09/22/2013 11:48AM

Pa. Derby, Cotillion, and Other Stuff


It has been mentioned a lot recently that this year, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Haskell, and Travers all were won by different horses. I'm not sure that Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing belongs quite in the same company with that quintet of races, or that the Pennsylvania Derby victory by Will Take Charge, who also won the Travers, suddenly puts him in command of the 3-year-old male division. I regard Will Take Charge's Pennsylvania Derby as more of a complementary win to accompany his more important victory in the Travers, much like Orb's Florida Derby win is complementary to his Kentucky Derby score, and Palace Malice's Jim Dandy complements his Belmont Stakes win.

That said, Will Take Charge is now virtually on even terms with everyone else in regard to his divisional championship. At this particular moment in time, he has as good a chance as any to come away with an Eclipse Award. Of course all of that could change in a matter of days if either Palace Malice or Orb beats a good group of older horses in Saturdays Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. It could even change, albeit in a murkier way, if either (or both) of those two runs well in defeat in the Gold Cup. Will Take Charge doesnt have an outing versus older opponents. Not yet, anyway. Unfortunately, the notion that 3-year-olds should meet their elders after Labor Day is another racing tradition that is eroding.

As for Will Take Charge's performance Saturday, he was simply much the best. There were two things that struck me about it: First, Will Take Charge was never far back at any point. Will Take Charge has improved significantly since taking blinkers off, but since then, he has also shown improved positional speed over his previous performances, which is weird. Horses usually show more speed with blinkers on, but not in his case.

The other thing is, Will Take Charge dove inside to make his winning move. Anyone with any experience with racing at Parx knows that the inside is almost always by far the worst part of the track. It's almost comical how usually it's the wider, the better there. But as I noted in my Weekend Warrior column on Saturday, the inside was improved at Parx last Monday and Tuesday, the last two racing days there prior to Saturday, and that it would be wise to pay attention to the early races Saturday to see if the track was playing fairly. Indeed, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the inside at Parx Saturday, and because it was so out of character for that track, it makes you wonder why the surface there can't always be fair.

One race before the Pennsylvania Derby, Close Hatches got the job done in the Cotillion Stakes. It wasn't the flashiest performance of Close Hatches's career, but she deserves a little extra credit for winning decisively off a three-month layoff.

The Cotillion was the second Grade 1 victory this year for Close Hatches (she was most impressive winning the Mother Goose right before her layoff), but I'm not buying into the idea that she is now a serious threat to Princess of Sylmar for the 3-year-old female championship. Yes, Close Hatches beat Princess of Sylmar by a little more than three lengths in the Gazelle Stakes last April (when Close Hatches had an uncontested lead at a point in the day when the track was favoring speed, too esoteric a point for Eclipse Award discussion). But Princess of Sylmar beat Close Hatches by almost 11 lengths in the far more important and definitive Kentucky Oaks. Close Hatches could change the landscape with a big effort in the Breeders Cup Distaff, a race Princess of Sylmar is not intended for as she is not Breeders Cup nominated, and it makes little sense to supplement a closer like her to run on the main track at Santa Anita. But Close Hatches is no cinch to go to the Breeders Cup, and it might not make much sense for her to go depending on how Princess of Sylmar performs Saturday against Royal Delta and other older mares in the Beldame at Belmont. If Princess of Sylmar runs well against, or even beats, Royal Delta, it would put this particular divisional championship discussion to rest.

I'm signing the divorce papers on Clearly Now. I've been following Clearly Now for a while and liked him a lot in the Gallant Bob Stakes, the race before the Cotillion. I didn't like Clearly Now's price of 2-1, but he looked like he was 1-9 to win in mid stretch, only to hang and get beat by the 30-1 City of Weston.

Speaking of track bias, the inside on the main track at Belmont has been tremendous all meet, and continued to be so Saturday. Cluster of Stars was impressive winning Belmonts Gallant Bloom Handicap Saturday by five off a five month layoff. Nevertheless, as she was the inside speed, you have to downgrade Cluster of Stars's win at least just a bit, while also upgrading the efforts of second and third place finishers Dance to Bristol and Dance Card, as they ran against the grain of the track.

It was old timer's day at Laurel Saturday as 8-year-old Immortal Eyes ran away with the De Francis Dash, and 7-year-old Ben's Cat got the money in the Laurel Dash. Immortal Eyes was winning for the 17th time in 47 career starts, and the winner's share of the purse pushed his career earnings past the million dollar mark to near $1.1 million. Ben's Cat was winning for the 23rd time in 34 career starts, and has now earned nearly $1.7 million. You have to love these two because they just love the game.

chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Open question... Which states are retroactive with Florida re: rulings?
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Oh, yeah and reciprocal too. I'll go back to sleep now...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Philly is my home track(not by preference, it's just a matter of geography) I was there the day it opened and am still there. It's time to put this nonsense about the rail being dead to rest. The short answer is hardly anybody ever goes there so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Anyone familiar with that track knows that it drains very well. Why would a track that drains well have a dead rail. It doesn't make sense. The real answer is that the jockeys there, witht the exception of K Carmouche, aren't competent enough to cut the corner coming into the stretch. Watch how wide they are, not just relative to the rail, but to the horse inside of them. Compare that to New York where, when the horses come into the stretch, the jock will have his horse's nose right on the hip of the horse inside of him.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
That's why the jocks at Parx have to stay there to make a living. They wouldn't get a mount in N.Y.
Holybull More than 1 year ago
Another great article from Mr. Watchmaker. Thanks Mike.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
blinkers or getting buzzed on the back of the head who knows but something definitely woke him up.as for championship honors only if he wins the breeders cup classsic.you cant run way off the board in every triple crown race like he did and get more votes than PALACE MALICE who won a triple crown race beating him by much and only lost by a little in the travers when given a suspect ride by smith.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
Don't blame Mike........ Palice Malice got away poorly in the Travers. He couldn't rush him, or he would have used him up.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Saez saved all the ground and didn't seem concerned at all with being on the rail. Everyone else seemed to intentionally avoid being there - particularly in the stretch - and it really gave Saez a 10 foot inside path all to himself. It could be that the horse is just that much better than the rest and could overcome a bad rail, however, I think you're probably right about there being nothing wrong with the rail on Saturday.
jimf552 More than 1 year ago
I don't believe he saved ground during the race but certainly agree he was handed the rail when no one wanted it.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Outside of one - inside of two or more.
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Departing is scheduled to run Sunday at Remington in their 400k race... and he's not chopped liver (excuse the pun).
Dave More than 1 year ago
No one knows what he is because he hasn't beaten anything all year. The two times he tried the upper echelons of the 3yo division he was beaten by Revolutionary and Mylute in La. Derby and then mid pack in the Preakness. But he's a gelding, and his connections have campaigned him brilliantly, taking down huge purses while not having to face the best 3yo's.
Dennis More than 1 year ago
Don't knock Clearly Now too badly Mike. I liked City of Weston and had him in my exacta, Pick 3's, and Pick 4. City of Weston looked good as he was blocked several times but kept fighting back. City of Weston just could not be denied on Saturday. I'm looking forward to seeing WTC in the Breeders' Cup.
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
Dennis I had the exact betting experience at PARX as you did, was wonderful.
Edward More than 1 year ago
This article clearly shows why it is silly to talk about Eclipse Awards before the BC Championships(heck, before even the BC preps). The fact is that multiple horses in both divisions have a shot if they win on Breeders Cup day. If you don't believe that, then you are either being biased for a horse you fell for or you don't believe the BC should be considered the championship. PoS loses to Royal Delta, Close Hatches then beats Royal Delta in the BC, can you really make a case for PoS at that point? There are too many scenarios depending on the KCGC to even talk about 3 year old males. Any of three horses could deserve the win with a victory in the BC Classic.
Lawrence Macselwiney More than 1 year ago
We have to talk about something. It stirs conversation. I thought the article was great. He gives opinions. I don't always agree, but I like his takes.
Ronald Dodgen More than 1 year ago
You have to wonder if WTC had took off the blinkers much earlier would he have more wins?
Jordan More than 1 year ago
The Eclipse awards should be determined by what races a horse loses, and how comprehensive the defeat, in addition to the races it wins. Will Take Charge ran out of the money in all 3 Triple Crown races(behind Orb each time) and was dreadful in the Southwest. He has to be held accountable for 4 races this year in which he was 6th or worse.
stepnen smith More than 1 year ago
he was running step for step with orb on the last turn, and got stopped by Verezzano, who knows? the other 2 TC races, sucked, I agree
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Game on Dude had a poor break and was given a disasterous ride, but after last year's Classic he wasn't even a finalist for the older male Eclipse after being the favorite for Horse of the Year going in. How a loss occurred is fundamental to good handicapping; finding legit excuses for a defeat can turn into money when that horse runs next. But in terms of Eclipse balloting, typically it's scoreboard. And the scoreboard shows that WTC ran well off the board in the Derby.