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The 39th running of the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Pennsylvania Derby is set for this Saturday, which is the final major race for the 3-year-old division before this crop must face older horses at the Breeders’ Cup. The Pennsylvania Derby is the highlight of Saturday’s card and will be one of three graded stakes races, along with the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes and the Grade 3 Gallant Bob Stakes. While none of these are Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Events, these races could still have a direct impact on the championships’ fields.
Trainer Bob Baffert ships in McKinzie, who will be making both his East Coast debut and his first start since March 10 after an injury knocked him off the Kentucky Derby trail. The colt has been working well leading up to this race and will be ridden by fellow shipper and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. He will break from post 8 with Baffert looking to repeat his 2017 success here.
Hofburg will vie with McKinzie for favoritism in this race for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott after several solid recent workouts leading up to this start. The late-running horse was forced to miss the Grade 1 Travers Stakes because of a fever, but he seems to be back to his old self now. Irad Ortiz, Jr., will have the mount when breaking from post 2.
The full field form the rail out: First Mondays, Hofburg, Instilled Regard, King Zachary, Core Beliefs, Axelrod, Mr Freeze, McKinzie, Trigger Warning, and Bravazo.
#8 McKinzie – If he is ready to run off of the long layoff, then things will get interesting in a hurry. The Baffert trainee brings a stellar overall record, with three firsts and one second in four lifetime starts, while facing some of the best 3-year-olds in California before an injury in April took him off of the Kentucky Derby trail. Last time out, he suffered his only official “loss” but still crossed the wire first before being disqualified and placed second behind Bolt d’Oro in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. Before Justify, this was Baffert’s star horse, so we’ve been looking forward to his return for months. He comes into this race as our top choice for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in our latest Breeders’ Cup Rankings.
#2 Hofburg – After completely dominating his competition in the $100,00 Curlin Stakes, Hofburg was set to be one of the top choices for the Travers before a fever knocked him out of the Travers, so he comes into this race with a lot left to prove. If he can run similarly to how he did in the Curlin, then he will be tough to beat, but there is no doubt that the competition is much stiffer in this spot. He has a big race with his name on it, though, and this could be when he breaks through.
#3 Instilled Regard – It is hard to determine what happened to this horse along the Kentucky Derby trail earlier in the year. After winning the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes, he was considered one of the top Kentucky Derby prospects, but back-to-back poor efforts put a damper on things. He was still able to sneak into the Derby field, and much to the surprise of bettors, he finished fourth. Since that race, he was sent to the barn of Chad Brown, who finally has him ready for his first race since that Kentucky Derby effort. We’ll see if he is ready to fire, and if he is, he could pull off a surprising win against this very tough field.
#6 Axelrod – This is the field’s hottest entry. He has won his last two races, which include the Grade 3 Indiana Derby and the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes. Last time out may have been the most impressive he has ever been, dominating the Smarty Jones over this surface by an eye-catching 4 lengths. Unfortunately, he moves up in class once again to face another tough test, but this horse has the right to continue to show improvement. He figures to be an upset possibility as he tries to throw his name into the mix among the division’s big dogs.
#10 Bravazo – This warrior has quickly become the most consistent 3-year-old male in training. Despite running in all three Triple Crown events, Bravazo still had plenty left in the tank to second in the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes and third in the Travers. There is no reason to think that he can’t do that once again here.
#4 King Zachary – Trainer Dale Romans has two in this race, with King Zachary coming out of the very tough Travers with a fourth-place finish. He is the more experienced and accomplished of the two horses, but his ceiling could be a bit lower than that of his stablemate, Mr Freeze. Hitting the board does seem to be within his realm, though, which is why he lands as an exotic play that could be interesting at a price.
#7 Mr Freeze – When looking for a price to play in this race, this is clearly the horse to use. He seemed to have put it all together last time out, winning the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby by a dominating 8 lengths in wire-to-wire fashion. This colt has just one loss in four lifetime starts, and this is going to be the toughest race of his career by a good margin, but the level of progress from race to race that he has shown makes him intriguing.
#5 Core Beliefs – It was hard to put him in the “Throw Out” category, but this class level may be a bit too much for him. A perfect example is his most recent start, the Haskell. He finished fourth but was beaten by over 10 lengths, which shows that he was really not competitive when facing top-class company.
#9 Trigger Warning – This is another horse who has run well in lower graded races but was a non-factor when finishing sixth in the Travers last time out. He will be a pace factor in this spot, but he will be up against company that is a bit too tough.
#1 First Mondays – After two straight victories, he was third last time out in the Smarty Jones. That was not a bad first effort against stakes company, but now he moves way up in class, which will certainly be tough.
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