The stage is set for the biggest day of the year at Parx Racing, as entries were taken and post positions drawn today for the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes and the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, which climax a five-stakes program Saturday, September 24.
Songbird was a near-unanimous choice as champion 2-year-old filly in 2015, and the flashy filly will be favored to remain unbeaten against five rivals – three of them Grade 1 or Grade 2 winners – in the $1 million guaranteed Cotillion.
The Pennsylvania Derby looms a pivotal showdown between Nyquist and Exaggerator, the first two finishers in the Kentucky Derby. Exaggerator has since gone on to win the Preakness and Haskell Invitational.
If they both start, the purse of the Pennsylvania Derby increases by $250,000 to $1.25 million.
The unbeaten Songbird has continued to dominate her division with six more graded stakes wins this year, capped by smashing scores in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga Race Course that made her a perfect 10 for 10 for Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm and Hall Of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Songbird, who had her final workout at Santa Anita on Sunday, arrived on the grounds at Parx at approximately 6:00 p.m. Monday after minor travel delays. Set to oppose the prohibitive 1-2 morning-line favorite are the first two finishers from the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, Cathryn Sophia and Land Over Sea; Grade 1 Acorn winner Carina Mia; and the local runners Disco Rose and Queena Esther.
— Mary Reeder (@BH_MReeder) September 19, 2016
The 50th running of the Cotillion will be race 10, with post time scheduled for 4:55 Eastern. The field, with riders, in post position order: Carina Mia (Julien Leparoux); Cathryn Sophia (Javier Castellano); Disco Rose (Edwin Rivera); Land Over Sea (Mario Gutierrez); Songbird (Mike Smith); and Queena Esther (Carol Cedeno).
Nyquist won his first eight starts, taking the measure of Exaggerator three times along the way, but the latter turned the tables on his nemesis in the Preakness and Haskell. After respectively putting in their final workouts over the weekend at San Luis Rey Downs training center and Churchill Downs, they were scheduled to ship to Parx Wednesday.
Nyquist, the 5-2 favorite, and Exaggerator, the 9-2 second choice, have combined to win 12 graded stakes and $8.75 million. But that hasn’t scared anyone away from the Pennsylvania Derby, which attracted a full field of 12 – the largest field since a dozen also ran in 2008 – including three-time Grade 2 winner Cupid; multiple graded stakes winner Gun Runner; and Awesome Slew, a dominating winner of the Grade 3 Smarty Jones in his first local appearance.
The 40th Pennsylvania Derby will be race 11, with post time set for 5:45. The field, with riders, in post order: Awesome Slew (Paco Lopez); Exaggerator (Kent Desormeaux); Summer Revolution (M. Smith); Connect (J. Castellano); Cupid (Rafael Bejarano); Wild About Deb (Tiago Pereira); Gun Runner (Florent Geroux); My Man Sam (J. Leparoux); Nyquist (M. Gutierrez); Sunny Ridge (Joe Bravo); Discreet Lover (Jose Flores); and Hit It Once More (Kendrick Carmouche).
The owner and trainer of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Haskell and Travers winners are eligible for a $50,000 appearance bonus. Therefore, the connections of Nyquist receive a total of $100,000, while Exaggerator’s connections receive $200,000 if they start.
Live television coverage of the Cotillion and Pennsylvania Derby will be carried on Comcast Sportsnet, along with the 29th running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters. The broadcast airs from 4:30 to 6:00 and will be hosted by Laffit Pincay III and Dick Jerardi, joined by racing analysts Caton Bredar and Maggie Wolfendale.
Rounding out Saturday’s stakes action are the $150,000 Pennsylvania Derby Champion Stakes, honoring last year’s Pa. Derby winner Frosted; and the $100,000 Alphabet Soup Handicap for statebred turf runners.
Gates open at 10:00 Saturday morning, and first post is 12:25.