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Jon White: 2021 Pennsylvania Derby & Cotillion Stakes Picks | Saturday, September 25

by Jon White

September 23, 2021

Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon head a field of 10 entered in this Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.

Medina Spirit is one of the 10 entrants. However, Parx announced Tuesday that Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will be withdrawing him from the Pennsylvania Derby to run instead against older foes in Santa Anita’s Grade I Awesome Again Stakes on Oct. 2.

The Grade I Pennsylvania Derby is back this year after not being run last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Medina Spirit, who earlier this year finished first in the Grade I Kentucky Derby, had been made the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Pennsylvania Derby. That Medina Spirit was entered but now will not be running does shine a light on the flawed system in which morning lines are done these days.

Back when I was first going to the races as a youngster in the 1960s, entries were taken the day before race day. The Daily Racing Form (which did not publish morning lines back then) came out the evening before race day. Scratch time was in the morning on race day. After scratches, the morning line was submitted, which is why it’s called the MORNING line. The track program then was printed that same morning to be sold on track in the afternoon.

In time, entries were taken a day earlier, 48 hours (or two days) prior to race day. Scratch time was moved up to the day before race day. The morning line also was moved up to be submitted the day before race day.

In many cases these days, entries often are taken even earlier than 48 hours prior to race day. And the morning line these days is submitted well in advance of race day in order for it to appear in the DRF.

Parx, for instance, took entries five days prior to the Pennsylvania Derby card. The morning line came out on Tuesday, four days prior to that card and before the announcement that Medina Spirit will not be running.

Russell Hudak for many years made the morning line for Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Thoroughbred meets at Los Alamitos. He hit the nail on the head when he once said a few years ago that “these aren’t MORNING lines anymore. Now they’re ADVANCE lines. That’s because the morning line is done so far in advance of race day.”

The original morning line for the Pennsylvania Derby, in post position order from the rail out, was as follows: Fulsome (12-1), Keepmeinmind (8-1), Speaker’s Corner (12-1), Weyburn (12-1), I Am Redeemed (20-1), Bourbonic (12-1), Hot Rod Charlie (5-2), Midnight Bourbon (5-1), Medina Spirit (2-1), Americanrevolution (15-1).

The Pennsylvania Derby morning line, of course, would have been made quite differently without Medina Spirit.

Indeed, according to a Parx Racing release Wednesday, a revised morning line has been issued and is as follows: Fulsome (10-1), Keepmeinmind (5-1), Speaker’s Corner (8-1), Weyburn (10-1), I Am Redeemed (20-1), Bourbonic (10-1), Hot Rod Charlie (8-5), Midnight Bourbon (3-1), Americanrevolution (15-1).

It’s nice that a more realistic revised morning line has been released. But the problem is, as of Wednesday afternoon, the original morning line for the Pennsylvania Derby is what still appears in the Daily Racing Form past performances. That morning line in the DRF is not likely to change. Also as of Wednesday afternoon, the original morning line for the Pennsylvania Derby likewise was still being listed by Equibase.

The vast majority of people are not going to be aware that there is a revised morning line for the Pennyslvania Derby. They will know only of the original morning line.

Hot Rod Charlie won this year’s Grade I Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 17, but he was disqualified and placed last for causing Midnight Bourbon to clip heels and unseat jockey Paco Lopez during the stretch run.

Prior to the Haskell, Hot Rod Charlie did not win the Grade I Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on June 5, but he sure ran a marvelous race in defeat.

Hot Rod Charlie finished second in the Belmont, 1 1/4 lengths behind Essential Quality and a whopping 11 1/4 lengths in front of third-place finisher Rombauer, who was coming off a win in the Preakness.

What made Hot Rod Charlie’s performance in the Belmont so impressive is he managed to finish second despite running the first quarter-mile in :22.78 or :22 3/5 in fifths. It was the fastest opening quarter in the history of the Belmont when contested at 1 1/2 miles. The Belmont was first run in 1867.

Prior to Hot Rod Charlie, the quickest initial quarter in the Belmont when run at 1 1/2 miles had occurred all the way back in 1945. That’s when The Doge covered the initial quarter in :22 4/5, a torrid pace in such a long race on what was then a deep track. The Doge paid the price for his early efforts. He faltered and finished seventh in the field of eight. Pavot won by five lengths, while The Doge lost by a little more than 24 lengths.

The Belmont has been run at 1 1/2 miles a total of 95 times. Hot Rod Charlie ran the opening half-mile in :46.49 or :46 2/5 in fifths. The only horse to ever record a faster time for the first half-mile in a 1 1/2-mile Belmont was Secretariat, who was clocked in :46 1/5.

Below are the horses responsible for the only :46 and change fractional times in the history of the Belmont at 1 1/2 miles:

Year Time Horse, Finished (Winner if Different)

1973  :46 1/5 Secretariat, finished 1st
2021  :46 2/5 Hot Rod Charlie, finished 2nd (Essential Quality)
2013  :46 3/5 Frac Daddy, finished last in field of 14 (Palace Malice)
1991  :46 3/5 Corporate Report, finished 4th (Hansel)
1966  :46 3/5 Highest Honors, finished last in field of 13 (Amberoid)
1959  :46 3/5 Manassa Mauler, finished 4th (Sword Dancer)
1996  :46 4/5 Appealing Skier, finished 12th (Editor’s Note)
1957  :46 4/5 Bold Ruler, finished 3rd (Gallant Man)

The above chart points out just what a terrific race Hot Rod Charlie ran in the Belmont despite not winning. Even though he recorded the second-fastest half-mile time in the history of the race when contested at 1 1/2 miles, he finished far in front of everyone other than Essential Quality.

The following splits all belonged to Secretariat when he won the Belmont by 31 lengths to end a 25-year Triple Crown drought:

:23 3/5, :22 3/5, :23 3/5, :24 2/5, :24 4/5, 25 flat

These were the splits in this year’s Belmont:

:22 3/5, :23 3/5, :25 2/5, :25 1/5, :24 4/5, :24 3/5

Essential Quality, only a head off the leading Hot Rod Charlie at the quarter pole, is the one who ran the final quarter in :24 3/5. All the other splits belonged to Hot Rod Charlie.

Adding one-fifth of a second because Hot Rod Charlie lost by 1 1/4 lengths means that even though he posted the fastest opening quarter fraction in the history of the Belmont when contested at 1 1/2 miles, he still ran the final quarter in :24 4/5, a fifth of a second faster than Secretariat in his Belmont.

Doug O’Neill trains Hot Rod Charlie, a Kentucky-bred Oxbow colt.

Midnight Bourbon, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, was the runner-up in the Preakness. After unseating his rider in the Haskell, the Kentucky-bred Tiznow colt ran a heckuva race to finish a close second to Essential Quality in Saratoga’s Grade I Travers Stakes on Aug. 28. Midnight Bourbon lost the Travers by only a neck while well clear (five lengths) of third-place finisher Miles D.

Below are my Pennsylvania Derby selections:

1. Hot Rod Charlie
2. Midnight Bourbon
3. Speaker’s Corner
4. Fulsome

In terms of deciding who to make my top pick, it was not an easy decision. I can easily see either Hot Rod Charlie or Midnight Bourbon winning this race.

I decided to give Hot Rod Charlie the nod. I admire his consistency. He has crossed the finish line first, second or third in seven consecutive starts.

I consider Hot Rod Charlie’s second in the Belmont to be the second-best performance by a 3-year-old in this country so far this year, topped only by Essential Quality’s victory in that race.

Flavien Prat pilots Hot Rod Charlie this Saturday. I expect them to get a good trip. I’m looking for “Charlie” to race forwardly early, then have the needed response when the real test comes.

Hot Rod Charlie won the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 20. Midnight Bourbon finished second.

I came very close to putting Midnight Bourbon on top in my Pennsylvania Derby picks. If he runs anything like he did in the 1 1/4-mile Travers, he is going to be one tough dude this Saturday.

Meanwhile, I think Speaker’s Corner should be taken very seriously this Saturday. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt ran third in a six-furlong maiden race when unveiled at the 2020 Saratoga meet, then won a seven-furlong maiden contest the following month at Belmont Park.

Speaker’s Corner did not race again until he won a seven-furlong allowance affair by 5 1/4 lengths this year at Saratoga on Aug. 14. He now stretches out to nine furlongs.

Talk about an improving Beyer Speed Figure pattern. Speaker’s Corner recorded a 59 Beyer in his first race, then an 80, then a 101 in his most recent triumph.

Brad Cox trains Fulsome. It is a plus for Fulsome that he has a win on Parx’s main track. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt registered a two-length victory on that oval Aug. 24 in the Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes.


Rock Your World and First Captain had been candidates for the Pennsylvania Derby, but neither was entered.

In the case of Rock Your World, trainer John Sadler texted the DRF’s Steve Andersen to say the Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner will make his next start in Santa Anita’s Grade II Twilight Derby on the grass Oct. 31.

Rock Your World finished second to Medina Spirit in Del Mar’s Shared Belief Stakes on the dirt Aug. 29. The Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt, a $650,000 auction purchase, is two for two on the turf. His first stakes victory came in Santa Anita’s Pasadena Stakes on the grass Feb. 27.

The DRF’s David Grening reported that First Captain will not race again this year due to an ankle issue, according to Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.

A Kentucky-bred Curlin colt purchased for $1.5 million at auction, First Captain won his first three career starts before finishing third in Saratoga’s Curlin Stakes on July 30.


Below are the Beyers for Pennsylvania Derby winners going back to 1992 (the figures are listed in the 2021 American Racing Manual, which is now digital only and available for free on The Jockey Club’s website):

2020 not run
2019 Math Wizard (99)
2018 McKinzie (107)
2017 West Coast (107)
2016 Connect (103)
2015 Frosted (106)
2014 Bayern (110)
2013 Will Take Charge (105)
2012 Handsome Mike (93)
2011 To Honor and Serve (105)
2010 Morning Line (103)
2009 Gone Astray (104)
2008 Anak Nakal (100)
2007 Timber Reserve (105)
2006 not run
2005 Sun King (103)
2004 Love of Money (112)
2003 Grand Hombre (108)
2002 Harlan’s Holiday (96)
2001 Macho Uno (104)
2000 Pine Dance (105)
1999 Smart Guy (109)
1998 Rock and Roll (110)
1997 Frisk Me Now (114)
1996 Devil’s Honor (114)
1995 Pineing Patty (108)
1994 Meadow Flight (106)
1993 Wallenda (100)
1992 Thelastcrusade (107)


In Saratoga’s Grade I Alabama Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 21, Army Wife had the lead a furlong out before weakening slightly to finish third. Malathaat won by 1 1/2 lengths, while Clariere edged Army Wife by a half-length for second.

Cutting back from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/16 miles in this Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Cotillion Stakes figures to help Army Wife.

Below are my Cotillion selections:

1. Army Wife
2. Clairiere
3. Maracuja
4. Always Carina

Mike Maker trains Army Wife. Prior to the Alabama, the Kentucky-bred Declaration of War filly won the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico on May 14 and Grade III Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows on July 2.

Clairiere certainly merits much respect. She’s finished third or better in seven of eight lifetime starts. Back on Feb. 13, the Kentucky-bred Curlin filly won the Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. That’s been her lone stakes victory to date.

Maracuja won Saratoga’s Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks in a 14-1 upset on July 24. Malathaat finished second as the overwhelming 3-10 favorite when suffering her first defeat. Malathaat then gained revenge when winning the Alabama, a race in which Maracuja wound up seventh.

Rob Atras trains Maracuja, a Kentucky-bred Honor Code filly.

Always Carina, a member of the powerful Chad Brown string, won her first two career starts by margins of four and 9 3/4 lengths. But she then lost her next two races, both when moving up in class into graded stakes races. The Kentucky-bred Malibu Moon filly ran second in Belmont’s Grade II Mother Goose Stakes on June 26, then finished fourth in Saratoga’s Grade I Test Stakes on Aug. 7.

Considering how dominant Always Carina was in her first two races, I think it is possible that she could prove a tough customer in the Cotillion.

Private Mission also might have been a tough customer in the Cotillion off her 6 1/2-length win in Del Mar’s Grade III Torrey Pines Stakes. But she, like Medina Spirit, will be staying home in California, according to Baffert. The plan now is for Private Mission to make her next start vs. her elders in Santa Anita’s Grade I Zenyatta Stakes on Oct. 3. She has won three of four career starts.


In a scintillating performance, Walton Street won last Saturday’s Grade I Canadian International by 5 3/4 lengths at Woodbine.

Sent away as the odds-on favorite and ridden by the great Frankie Dettori, Walton Street completed 1 1/2 miles on the grass in 2:29.17. The 7-year-old Great Britain-bred gelding won with such authority as to make his 4-5 odds seem downright generous.

Desert Encounter finished second in the field of eight. Primo Touch came in third, 4 3/4 lengths behind Desert Encounter, who won the Canadian International in 2018 and 2019. The Canadian International was not run in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walton Street was credited with a 110 Beyer Speed Figure for his effort last Saturday. It’s clearly the best turf Beyer thus far this year.

Below are the highest grass Beyers of 2021 through Sept. 21:

Beyer Horse (Finish, Race, Track, Date)

110 Walton Street (Won, G1 Canadian International, WO, Sept. 18)
106 Domestic Spending (Won, G1 Manhattan, Bel, June 5)
106 Raging Bull (Won, G1 Maker’s Mark Mile, Kee, April 9)
105 Gear Jockey (Won Turf Sprint, KD, Sept. 11)
105 Casa Creed (Won, G1 Jaipur, Bel, June 5)
105 Bound for Nowhere (Won, G2 Shakertown, Kee, April 3)

Another indication of how wonderfully Walton Street ran in the Canadian Interational, his robust 110 Beyer would be good enough to have won 10 of the last 12 editions of the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Below are the Beyers for BC Turf winners going back 12 years to 2009:

2020 Tarnawa (109)
2019 Bricks and Mortar (104)
2018 Enable (114)
2017 Talismanic (108)
2016 Highland Reel (112)
2015 Found (108)
2014 Main Sequence (106)
2013 Magician (107)
2012 Little Mike (105)
2011 St Nicholas Abbey (108)
2010 Dangerous Midge (104)
2009 Conduit (106)


Charlie Appleby trains Walton Street. As noted during the NBCSN broadcast of the Canadian International and Woodbine Mile, Appleby had won with nine of his 26 North American starters prior to last Saturday’s racing.

And then last Saturday, Appleby not only won the Canadian International with Walton Street, he sent out Yibir to take Belmont’s $1 million Jockey Club Derby. On Sunday at Woodbine, Appleby won both the Grade I Natalma Stakes with Wild Beauty and Grade I Summer Stakes with Albahr. Appleby’s lone North American loss last weekend came in Belmont’s $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks, in which Creative Flair finished fourth.

Following Appleby’s stakes victories at Woodbine and Belmont last weekend, he now has won with 13 of his 31 North American starters (a sensational 42%).

Appleby has won with three of his seven Breeders’ Cup starters. His Breeders’ Cup winners have been Outstrip (2013 Juvenile Turf), Wuheida (2017 Filly & Mare Turf) and Line of Duty (2018 Juvenile Turf).


On the same card as the Canadian International, Town Cruise led past every pole and won the Grade I Woodbine Mile by 2 1/4 lengths at odds of 8-1.

Space Traveller finished second at 13-1. Raging Bull ran third at 7-2. Set Piece, the 8-5 favorite, ended up seventh in the field of 10.

This was Town Cruise’s first stakes victory. Brandon Greer trains the 6-year-old gelding.

Town Cruise recorded a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Woodbine Mile.

According to the DRF’s Ron Gierkink, Greer said Town Cruise will not race again in 2021. The Kentucky-bred son of Town Prize is to return in 2022. His main target, according to Greer, will be to try for a second Woodbine Mile victory.

Gierkink did not report on how Walton Street came out of his Canadian International win or what the plans are for him.


Proving a punctual 13-10 favorite, Restrainedvengence won last Saturday’s $200,000 Downs at Albuquerque Handicap by a slim margin in New Mexico.

Toting top weight of 123 pounds, Restainedvengence completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.26. He nosed out Tenfold for the victory. Tenfold carried 120 pounds. Sheriff Brown finished third under 118 pounds.

Tenfold ran third in the 2018 Preakness, which was won by Triple Crown winner Justify.

Sheriff Brown finished third in Del Mar’s recent Grade I Pacific Classic, which was won by Tripoli.

Restrainedvengence’s win last Saturday boosted his career bankroll to $917,682. Val Brinkerhoff trains the 6-year-old Kentucky-bred Hold Me Back gelding.

I have become a fan of Restrainedvengence, who now has seven stakes victories to his credit, including one at the Grade III level. He won Santa Anita’s Grade III American Stakes on the grass earlier this year on June 20.

Restrainedvengence has been a stakes winner at 3, 4, 5 and 6. He now is on the brink of becoming a millionaire.

Once upon a time it was a huge deal for a racehorse to earn a million bucks. For instance, when I bought my first Daily Racing Form in 1966 at Longacres, there were only six equine millionaires in the world. They were:

$1,977,896 Kelso
$1,749,869 Round Table
$1,288,565 Nashua
$1,241,165 Carry Back
$1,237,174 Buckpasser
$1,085,760 Citation

To put Kelso’s career earnings of $1,977,896 into perspective, that sum equates to about $16.7 million today when adjusted for inflation.

And don’t forget, there were no lucrative Saudi Cups, Dubai World Cups, Breeders’ Cups or Pegasus World Cups back when mighty Kelso was racing.


The order of the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is unchanged from last week. The Top 10 is listed below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 333 Knicks Go (20)
2. 312 Letruska (6)
3. 304 Essential Quality (10)
4. 166 Gamine
5. 152 Maxfield
6. 133 Max Player
7. 112 Domestic Spending
8. 105 Jackie’s Warrior
9. 85 Malathaat
10. 58 Silver State