves and collectively make this a very competitive field of eleven.  I have featured many of these guys in my columns during the year, with a few of them providing me with some very worthwhile scores. So even though I know some of these colts like the back of my hand, I still went through my process of film study, and pedigree/past performance reconciliation.  You just have to, no matter how much you feel you know about a given horse. Their workouts and their space between races are extremely important. I make sure I cover everything. 

I believe we have 6 realistic contenders in this race, with the remaining colts fighting for a piece of the purse. As I typically provide for you, my loyal readers, here is my precise order of finish as I draw a picture of this race in my mind. At a very minimum, you will be more informed to make a good window decision for yourself, and I will see you for all 14 Breeders’ Cup races in early November.  Are you ready to make some money? Let’s go! 

#1 Zandon

In my Travers Stakes Column, my readers will tell you that I backed this guy big time as I felt he was sitting on an improved race. He did just that running his career-best Beyer at 105. He finished a very close 3rd to Cyberknife but both were soundly defeated by Epicenter who also ran his career-best Beyer.  It’s part of the game, you can be holding a winning hand with pocket Kings, but then you run into pocket Aces. Epicenter was much the best that day. 

So now trainer Chad Brown switches to strong-armed Joel Rosario. Not taking anything away from Flavien Pratt who is back aboard  #6 We The People, but I like Rosario with this assignment as this colt is turning back to this 9-furlong distance, which I believe is his very best. This colt is still training exceptionally well and comes into this race with a few smart breezes at Belmont Park. He has shown continuous improvement and I feel he again can go forward in this race as he just may be sitting with a perfect inside trip. I confidently trust that he’ll adapt to this new PARX oval, as he has shown to be consistent and reliable in racing over 6 different tracks in his 7 career races. This colt has only won twice, but he’s a Grade 1 winner and has hit the board in all 7 career starts, just missing by a nose in the Grade 2 Remsen to Mo Donegal who would likely be favored in this race if he was entered.  He has also shown the tenacity needed to fight in the stretch if need be, and to move swiftly inside or outside and thru traffic if there should be any. He’s got the right pilot to get the job done, Rosario won this race back in 2015 (Frosted) and Chad Brown won this event in 2016 (Connect). He’s my # 1 contender and top choice. 

 #8 Taiba

This guy has been lightly raced, but there’s very little doubt he possesses a world of talent. Trained by Bob Baffert who is seeking his fourth PA Derby win (2014 Bayern, 2017 West Coast, 2018 McKinzie), and two-time winner Mike Smith riding for Bob in 2017 and 2018) is back up seeking his 3rd win. This colt never raced as a juvenile but has had a solid three-year-old campaign. He defeated Jack Christopher and just missed passing Cyberknife in the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes. Now he returns for his first race since that July 23rd race and he’s been working exclusively on the west coast, with all of his works showing that he’s coming into this race sharp, fresh, fit and dangerous. He’s got enough speed to either get the lead early or sit tactically and a very advantageous 2nd or 3rd which will likely secure a nice trip. I still wish he was more seasoned with added race experience, but his speed figures simply put him right there in the mix and a strong contender in this field. He completes what I feel is a very promising exacta scenario. 

#11 White Abarrio 

I gave this guy an exceptionally long look after his poor effort in the Haskell Stakes, finishing 34 lengths behind both Cyberknife and Taiba. Other than being 4-wide that day, there really wasn’t any competent excuse for his lackluster effort and for giving way in the stretch, but this guy is still a Grade 1 winner (Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park) and is 6 for 8 hitting the board, winning 4 of them over dry, fast, dirt surfaces. I trust the Saffie Joseph barn that he can improve off that dull effort at Monmouth Park. His running style is complementary in a race like this where there should be a moderate to fast pace in front of him. Even from this outside post, I’m expecting him to be forwardly placed and to get a smart ride from Luis Saez who is riding him for the first time. He has shown an excellent turn of foot and I feel he is built for this distance. Finally, what I was most impressed with are his collective workouts from Saratoga. He really seems to be fresh and very fit, which gave me the confidence to put a line through the Haskell and just take for granted he wanted no part of Monmouth Park’s soil that day. He’s a contender because I still feel he hasn’t run his best race yet. He’s my 3rd choice and could possibly upset the field if my top two falter, then even so he’s likely to be a nice price to add value to your Triple and Superfecta wages.  Trainer Saffie Joseph won this race in 2019 with Math Wizard and rider Saez won aboard Will Take Charge in 2013. 

#4 Skippylongstocking 

This son of Exaggerator keeps on improving. He’s coming into this race off of his career-best Beyer,  a 102 in winning the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. This followed his very strong 3rd in the Belmont Stakes to Mo Donegal and the filly Nest who went on to win the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. I was delighted with his effort on Belmont Day because he provided a monster triple ticket for yours truly and all of my Past the Wire loyal readers.  This guy has been swift and very tactical over his last 2 races and I feel he’ll bring much of the same for this race. The very capable Edwin Gonzalez is back in the saddle. This colt has never been off the board at the distance (winning twice). I feel he’s a true contender in this field and is capable of running perhaps his career-best race. He’s seasoned with a world of racing experience for a three-year-old. A very worthy 4th choice who should be used in many of your betting gimmicks. If he gets a good trip, he may surprise many people at a nice price. 

#5 Cyberknife 

First things first, let me be very clear, I am very fond of this colt. As my readers know, he was my top choice at a very nice price in the Grade 1 Haskell, and he’s automatically a win contender in this field. He’s deserving of that for many reasons. Not only is he a Multiple Grade 1 winner, but he’s won 5 of his career 10 races, hitting the exacta board 8 times. Additionally, he possesses quality tactical speed and has shown fabulous closing punch ability. His Rider Florent Geroux has been his pilot from day 1 and Brad Cox, his trainer, deserves great respect too.  Okay, so why am I listing him as my 5th choice?  Well, it’s just this particular field and I feel he has worked exceptionally hard in his last three races. Based on his two works coming out of Churchill Downs and his 7 starts this year, I’m feeling that perhaps he may not bring his very best over this new surface. We know he’s punched his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Classic with his Haskell win and this race could be a solid stepping-stone to that race. Because I wasn’t decisive in my handicap in knowing how he’ll run this race or the trip he’ll get, I decided to move him down as my 5th choice. Make no mistake, he’s deserving of your respect and options in your betting gimmicks but this time around you will not be getting much betting value.  This guy has matured greatly over this year. It will be interesting to see if he can fire the same type of effort he showed in the Haskell. 

#7 Tawny Port   

This guy, the son of Pioneer of The Nile, was purchased for $430,000 as a yearling and he too has been a very consistent and reliable colt coming out of the same Brad Cox barn.  Irad Oritz, up for the 3rd time adds to his appeal as well. There’s no doubt he’s built for the distance and has shown his share of improvement. Perhaps he can get even better, but he’s been beaten twice rather soundly by my top choice Zandon.  I will list him as the last of my win contenders, he’s got a puncher’s chance to close powerfully on this field with a solid trip and swift fractions up front; however, to me, he’ll need some of my horses listed above to really falter as well. Do not ignore him completely, he is worthy of using in many of your deeper wagering gimmicks. 

#9 Simplification 

This guy is a good-looking colt who always tries and he’s run in several big three-year-old races very competitively. Now his trainer, Antonio Sano, switches to Paco Lopez, his 3rd rider change in as many races. Personally, I felt that Jose Ortiz in the saddle in his prior races gave him the very best chance to win. This horse has solid race experience and could be sort of a wild-card as he’s making his 2nd start off of his layoff and he does own two nice morning drills over this same PARX soil.  He’s not likely a win contender, but I wouldn’t fault those who use him in their betting, especially in your deeper triple or superfecta wages.  Watch the board. If he gets lots of action, that could be an indication of how fit he is coming into the race. He’s my 7th choice, but capable to better my rating. 

The following are my bottom 4. None of these 4 colts I believe are good enough to win this race, and I will not be using them in any of my betting formats.  I will provide a brief bullet point or two for each for you to use as an additional guide towards your specific wages. I see these colts finishing 8th thru 11th in this field. 

#6 We The People   

I respect his connections with Rudy Brissett and Flavien Prat. He does have some promising speed figures along with his quality gate speed, but he hasn’t really beaten anyone. I feel his speed will not likely last through the stretch run.

#10 Naval Aviator 

A nice looking improving colt who is 5 for 5 with his exacta finishes on fast dirt tracks but this is too much of a class hike for him to be a logical contender 

#3 B Hawk   

This guy has speed and I find his connections of Frankie Pennington for Doug O’Neil very appealing but his figures just do not match many in this field. He appears to be up against it 

#2 Icy Storm   

This son of Keen Ice is actually a nice-looking colt. He’s achieved 4 wins in 10 starts, but clearly, he’s up against it. He belongs in a claiming race, he’ll be 60-1 on the board but should actually be 150-1 so he’ll be an underlay to boot. A complete toss, seriously save your money. 

There you have it, as always your comments are always appreciated, and stay tuned for my Mega-Breeders’ Cup columns in early November. I will be covering all 14 races just as I have the past 4 seasons. 

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Photo: Zandon win the Blue Grass at Keeneland earlier this year, Coady Photography

Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, analyst, and also is our Director of Business Development. Geo has been...

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  1. John Romano Sep 24, 2022 at 8:45 am

    Thanks for your opening , informative and interesting fun read

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