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Jon White: Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion Picks

by Jon White

September 20, 2023

The $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, which has attracted a field of 11, will be contested at 1 1/8 miles this Saturday (Sept. 23) at Parx Racing.

From the rail out, the field for this Grade I event consists of Modern Era (50-1 on the morning line), Dreamlike (10-1), Saudi Crown (7-2), Magic Tap (5-1), Scotland (6-1), Daydreaming Boy (12-1), West Coast Cowboy (12-1), Gilmore (10-1), Crupi (15-1), Il Miracolo (8-1) and Reincarnate (3-1).

What I really would like to wager on is not available. As noted above, Reincarnate has been installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite. Saudi Crown is the 7-2 second choice.

If I could, I would make a large wager that Saudi Crown, not Reincarnate, will be the favorite when the 3-year-olds spring from the starting gate. Maybe I’ll be wrong. But I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that I’m right.

Saudi Crown (pictured above) comes into the race off Beyer Speed Figures of 106 in the Dwyer Stakes and 105 in the Jim Dandy Stakes.

Reincarnate? He has yet to record a Beyer higher than 95. As I’ve written many times, Beyer Speed Figures often have a big impact on how a race is bet.

Saudi Crown will begin from post 3. Reincarnate? He drew post 11. When Bob Baffert was informed on the phone by a Parx representative that Reincarnate got post 11 at the draw, the Hall of Fame trainer was reported to have said with a laugh, “Oh, man, I am going to hang up.”

In other words, Baffert was not happy that Reincarnate must start from the outside post.

“I was hoping to get in the middle somewhere, but you can’t change it,” Baffert said. “But he’s still going [to run].”

I liked Saudi Crown to win the Pennsylvania Derby, but I like him even more now that Reincarnate will be breaking from the outside.

Below are my selections for the Pennsylvania Derby:

1. Saudi Crown (7-2 morning line)
2. Scotland (6-1)
3. Il Miracolo (8-1)
4. Reincarnate (3-1 favorite)

Saudi Crown is a scant two noses away from being four for four. Unraced at 2, he won his first two starts this year, a maiden sprint at Keeneland in April and an allowance sprint at Churchill Downs in May.

Trainer Brad Cox then put Saudi Crown in Belmont Park’s Grade III Dwyer Stakes at one mile on July 1. The Kentucky-bred Always Dreaming colt lost by a nose when runner-up to Baffert-trained Fort Bragg.

In Saratoga’s Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on a sloppy track July 29, Saudi Crown again finished second and again lost by only a nose. This time he was barely defeated by Forte, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2022.

As I wrote in my Jim Dandy recap for Xpressbet.com: “In my opinion, Forte should have been disqualified. I say this as someone who has been a steward in California, Washington and Idaho.”

Three retired jockeys who are now broadcasters, Gary Stevens, Jerry Bailey and Richard Migliore, likewise said that Forte should have been disqualified from first in the Jim Dandy for causing interference. Having ridden a combined 15,530 races, these three ex-riders certainly possess the gravitas to speak convincingly on the subject of whether or not Forte should have had his number taken down in the Jim Dandy.

After the controversial Jim Dandy, a race in which Saudi Crown ran so hard, Cox elected to skip the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 26 with him and point him instead for the Pennsylvania Derby.

Forte, who like Saudi Crown ran hard in the Jim Dandy, did compete in the Travers, which was decided on a muddy track. In a flat performance, Forte ran fourth in the Travers, perhaps due in some part to his taxing effort in the Jim Dandy. The Jim Dandy was just the second time in Forte’s 10-race career that he has finished worse than second.

Scotland exits the Travers. He set the early pace and finished sixth for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

I was impressed by Scotland prior to the Travers when he won Saratoga’s Curlin Stakes at 1 1/8 miles by 3 1/4 lengths on July 21. The Tapit colt was credited with a 99 Beyer Speed Figure for that victory. Another number similar to that would make him a tough customer this Saturday.

Scotland’s win in the Curlin looked even better when runner-up Il Miracolo returned to take Parx’s Grade III Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 1/16 miles by three lengths on Aug. 22.

It does help Il Miracolo that he has a good-looking win on the Parx main track to his credit. He posted a 98 Beyer Speed Figure for his Smarty Jones triumph.

Antonio Sano trains Il Miracolo, a Gun Runner colt.

The Pennsylvania Derby was first run in 1979. Baffert’s four wins are the most by a trainer in the race’s history. His four winners have been Bayern in 2014, McKinzie in 2018, West Coast in 2019 and Taiba in 2022.

It was announced this week that Taiba has been retired from racing and will embark on a new career as a stud at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. In addition to taking the Pennsylvania Derby, Taiba registered Grade I wins last year in the Santa Anita Derby and Malibu Stakes.

In Taiba’s lone 2023 start, he finished eighth in the Group I, $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 25.

Reincarnate will try to provide Baffert with a fifth Pennsylvania Derby victory. After finishing 13th in the Grade I Kentucky Derby on May 6, the Good Magic colt won the Los Alamitos Derby at 1 1/8 miles by 2 1/2 lengths on July 8.

However, Reincarnate’s 91 Beyer Speed Figure in the Los Alamitos Derby doesn’t get the pulse racing. Also, Reincarnate’s Los Al Derby performance was not flattered when runner-up Skinner subsequently could do no better than fifth in Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic on Sept. 2.


Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for Pennsylvania Derby winners going back to 1992 (the first year they were listed in the American Racing Manual):

2022 Taiba (108)
2021 Hot Rod Charlie (111)
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)


Kentucky Oaks winner Pretty Mischievous tops a field of nine 3-year-old fillies entered in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes, which also will be run at Parx Racing this Saturday.

Pretty Mischievous has been pegged as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.

From the rail out, the field for the Grade I Cotillion is comprised of Foggy Night (12-1 on the morning line), Ceiling Crusher (5-1), Pretty Mischievous (2-1), Hoosier Philly (6-1), Occult (6-1), Just Katherine (12-1), Definining Purpose (4-1), Imonra (10-1) and Majestic Creed (30-1),

I’m going to take a shot and make Ceiling Crusher my top pick at a nice 5-1 on the morning line. Trained by Doug O’Neill, the California-bred Mr. Big filly has lost only once in five career starts.

Last time out, Ceiling Crusher cruised to an impressive win in Del Mar’s Torrey Pines Stakes at one mile on Sept. 2. In her three stakes victories this year, she has won the Evening Jewel by 15 1/2 lengths, Melair by 17 lengths and Torrey Pines by six lengths.

It’s not as if Ceiling Crusher’s Beyers are far below Pretty Mischievous’ figures. In Ceiling Crusher’s trio of stakes wins this year, her Beyers have been 94, then 92, then 92.

Pretty Mischievous, who possibly will go off at a much shorter price than her 2-1 morning line, has reeled off three consecutive wins, all at the Grade I level. Her Beyers in those three victories were 92 in the Kentucky Oaks, then 96 in the Acorn Stakes, then 87 in the Test Stakes.

Brendan Walsh trains Pretty Mischievous, a Kentucky-bred filly by super sire Into Mischief.

Inasmuch as Pretty Mischievous is a multiple Grade I winner, she does merit the utmost respect in the Cotillion. And she will always have a soft spot in my heart after I cashed a $200 bet on her at odds of 15-1 in the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager.

Nevertheless, while I appreciate Pretty Mischievous coming through for me in the Kentucky Oaks, I will try to beat her Saturday with Ceiling Crusher.

Below are my selections for the Cotillion Stakes:

1. Ceiling Crusher (5-1 morning line)
2. Pretty Mischievous (2-1 favorite)
3. Defining Purpose (4-1)
4. Occult (6-1)

Kenny McPeek trains Defining Purpose. The Cross Traffic filly won the Grade I Ashland Stakes in April, finished seventh in the Kentucky Oaks in May, won the Grade III Indiana Oaks in July, then ran third in the Grade I Alabama Stakes last month.

Occult, third to Pretty Mischievous in the Acorn, comes off a 10 1/4-length route in the Grade III Monmouth Oaks on July. Chad Brown trains the Into Mischief filly.


Brereton Jones, a giant in Thoroughbred racing and breeding and former governor of Kentucky, died Monday (Sept. 18). He was 84. Kentucky’s current governor, Andy Beshear, announced Jones’ passing.

Jones held the highest office in Kentucky from 1991-95. Founder of the highly successful Airdrie Stud in Kentucky in 1972, he owned three Kentucky Oaks winners -- Proud Spell in 2008, Believe You Can in 2015 and Lovely Maria in 2015.

Believe You Can is the dam of Conclude. A 3-year-old Collected colt, Conclude won two grass stakes races at the recently adjourned Del Mar meeting. He won the Oceanside on opening day, then captured the Grade II Del Mar Derby on Sept. 3.

Conclude races for an ownership partnership that includes Jones, Little Red Feather Racing and Madaket Stables. Trained by Phil d’Amato, Conclude won the Oceanside under the Little Red Feather silks, then took the Del Mar Derby beneath Jones’ orange and green silks. Jones bred Conclude.


Old Friends, the Thoroughbred retirement home in Kentucky, has announced that
Eclipse Award winner Amazombie was euthanized Monday (Sept. 18) due to a fractured ankle. He was 16.

Amazombie won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in 2011. He was voted a 2011 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter.

Bill Spawr trained Amazombie, who won 12 of 29 lifetime starts. The California-bred Northern Afleet gelding earned $1,920,378.

In what turned out to be Amazombie’s final start, he finished eighth as the 7-2 favorite in the Grade I BC Sprint in 2012 at Santa Anita. Trinniberg won that race. Amazombie then was retired to Old Friends by his co-owners, Spawr and Thomas Sanford.

“Amazombie died doing what he did best -- running like the wind,” said Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends. “...I’m certain I’m not the only one who is heartbroken.”

Spawr earlier this year ended his 43-year career as a trainer in which he was highly respected by colleagues, owners, breeders, racing officials and bettors. Amazombie was just one of so many terrific training jobs on the part of Spawr.

“Amazombie was a lot of fun,” Spawr said after learning of the champion’s death. “He was so much fun, you just can’t imagine. And, you know, he died doing what he loved to do -- run!”

Spawr thanked Old Friends for doing “a great job” with Amazombie during his retirement. “We appreciated that.”


Arcangelo again is atop the Longines Breeders’ Cup Rankings this week. Winner of this year’s Grade I Belmont Stakes and Grade I Travers Stakes, the Arrogate ridgling is scheduled to make his next start in America’s richest race, the $6 million BC Classic, at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.

The Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings are determined by a panel of voters comprised of members of the Breeders’ Cup Racing/Secretaries Panel, international racing and sports media, plus racing analysts.

The rankings will be updated weekly through Oct. 10.

The Top 10 this week’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Rankings is below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 330 Arcangelo (23)
2. 266 Geaux Rocket Ride (1)
3. 262 Arabian Knight (4)
4. 259 White Abarrio (4)
5. 186 Forte (1)
6. 135 Proxy
7. 129 Bright Future
8. 68 Mage
9. 65 Ushba Tesoro (2)
10. 51 Zandon


Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

1. 288 Arcangelo (23)
2. 269 Cody’s Wish (6)
3. 213 Elite Power (1)
4. 183 Echo Zulu (2)
5. 175 White Abarrio (2)
6. 153 Arabian Knight
7. 146 Gunite
8. 87 Geaux Rocket Ride
9. 78 Up to the Mark
10. 52 Casa Creed