All roads led to Philadelphia last Saturday as Parx put on a superb card worth north of $3m. The card culminated in the $1.25m Pennsylvania Derby where we were able to witness a rematch between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners.
We start with the Gallant Bob Stakes, a six furlong sprint for three year olds. Noholdingback Bear brought some class form to this race including a good third in the grade 1 King’s Bishop Stakes last time out and, in this particular race, class did out.
In truth the horse didn’t get the best of trips as he hunted up Navy Hymn and Awesome Speed in third place. He ran out of room and had to be throttled back and taken wide to mount his challenge but it was no problem to this capable and consistent horse and he stayed on strongly to win by 1 ¼ lengths. The other joint 3.1/1 favorite, Threefiveindia, stumbled badly at the start but was close enough at the end to make a challenge but was not up to it.
The grade 1 race of the evening was the Cotillion Stakes for three year old fillies over a mile and a sixteenth. The mighty Songbird went off the 3/10 favorite despite being up against the Kentucky Oaks winner, Cathryn Sophia.
Was this going to be the day when Songbird’s reign would end or at least receive a serious challenge? The answer was a resounding “no” as she, once again, demolished the field leaving the finishers strung out like washing on a line.
She broke well but allowed Carina Mia to give her a lead for the first six furlongs. Jockey Mike Smith then allowed her to take the lead and she cruised home under hands and heels for a 5 ¾ length win over Carina Mia with a further 6 ¾ lengths back to the toiling Cathryn Sophia.
Songbird was the best two year old filly and is now, without doubt, the best three year old filly and still hasn’t been tested in her eleven races to date. Her next challenge is the Breeders’ Cup, where she will have to meet her elders for the first time. If she passes that with flying colours then, no doubt, she will be taking on the boys in future.
Finally, we move on to the feature race, the Pennsylvania Derby, where a field of 12 vied for this grade 2 race over a mile and an eighth and worth a mouthwatering $1.32m
In our preview, we looked at Gun Runner, who had been a well-beaten third in the Travers but still earned a Beyer of 102, such was the awesome quality of the winner’s performance. The winner did come from the Travers Stakes field but he was even further back, beaten over 21 lengths by the awesome Arrogate.
Connect had been unbeaten in 2016 up to that race and it did subsequently transpire that he had a lung issue but it still required a leap of faith to see him win a race of this competitive quality, hence his starting price of 10.6/1.
Connect got a dream inside, ground-saving trip. Initially held up in 6th he passed all the horses in front of him with a dream inside trip into the straight and ran on well to beat Gun Runner by ½ a length, further upholding the Travers form. It was a further 4 lengths back to the third, which adds more gravitas to the peromance.
Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist finished a most disappointing 6th. As stated by connections, he was much more restrained in his run in third place and took the lead briefly coming into the stretch but he had nothing left and faded back into the field. It will be interesting to see where connections go from here and whether the problems that affected him during/post Preakness can be surmounted. Exaggerator, once again, appeared to show that, at this level, he needs a wet track and a very fast pace to be seen at his best.