09/22/2013 10:48AM

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.