09/15/2014 10:03AM

Watchmaker: Parx in spotlight with million-dollar stakes

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September racing takes a serious turn Saturday with strong editions of the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and the $1 million Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing.

You can debate until you’re blue in the face whether 3-year-olds should be facing older opponents in premier stakes races after Labor Day (personally, I think it’s a tradition well worth bringing back into fashion). But you can’t argue how, in a few short years, Parx has managed to leverage its big 3-year-old races into one of September’s biggest racing days.

And this year, Parx seems to have caught lightning in a bottle. The Cotillion will have the undisputed leader of the 3-year-old filly division in Untapable, and, depending on your rankings, it also has the current second- and third-best members of this division in Stopchargingmaria and Sweet Reason.

The Pennsylvania Derby has lured none other than California Chrome, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and, depending on your perspective, either the top or second-best 3-year-old male in the land.

I realize that the Pennsylvania Derby to Breeders’ Cup path worked pretty well last year for Will Take Charge.

Will Take Charge, of course, won the Pennsylvania Derby going away from Moreno and then fell just Mucho Macho Man’s nose shy of winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I understand that the bonus clauses written right into the Pennsylvania Derby’s race conditions and involving some key divisional races that are especially pertinent this year are attractive. And I anticipate that Parx will douse the main track with as much water as necessary to avert that surface’s natural tendency toward a dead rail.

Nevertheless, I’m still a little surprised that this was the spot chosen for California Chrome’s first start since his unsuccessful attempt at a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes. Incentives aside, it is tremendously sporting for his people to send him east yet again. But I have a nagging feeling that the Parx surface might not be an ideal fit for him, either in terms of style or familiarity.

And that goes double for Bayern. I still have a tremendous amount of respect for Bayern despite his Travers debacle, and I feel he is very capable around two turns, although I wonder if he might not be at his absolute best in extended one-turn races. But when Bayern won the Haskell, he did so riding the crest of an intense speed bias, and he wasn’t so fortunate on an even track at Saratoga. One factor that must be noted, however, is the projected pace scenario. The only one seemingly capable of keeping Bayern honest early besides California Chrome is C J’s Awesome, who is coming off a bias-aided win himself.

The Cotillion will, of course, mark the first start for Untapable since her unsuccessful venture against males in the Haskell. But it is important to note that whatever chance Untapable had going into the Haskell was gone due to a speed-biased surface that rendered closers such as her ineffective.

The surprise for me in the Cotillion is how some people have cast this race as a potential showdown for the 3-year-old filly championship. It is true that Untapable, Stopchargingmaria, and Sweet Reason each have two Grade 1 wins this season. But I don’t think simple math in any way defines what has transpired in this division this year.

Whereas Untapable crushed every single 3-year-old filly led up to face her this year, Stopchargingmaria’s season has been more about being in the right place at the right time and an Alabama win that was historically slow. And when Sweet Reason routes, she has shown to this point to be nowhere near as effective as she is when she goes around one turn.

For me, anyway, Untapable’s lead in her division is so huge right now that it would take an emphatic upset by one of her two main challengers Saturday to even the score, let alone turn the tables.

TomN More than 1 year ago
Noble Mon for fun, C Square will need to work out a trip from he rail
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Speed usually doesn't carry very well at PARX , but I've heard that track management has assured Sherman that the track will be to his liking come Saturday. I really hate to hear that kind of stuff because a souped up racing strip doesn't do justice to any horse and demeans the race. All we should hope for is a fair track.
HonDr Vin More than 1 year ago
bridge jumpers,any-1 in those 3 stakes races on sat?
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
As long as California Chrome comes back ok we should all be happy.
JDS0810 More than 1 year ago
If Tapiture wins PA Derby and Untapable wins Cotillion = One very nice day for Winchell Thoroughbreds, Steve Asmussen and Rosie Napravnik!!!
HonDr Vin More than 1 year ago
echo,hope rosie(Mrs.SHARP rides sharp that day, would not surprise me she won all 3 stakes
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
i hope that the cc crew doesnt come to their senses and sends chrome to parx. if you had to pick a worst case scenerio it would be the rail and inside bayern, there is no way cc will hit the board from his spot, unless the parx crew steamrolls the track and scrapes the track this duo is off the board. i hope they come and will use candy boy and tapiture. i totally agree with watchmaker, he couldnt handle belmont and he wont handle parx. great betting race when both coiices are comprimised
HonDr Vin More than 1 year ago
Untapable +Tapiture??? same owner/trainer/jockey combo go anna rosie go
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
Watchmaker, I have to disagree with you about Parx's surface and it not suiting California Chrome. It is true that the rail in naturally "dead". Do not expect California Chrome to be on the rail beyond the second turn starting the backstretch run. Chrome gets away cleanly and just runs his race and he will have first run at whoever is ahead of him halfway of the final turn. He won't be turning from the rail, he will wisely be placed in the 3-4 path and take that speedway to the finish line.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
One more comment for you to moderate. Tapiture wins PA Derby.
Barbara Bowen More than 1 year ago
If Untapable is so dominant, then I guess if she gets beat by one or both of the other two, it is legit? I don't think she loses, but was hard to follow the logic. Races are won on the track, and it would be nice if division titles were as well.