09/16/2014 11:19AM

Jerardi: Everything finally coming up roses for Pennsylvania Derby

Scott Martinez/Los Alamitos
California Chrome, pictured here with Victor Espinoza on Aug. 22 at Los Alamitos, is entered in Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.

Six weeks after I arrived in Philadelphia to cover the new Garden State Park, the track opened on Monday, April 1, 1985. There were 30,000 people there that night. Given the millions of dollars in television ads leading up to the opening, it might have been 50,000 if Villanova had not been playing Georgetown for the NCAA men’s college basketball championship.

On the first Saturday of the meet, Spend a Buck won the Cherry Hill Mile. Two weeks later, he won the Garden State Stakes. Two weeks after that, he won the Kentucky Derby. The Derby winner skipped the Preakness to run in the Jersey Derby at Garden State on Memorial Day and go after a $2 million bonus. He won that too after an incredible ride by the legendary Laffit Pincay Jr.

So, I am thinking this is pretty cool. Show up. Watch the horse who is about to win the Kentucky Derby at your local track. Watch the same horse in his first race after the Derby at the same track.

Spend a Buck was supposed to run in the Pennsylvania Derby that September. Philadelphia Park and Garden State were owned by the same company, so it only made sense that the Garden State star would run at the sister track. Only Spend a Buck got hurt after winning the Monmouth Handicap and never raced again.

It was the first time a Kentucky Derby winner was supposed to run in Pennsylvania. Ten years ago, trainer John Servis announced that Smarty Jones was going to skip the Travers to run on Labor Day in the Pennsylvania Derby at his home track.

Only Smarty Jones was never the same after his heartbreaking second in the Belmont Stakes. I remember watching him try to train that summer. He could barely get into a gallop. It was sad. The horse had given everything during that Triple Crown season and had nothing left. It was announced that Smarty Jones would be retired.

If Spend a Buck and Smarty Jones, two horses with extensive local ties, did not make the Pennsylvania Derby, how could the race ever attract the Kentucky Derby winner?

Timing, money, and more money have provided the answer. Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome was entered Monday to run in Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.

The timing of the race, six weeks before the Breeders’ Cup and when California Chrome was ready to race for the first time since the Belmont Stakes, matched up perfectly. And it did not hurt that the track offers a $50,000 bonus to the owner and trainer of any horse who won a Triple Crown race, the Haskell Invitational, or the Travers. So, trainer Art Sherman and owner Dumb Ass Partners will each be due $100,000 when California Chrome comes out of the starting gate at around 5:45 p.m. Saturday as a heavy favorite to take down the $600,000 first prize.

So, nearly 30 years after missing out on Spend a Buck (my memory is that he was actually training at Philadelphia Park before the retirement announcement) and a decade after missing out on Smarty Jones, Parx Racing, the Pennsylvania Derby, and Pennsylvania get California Chrome, the most popular veteran of the entire Triple Crown series since Smarty Jones.

Neither Big Brown nor I’ll Have Another, the only other horses to win the Derby and Preakness between Smarty Jones and California Chrome, had the kind of story that attracts fans who don’t even follow the sport. Smarty Jones and California Chrome had it and have it. Barbaro was universally loved for what might have been and the struggle he put up to survive after the catastrophic injury in the Preakness. Afleet Alex was terrific but did not win the Derby. Curlin was great but not necessarily overwhelmingly popular.

California Chrome has a following. You knew it at the Derby, felt it at the Preakness, and were nearly overwhelmed by it at the Belmont.

That following will descend Saturday on Bensalem, the township just north of the Philadelphia city line. They will stretch the racetrack building, the apron, and the picnic grounds to their absolute limit. The Kentucky Derby winner finally is running in the Pennsylvania Derby.

jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
No surprise Chrome flopped. He got a perfect trip on a golden rail and finished 5th. Let the excuses roll.
Jason STRICKLAND More than 1 year ago
Good job East Boston you voted down the casino because you thought you'd have more traffic and crime with a casino. Just wait until the 3,000 condo units are built at Suffolk Downs with 10% going to low income people. No traffic or crime there right? You're looking at 12,000 people and at least 6,000 automobiles in the area 24/7 that equals no crime or traffic right. I hope your commute from East Boston to work takes two hours a day you idiots. And good job voting down the casino at Suffolk you moved it 2.5 miles away from the track guess crime and traffic is confined to 100 yards from the casino or less. Talk about a stupid electorate just look at Massachusetts voters stupid uninformed people should not vote. The nice quite neighborhoods near the track aren't going to be quiet anymore either way. And for those against casinos because of the gambling take a ride to the grocery or convenience store $30 scratch tickets spend paychecks as fast as $25 hands of black jack or roulette do yet you keep the low payout state lottery. Seems a little hypocritical to me but I deal in logic not emotion too bad more people didn't it would be a better world.
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
Bayern will have too much heat on him in that long stretch. Also, if bayern IS ploughing along in the lead on the final turn, he'd better not be on the rail. You will see a first to last like you've never seen in your life!
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
He won't need the rail for that move...just like the Travers....
anna villafane More than 1 year ago
Baffert will be laughing all the way back to California. $100 on the nose.
mike More than 1 year ago
Think you mean he will be crying all the way back to CA. He's a egomanic,guess a little karma back couple years ago in Dubai.
ColinsGhost More than 1 year ago
The first KY Derby winner to run in Pennsylvania came way back in 1876 when Vagrant ran at Point Breeze Park -- could be the first and last since California Chrome? http://colinsghost.org/2012/10/point-breeze-racetrack-and-thoroughbred-racing-in-philadelphia-1860.html
ROBERT More than 1 year ago
Will be another long shot this Pa Derby. This track is not good. Little Mike or Hansom Mike I forget, 2 years ago at a snails pace.
tra More than 1 year ago
Gonna be a good tune up race for Chrome. If he wins its on to the Breeders cup where Shared belief will be favored.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
He will definitely attract the crowd. However, I doubt he will win. Why? I just look at recent history regarding KY Derby winners...do any of them win again? I know CC won the Preakness, but recent history says that CC will not do a whole lot. If I bet...and there's good chance I will not bet...I would be looking at someone other than CC...
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
I've never understood the popularity of CC. His owners act like jerks. The horse beat a group of the most mediocre horses in triple crown history in the first two legs then got soundly beaten in the Belmont. Of course his owners whined like babies, then proceeded to collect appearance fees for their overrated colt. My assumption is most of his fans are new to racing and believe CC's accomplishments are something special. They'll get their appearance money and maybe a purse check at Parx. Then CC will get buried in the Classic and we'll hear 1001 excuses.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
1 3/4 lengths was being soundly beaten??>.....new to the sport there chief?
mike More than 1 year ago
Speaking of acting like a jerk,really? very arrogant of you to suggest CC's fans are "new to racing" as if they don't understand or something. Perhaps you're jealous or bitter cause you lost your rent money betting against him earlier in the year. Regarding his owners,so what! Don't hear you throwing darts at some of the troll owners that's treated their horses like garbage. You aren't a true racing fan that appreciates a truly good racehorse,just someone that takes aim at quality.
Jack More than 1 year ago
Jim - what you say and think is very untrue. Chrome was injured at the very beginning of the Belmont by one of Pletcher's delinquent horses named Matterhorn. There was no way that the racing and breeding establishment was going to permit a $2.5K Lucky Pulpit Cal Bred to win the Triple Crown. Anyone who thinks differently is naïve, or; cannot grasp the economics of this game at its core. Matterhorn may have had the breeding to appear that he should have been in the race, but; his behavior at the start prevented CC from running effectively. If you owned CC, you'd have reacted worse than Coburn. They ganged up on Chrome and went so fast that Tonalist and Wicked Strong will be lucky to win again this year (especially after the subsequent Travers fiasco). I am sorry to have to explain this to you, but; had CC won the T3, the breeding industry dollars would have dove or shifted over $100M to the bad side for the breeders/sellers at the Sales. This is a conservative estimate. This was a carefully executed plan that was hatched in NY/KY/FL. Why would Matterhorn even deserve to run in the Belmont when he was still eligible for Non-winners of 2 lifetime? He raced back (maybe once) and hit the board in 3rd at Saratoga. He only had run 5 times in 2014 and only finished 3rd twice. Didn't you see the gash in CC's right front hoof in the pictures after the race? CC's effort in the Belmont was tremendous when you consider all the facts. What still sickens me is the fact that we (the fans/bettors) were told how this industry was going to be by those who need our money to even be in the game at all. Now, do you understand, or; are you a breeder/seller/or pin-hooker? This post will say "Anon" but my name is Jack if you wish to debate this fact.
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
So you think Matterhorn was entered in the Belmont just to injure CC? You think they went too fast yet Commissioner nearly wired the field at 28/1 and still beat CC? You think CC's weak breeding had a $100 million impact on the breeding industry? And you ask me to consider "the facts"?
mike More than 1 year ago
FACT IS HE WON THE DERBY/PREAKNESS. Tell me,do you actually think the owner of Tonalist would've rather won the race they did or the Derby/Preakness? Get over your bitterness.
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
He won one of the slowest Kentucky Derby's in history run on a fast track. He's was the best of a bad group in those two races. And now his owners are collecting appearance fees. That's pathetic. You keep drinking the Kool-Aid. What does Tonalist have to do with it?
mike More than 1 year ago
I don't give a blank about "slow times". Bottom line he beat EVERYONE in the Derby/Preakness. You sound like a "bitter" New Yorker. That's alot of petty excuses to undermine a very good horse. The horse can only beat who he runs against. BTW,wasn't most of the horses he prevailed over in the Derby/Preakness east coast runners? What's the prob with appearance fees? I back connections all the way. Not Kool-Aid,just reality!
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
Cali chrome wins goes to BC and shared belief brings it. Great time for cali 3year olds .
mike More than 1 year ago
In your dreams.