A compact field of eight will line up for Saturday’s Grade 2 Penn Mile Stakes at Penn National. Set to go off as the ninth on a stakes-filled 11-race card, the Penn Mile features four horses that are coming into the race off of victories in their last starts. The event is always the feature race of the year at Penn National, which will have a special first post start time of 3:45 PM ET on Saturday.
Headlining the race is the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes winner Maraud. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt by Blame fought through horrible conditions on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs to win. Maraud was also a winner twice at Gulfstream Park over the winter, including a triumph in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes. John Velazquez ships in to ride when he breaks from post 3.
“We were concerned about it in the American Turf when it kept raining and raining the entire day,” Pletcher said. “He didn’t handle the soft ground at Keeneland, but he handled it OK at Churchill, which was a bog that day.”
Also coming into the race off of a stakes victory is Therapist. Now an undefeated two for two when running at a mile, the Christophe Clement trainee made a late charge down the lane to win the $150,000 Cutler Bay Stakes at Gulfstream Park in March for his fourth win in five lifetime starts. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., will have the mount for the fourth straight time when Therapist breaks from post 4.
“He’s not the strongest horse mentally, but he’s doing well,” Clement said. “We had two choices – the Penn Mile or the other race [the Pennine Ridge] at Belmont going a mile and an eighth. We chose the Penn Mile. We know the horse well and he’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Pletcher has another entry in this race that could be interesting at a price. Coltandmississippi began his career with six consecutive dirt races, including a couple of tries in Kentucky Derby prep events. After unsuccessful attempts in those spots, Pletcher moved him to the grass last time out in the $100,000 Bridgetown Stakes at 6 furlongs. Though he only finished third, he was closing like a horse that wanted to go farther. Coltandmississippi will break from the rail with Joel Rosario aboard.
“We thought he ran a decent six furlongs on the turf, so we thought to try going farther,” Pletcher said. “It’s ambitious, but we thought we’d give him a try.”
The full field for the Penn Mile: Coltandmississippi, Encumbered, Maraud, Therapist, War Early, Hawkish, Smart Remark, and He’s Bankable.
#3 Maraud – He comes into this race winning three of his last four starts, including the American Turf last time out in less than ideal conditions. That field featured very tough competition, and his willingness to run in those types of conditions proved his class. Here, he must face familiar rivals Therapist and Hawkish after defeating both at Gulfstream Park in the Palm Beach. This consistent son of Blame should be ready for another top effort and will have every chance to win yet another graded stakes race.
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#4 Therapist – It was a very tough decision between Therapist and Maraud for top honors because they are both so similar. There are several things to like about Therapist, with the most encouraging being that he has never lost when going a mile. He is also coming into this race off of a very impressive win by a neck over Speed Franco in the Cutler Bay. Interestingly enough, in the race prior, it was Maraud that beat Speed Franco by a neck. This should be quite the showdown.
#6 Hawkish – This horse is a very interesting prospect with a trainer, James Toner, known for preparing turf horses for these kinds of races. He won on debut at Gulfstream Park in a maiden special weight, then quickly jumped up to the stakes level for his next start in the Palm Beach. While he finished fourth, he was only defeated by 3 lengths behind three really nice horses (Maraud, Speed Franco, and Therapist). That race was a tough chore for a horse trying stakes company for the first time, and he rebounded next time out with a nice allowance win. He’s ready to try stakes company again and should be much better prepared for what he will be up against.
#1 Coltandmississippi – Pletcher could pull a fast one on us here with a sneaky entry. You might not be impressed with Coltandmississippi’s third in the Bridgetown if you just look at the past performances, but when watching the replay of the race, it is noticeable that he enjoys the turf and wants more ground because he was closing nicely. He stretches out to a mile here, and could run a much-improved race.
#8 He’s Bankable – He comes into this race off of back-to-back small stakes wins and broke his maiden going a mile at Gulfstream Park at the end of last year. His main weapon is his early speed – he won each of his last two starts in wire-to-wire fashion. There isn’t a ton of early speed up front entered here, and he drew a nice outside post position, which will give jockey Tyler Gaffalione a lot of options. Smart Remark, the other speed, breaks just to his inside, and both horses will determine what happens with the race’s pace.
#5 Way Early – At first, this horse was listed as a throw out, but after taking a second look, there is more to like than what meets the eye. After breaking his maiden at Belmont Park last year, this colt matched up against nice horses in the $100,000 Awad Stakes and was only beaten by a little over a length while crossing in fourth. He made his 2018 debut at Aqueduct after a six-month layoff and ran well to finish a close second against allowance company. He has reasons to improve off of that effort and seems like a logical candidate to hit the board at a nice price.
#2 Encumbered – At one time last year, he was considered to have a big shot at winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. After winning the $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes, he looked like the best young turf horse in California, but then he tried the dirt in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita. That experiment when poorly, and then he followed that up with a non-effort at the Breeders’ Cup. We haven’t heard from him since then, so he comes into this spot fresh. He needs to show improvement from age 2 to 3, but we know that he is classy enough to compete at this level.
#7 Smart Remark – This is the lone horse that I was willing to throw out in a very competitive field. However, he did break his maiden on the turf at Indiana Grand on debut, then was third in the $75,000 Columbia Stakes in his other grass attempt. Even though he finds himself down in this spot, he is not completely without a chance.