05/31/2017 11:26AM

Penn Mile rises quickly to earn Grade 2 status

B & D Photography
The filly Catch a Glimpse won the 2016 Penn Mile and followed up by capturing the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks.

Despite having been held only four times, the $500,000 Penn Mile was bumped up to a Grade 2 last fall by the North American Graded Stakes Committee. When the turf race for 3-year-olds is renewed Saturday evening, it will be the highest-ranked race ever run at Penn National Race Course, which opened in 1972.

The Penn Mile’s promotion comes in a year when seven other stakes for 3-year-olds were downgraded. The Wood Memorial and Blue Grass were dropped from Grade 1 to Grade 2, and five others went from Grade 2 to Grade 3 – the Peter Pan, West Virginia Derby, Indiana Derby, Los Alamitos Derby, and the Commonwealth Derby, which like the Penn Mile is on grass.

The only other race for 3-year-olds bumped up for 2017 also is held in the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing will be a Grade 1 for the first time this September.

The Penn Mile was an ungraded race in its first two editions before being upped to a Grade 3 in 2015. It earned its most recent upgrade because of how its winners performed moving forward. Although Rydilluc, who won in 2013 for trainer Gary Contessa, didn’t win again and finished his career in Chile, the other three all won Grade 1’s later in their 3-year-old seasons.

Last year, Catch a Glimpse topped a Mark Casse-trained exacta, defeating males, including stablemate Airoforce. She came into the Penn Mile on a six-race win streak, which included the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, and in her next start won the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks.

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The Penn Mile sixth-place finisher from a year ago, Beach Patrol, went on to win the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park for Chad Brown.

In 2015, Force the Pass parlayed a Penn Mile win into a victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby for trainer Alan Goldberg.

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A year earlier, Bobby’s Kitten took down the Penn Mile and then completed his 2014 campaign with a win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

Dan Silver was the director of racing operations for the Penn Mile’s first running. He left the New York Racing Association to take that position in 2012, and then returned to NYRA in 2013. Eric Johnston has been the director of racing ever since.

“The race is a testament to what we’ve been doing here,” Johnston said. “I wish I could take credit for the race, but my predecessor started it and I’ve just tried my best to keep it going. But the race is huge for our program. It recognizes Penn National on a national level.”

There will be six other stakes Saturday at Penn National, which is located about 20 miles from the state capital of Harrisburg. The track will have a special first post time of 3:45 p.m. Eastern.

Johnston said he plans to start the program with two overnight races and then card three $100,000 Pennsylvania-bred stakes as races 3-5. He will then slot a trio of $200,000 stakes as races 6-8. The Penn Mile will be race 9.

The three $200,000 stakes are the Penn Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile on turf; the Mountainview, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up; and the Governor’s Cup, a five-furlong turf sprint for 3-year-olds and up.