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.
|1||Tripoli||Irad Ortiz Jr.||John Sadler||15-1|
|2||Express Train||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs||20-1|
|3||Hot Rod Charlie||Flavien Prat||Doug O'Neill||4-1|
|4||Essential Quality||Luis Saez||Brad Cox||3-1|
|5||Knicks Go||Joel Rosario||Brad Cox||5-2|
|6||Art Collector||Mike Smith||Bill Mott||8-1|
|7||Stiletto Boy||Flavien Prat||Ed Moger Jr.||30-1|
|8||Medina Spirit||John Velazquez||Bob Baffert||4-1|
|9||Max Player||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen||8-1|
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)