Updated on 09/04/2014 9:18AM

Jerardi: Pennsylvania Derby lures the big horse, nears Grade 1 status

Scott Martinez/Los Alamitos
California Chrome is scheduled to ship to Parx to start in the Sept. 20 Pennsylvania Derby.

The Pennsylvania Derby was run on Labor Day from 1990 to 2009, a nice race for 3-year-olds that had very little national juice. It was too close to the Travers and too far from the Breeders’ Cup to attract the best horses in the division.

Prior to that 20-year stint on Labor Day, the Pennsylvania Derby had first been run on Memorial Day from 1979-84 and then in mid-September, late September, or early October from 1985-89.

Once slot-machine money started to kick in when the machines went live in late 2006, an opportunity arose for Parx and its signature race to become national players. Management had the money to attract the big boys, but it was never going to happen on Labor Day, even with the purse raised to $1 million.

The decision was made in 2010 to move the Pennsylvania Derby to later in September, a month after the Travers and six weeks before the Breeders’ Cup. A bonus system was instituted in 2011 to give an incentive to the connections of any horse who won a Triple Crown race, the Haskell, or the Travers to run in the Pennsylvania Derby.

The race went on local television in 2011. In 2012, the Cotillion, a new Grade 1 race, was moved to Pennsylvania Derby Day to give Parx an “event” to build around.

That year, the Travers dead-heat winners (Alpha and Golden Ticket) traveled south to run in the Pennsylvania Derby. Last year, the top two runners in another photo-finish Travers (Will Take Charge and Moreno) came to Parx. Will Take Charge won the race and went on to become the first Pennsylvania Derby winner to be named champion 3-year-old male.

The timing of the race, the purse, and the bonus had given Parx a chance to attract the “big” horse. This year, the track got the biggest horse of all.

Since the race was moved four years ago, there is no doubt that the most popular and accomplished 3-year-old is California Chrome: a six-race winning streak earlier this year; wins in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness; and less than two lengths from the Triple Crown when fourth in the Belmont Stakes.

When California Chrome got his post-Triple Crown break at Harris Farms in the San Joaquin Valley, the Pennsylvania Derby had its opening. The colt simply was not going to be ready for any of the other major summer 3-year-old stakes. The only issue was geography. In a perfect world, trainer Art Sherman would rather not have to put California Chrome on a plane for the only race he would run prior to the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

But the race at Parx simply made too much sense – the timing, the purse, and the $200,000 in bonuses that Sherman and the owners will share. Essentially, California Chrome will be heavily favored to win $800,000: the $600,000 for winning and the $200,000 for coming out of the starting gate. The decision to come east really wasn’t that complicated.

It was either that or run in the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 27 at Santa Anita against older horses for a winner’s share that would be less than the bonus.

“Santa Anita said, ‘We know the $100,000 that you and the owners will get made your decision,’ ” Sherman told me last week. “I told them, ‘It sure as hell helped.’ ”

On Sept. 20, Parx Racing, once Keystone and then Philadelphia Park, is scheduled to host its first Kentucky Derby winner. Spectacular Bid made the final start of his 2-year-old season in the 1978 Heritage Stakes at Keystone. Smarty Jones made the first two starts of his career at Philadelphia Park, his home track. The Chapmans and trainer John Servis had actually planned to skip the 2004 Travers and run Smarty Jones in that year’s Pennsylvania Derby, but the colt was retired a few weeks before the race.

So, Sept. 20 will be the biggest day not just in the 40-year history of Parx but in the history of Pennsylvania racing. California Chrome will be the story, but he won’t be the only story. The $1 million Cotillion is definitely getting Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable, probably three-time Grade 1 winner Sweet Reason, and possibly Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama winner Stopchargingmaria. The track will get every bit the event it was hoping for when the races were joined up in 2012.

By next year, the Pennsylvania Derby is likely to join the Cotillion as a Grade 1 race. When you attract the eventual 3-year-old champion male and the Derby and Preakness winner in consecutive years, committees notice. With California Chrome running, awareness of the race will increase dramatically for owners, trainers, and fans. That was the whole idea when the Pennsylvania Derby was moved from Labor Day. In Year 5 of the Great Move, the Pennsylvania Derby has hit a home run.

Michael Castellano More than 1 year ago
Sending your horse to Parx is a big risk. The track conditions are awful. Chrome's interests better hope not to have a lot of competition. They will try to run him into the ground, or into the rail to be more accurate. You know how the saying goes, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is."
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
agree michael,this guy coburn is a screwall,why ship a horse cross country to run on an unfriendly surface when the bc classic seems to be the main goal.the racing secretery would gladly write a race for cc as a prep against some 3 yr old cal breds,coburn would insist, coburn is not thinking with the best interests of cc just the greed of 600k ,that is not a guarantee,and hurts cc chances in the bc classic,he wouldnt beat older anyway, so i guarantee if cc runs at parx it will be off to the breeding shed
mike More than 1 year ago
Says the "screwball".
Big Woodys More than 1 year ago
they have to run him here. need an excuse to avoid Shared Belief. Chrome isn't even top 2 in his division. Bayern is better than him too.
mike More than 1 year ago
STUPID COMMENT! Idiot,he will be facing SB in the Classic.
mike More than 1 year ago
Yeah,Little Woodys,what happened to Bayern in his last race? Think he's still running.
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
I will be in attendance! If you are a player, you realize this race track plays to California Chrome's style perfectly.
Edward More than 1 year ago
The date is great. There is now a real East Coast Summer Series with the Haskell, Travers and Pa Derby. A worthy goal for any top quality 3 year old.
Richard Kennedy More than 1 year ago
I'm thrilled for PARX'S success through "slots" that has translated into some nice "Graded Stakes.". That being said, Backstretch living conditions at PARX are a DISGRACE. Some of slots $ should be used to replace the "concrete cells" the grooms reside in. Even convicted felon, B0B BRENNAN, showed class, when he built new dormitories for the stable help at the old "shuttered" GARDEN STATE PARK. To be fair, PARX did build a nice "Recreation" Building, but the Track Kitchen and Administration building are in dire need of renovations. Too bad someone, anyone, hasn't addressed these issues.
mike More than 1 year ago
Frosty, I'm org from Miami,don't live on West Coast although am there alot. I don't care what Coburn said at the Belmont. That's history unless you wanna post here ten yrs from now debating it. Time to let it go.
Roger Bascum More than 1 year ago
I love being in a Vegas race book on Monday and Tuesday when Parx is the earliest track to bet on. It just feels right.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hope Cal Chrome is ready and not rushed. good point, it's a key prep race now. I may go Untappable, Sweet Reason 6 hour shorter drive than Saratoga. ,
FrostyFeast More than 1 year ago
He hasn't run since the beginning of June. If he's not ready nearly 4 months later, he'll never be.
Tom Conrad More than 1 year ago
Is it true that Chrome's owner wants only Pa. bred horses to be allowed to run against him in the Pa. derby?
FrostyFeast More than 1 year ago
I haven't heard that. Sounds like an Onion headline for horse racing. Wouldn't be shocked if that was his attitude, but it's not physically possible. It's open company for 3yos, not restricted. I don't think they're so stupid as to think that they could limit who could show up, esp. as he's not a PA bred himself. So it's one CA bred vs. everybody? I'd chalk this up to a false rumor (again, unless they were dropped on their heads as children).
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
PA Derby hopefully will have a card to play. Smarty Jones day Monday has four very good races which are the big 4. However, what the hell is before that? A bunch of 6,7,8 horse fields to fill the time? That is a disgrace. People want to bet not stare at 6 horse fields. If this hasn't been fixed by now I don't know how the person responsible for putting the cards together has a job. Its an insult to the player. How bout stop running year round garbage and put a product together that people can play. Awful! Get it together.
James G Romano More than 1 year ago
I never have trusted what has gone down on that track,whether it was Keystone or Parx..With Delaware and Finger Lakes it has been difficult to follow the way money gets bet,from DD to Pick 3 and other bets. That track still looks as bad as Suffolk Downs,or whatever they call it today,you know that dump near the Boston airport and where 'horses' still run sprints in 1;15 or more in cold days.We used to make fun of most of these tracks,including Charleston,now Mountaineer with more money coming from casino addicts.If they fixed up Pocono Downs attached to a casino brand why can`t they do the same with the old,and present,Keystone? By just changing the name nobody gets fooled to come closer.Then i think of that Virginia track,Colonial Downs,a nice,empty space on life support from simulcasting.How do they ,CD,stay in business with just those Turf races? Some things remain fishy,,and intriguing. Why is Calder still open,by the way?
Shawn Britton More than 1 year ago
Calder open as part of deal with gulfstream also 2 year old sales and racing. They run 2 months a year now