2021 Pennsylvania Derby: Odds, Entries and Morning Line Favorites, Plus Medina Spirit Stays Home

Written By Kevin Shelly on September 21, 2021 - Last Updated on September 24, 2021
Pennsylvania Derby 2021 field and odds

Updated: Medina Spirit and Keepmeinmind pull out of the Pennsylvania Derby.

The thoroughbred track at Parx Casino hosts the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 25.

The Pennsylvania Derby serves as a significant lead-up for the Breeders’ Cup in November. The race is a marque Grade 1 race at 1 and 1/8 miles and has a $1 million payday for the winner. Post time for the Pennsylvania Derby is 5:49 p.m. ET.

Pennsylvania Derby day is always the biggest event on the PA horse racing calendar.

The PA Derby was first held on Memorial Day in 1979 at Keystone Race Track, now known as Parx. The race was eventually upgraded to G1 status. Then it moved to the last Saturday in September as part of the fall lineup leading to the Breeders’ Cup.

Where to bet on the horse racing in PA

You can bet on the Pennsylvania Derby and other horse racing action at:

Medina Spirit pulled out of PA Derby

The derby day might be even more popular this year for two reasons. The coronavirus pandemic canceled the event last year, so there’s pent-up demand.

And the controversial trainer Bob Baffert and his horse Medina Spirit were expected to be there. Medina Spirit won this year’s Kentucky Derby. But the horse remained under a cloud due to two positive drug tests. Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone after the Kentucky Derby and still risks disqualification. Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer with a history of winning and controversy, is fighting back in court.

Some bettors would have taken Medina Spirit because of Baffert, while others would wager against the horse simply because of Baffert, one veteran handicapper told PlayPennsylvania.

Now, that’s moot.

Baffert did not like outside pole position

On Tuesday, Baffert told Tim Wilkin of the Albany Times Union, that he had decided to pull Medina Spirit and a second horse, Private Mission, in the G1 fillies-only Cotillion Stakes.

@tjwilkin broke the news on Twitter.

Bob Baffert on pulling Medina Spirit from PA Derby:

“I don’t like to put them on a plane unless I feel real good about it. Medina looks good, I just don’t like the way the race was setting up. I feel part of my success is knowing when to run and doing what’s right for the horse.”

Baffert said Medina Spirit will be pointed to the Grade I, $300,000 Awesome Again at Santa Anita on Oct. 2 Private Mission to the Grade III, $200,000 Zenyatta on Oct. 3. “If they run well, they will go the Breeders’ Cup,”

Baffert then called Parx at 11:22 a.m to deliver the same news.

One handicapper scoffed at Baffert’s pole position explanation. The handicapper said not running a race with taxing early speed expected is better for Medina’s chance at the Breeder’s Cup.

On Friday afternoonThoroughbred Daily News broke the news that Keepmeinmind is a scratch due to an abscess on his left front foot.

His trainer Robertino Diorodo told TDN, “He trained like a monster and we needed the pony to get him off the track, he was feeling so good. This is definitely disappointing, but the main thing is the horse is going to be ok. Terrible timing.”

2021 Pennsylvania Derby field and odds

On Monday, the post-position draw was live-streamed by Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association. According to Dick Jerardi, a horse racing analyst for Parx’s “Let’s Go Racing” TV show, the draw is not a big deal because several entrants like early speed.

Post position Horse Jockey TrainerOdds
1Tripoli Irad Ortiz Jr.John Sadler15-1
2Express TrainVictor EspinozaJohn Shirreffs20-1
3Hot Rod CharlieFlavien PratDoug O'Neill4-1
4Essential QualityLuis SaezBrad Cox3-1
5Knicks GoJoel RosarioBrad Cox5-2
6Art CollectorMike SmithBill Mott8-1
7Stiletto BoyFlavien PratEd Moger Jr. 30-1
8Medina SpiritJohn VelazquezBob Baffert4-1
9Max PlayerRicardo Santana Jr.Steve Asmussen8-1

Handicapping the Pennsylvania Derby

Jon Stettin is the publisher of Past the Wire, available online and on other platforms. In a race of this quality, he’s usually seen most of the horses run in person, but not so with this field due to pandemic limitations.

“I trust my own eyes more than anything,” he said. But when he has not seen a horse live, he relies on watching and rewatching replays. He thinks about what is likely to happen more than what has happened in most contests.

Are they peaking in form? Were there any issues that kept them back? He points out Parx is considered “quirky,” and not all horses adapt quickly to the track.

And while he tries to “look at every race as a brand new story, a brand new day, and give each horse equal consideration,” he quickly concedes this race was likely to come down to a contest between Medina Spirit and Hot Rod Charlie.

“The race goes to those two, Medina, dogged by Charlie.”

He thought the pair would set the pace and keep the pace. Settin had thought it would be a speed race from beginning to end.

“Love him or hate him, he’s a professional and doesn’t run for second,” said Settin of Baffert’s expected sway on wagering.

But now, with the pace changed by Medina’s scratch, Stettin sees a new opening for Midnight Bourbon.

Parx had this to say today of Midnight Bourbon before Medina scratched:

The horse finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness Stakes, comes in off of a neck defeat in the Travers at Saratoga. Ricardo Santana Jr. will be aboard for trainer Steve Asmussen.

It should be a competitive field, said a Parx press release, though Medina and Charlie were the clear early betting favorites.

Parx had also pointed out:

“This year’s PA Derby ten horse field has five horses that raced in the 147th Kentucky Derby.”

Now there are nine in the field and just four were at the Kentucky Derby.

Dark horse at the PA Derby?

Does I Am Redeemed deserve a dark horse label because Parx is the horse’s home track?

“No,” says Stettin.

But Stettin initially thought the surprise comer might be Speaker’s Corner though he had added Midnight Bourbon also deserved a look.

With Medina out, he sees the new pace of the race favoring Midnight Bourbon.

“These sort of races are fun to bet. There are big pools. They pay well,” Settin added.

Full race card ahead of Pennsylvania Derby

Race day is more than just the PA Derby, though.

The Cotillion Stakes, a G1 fillies race with a $1 million purse, plus additional stakes races at Parx on turf and dirt, begin at 12:05 p.m. Gates open at 11 a.m. Parking and admission are free.

Baffert also said the 9-2 morning line favorite for the Cotillion Stakes, Private Mission, would be staying home.

The fastest race of the day won’t be the PA Derby, but instead the shorter six-furlong $300,00 Grade 2 Gallant Bob Stakes. Sprinter Jackie’s Warrior is the likely favored horse on this shorter course with seven firsts since June, and he’s the 56th horse in the nation by earnings and rated the 11th best horse in the world.

The other Sept. 25 races are:

  • Grade 3 Turf Monster ($300,000) – 3 and up – 5 Furlongs – Turf
  • Grade 3 Greenwood Cup ($200,000 ) – 3 and up – 1-1/2 miles – Dirt
  • Parx Dirt Mile ($200,000) – 3 and up – 1 Mile – Dirt
  • Plum Pretty Stakes ($200,000 ) (PA breds) – F&M 3 and up – 1-1/16 miles – Dirt
  • Alphabet Soup Handicap ($200,000) (PA breds) – 3 and up – 1-1/16 miles – Dirt

How to watch the Pennsylvania Derby

Live television coverage in the Philadelphia area by WPHL -17 starts at 4 p.m and continues until 6 p.m. The feed should be available in other PA markets, according to Jerardi. He’s been in the broadcast booth since 2011.

“There will be horses and trainers from all over and two $1 million races,” said Jerardi, who was a Philadelphia Daily News writer and is an award-winning broadcaster for his horse coverage.

Lead image: John Velazquez riding Medina Spirit at the Kentucky Derby (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Kevin Shelly Avatar
Written by
Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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