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Alpha (blue silks and cap) and Golden Ticket (inside, right) thrilled racing fans with a dead heat in the Travers Stakes (G1). 

By Ellis Starr – National Racing Analyst for Equibase

The 33rd running of the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby brings together a group of eight 3-year-olds, including the two horses that thrilled us four weeks ago when battling down to the wire in the Travers Stakes (G1) only to be inseparable in the photo finish—Alpha and Golden Ticket. Both colts certainly have the opportunity to run well enough to win once again, but most of the other six have credentials for success as well. For example, Macho Macho just won the West Virginia Derby (G2) at the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby distance, and as a lightly raced 3-year-old has a significant shot at succeeding once again. Csaba missed by a nose in the Hall of Fame Stakes (G2) one before last at this distance and returns to 1 1/8 miles after a poor and probably irrelevant try on the turf. Junebugred won the Smarty Jones Stakes in January but has run poorly in three tries since, but as evidenced by Golden Ticket’s dead-head win in the Travers, could step up and put in a winning effort. Casual Trick finished second in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, but ran poorly in stakes later in the winter and spring only to find his top form recently with two straight wins at Parx Racing, which could set him up for an upset. Stephanoatsee finished second to Alpha way back in January in the Count Fleet Stakes then went on the sidelines for seven months, returning to win last month, so he could perform competitively in this situation. Handsome Mike rounds out the field, with only a maiden win to his credit and appearing to be overmatched following a pair of fourth-place efforts at this level recently.

Csaba can post the upset in the Pennsylvania Derby, the key to a win being the fact this colt looks to be the only horse in the field with a desire to lead early. Csaba earned his first win last November, in the second start of his career and followed with another victory in his first route (a mile or over) race, then tried turf and finished a poor fifth. Following three more poor efforts, it was decided to put Csaba on the lead from the start on May 12, a strategy that resulted in an easy 5 ¾-length victory earning a career-best 116 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. Following that effort, Csaba was taken off the pace in the Mambo Meister Stakes and rallied for second before being disqualified to third for interference. Once again asked to show early speed on July 21 in the El Kaiser Stakes, Csaba won as he pleased by 8 1/4 lengths (112  figure), then nearly won the Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga on August 10, coming up a nose short of victory in the photo finish at the same  1 1/8-mile distance of this race. In his most recent race, Csaba was put back on the turf in spite of having shown no liking for the surface in two previous tries, the result being a ninth-place effort. With blinkers going back on following three races without them and with his best career effort and 116 figure having come with blinkers on, Csaba appears to be capable of establishing the lead from the start in the Pennsylvania Derby and leading all the way to the finish.

Macho Macho is on a pattern for improvement that suggests he will be very tough in the Pennsylvania Derby, as his most recent effort when victorious in the West Virginia Derby earned a career-best 110 Equibase speed figure and as that race was run at the same 1 1/8-mile distance. That 110 figure was five points higher than the 105 Alpha and Golden Ticket earned when finishing in a dead-heat for victory in the Travers Stakes and as good as the 110 Alpha earned winning the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) prior to the Travers, so it appears Macho Macho may just have to repeat his last effort, not even improve upon it, to have a fighting chance to win this race. 

Alpha is 2-for-2 since his 12th-place effort in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and, although he did regress a bit from the 110 Equibase figure earned in the Jim Dandy to 105 in the Travers, it may just have been he was not as comfortable running 1 ¼ miles (the Travers distance) as he was the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Jim Dandy and which he is being asked to run in this situation. Certainly, with four wins and a neck loss in five of his last six races and with 113, 110, 109 and 105 (twice) figures in those efforts, Alpha has displayed enough ability and determination to be strongly considered a contender to win this year’s Pennsylvania Derby. 

RELIVE 2012 TRAVERS

The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure: Casual Trick (109), Golden Ticket (105), Handsome Mike (99), Junebugred (97) and Stephanoatsee (101).

My Selections:

Csaba

Macho Macho

Alpha

$1 million Pennsylvania Derby ( G2)

Saturday, Parx Racing, Race 11, 6:16 p.m. EDT

1 1/8 miles, 3-year-olds

PP Horse

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

ML

1. Stephanoatsee (KY)

S Russell

114

H G Motion

12-1

2. Casual Trick (KY)

S Elliott

114

N P Zito

8-1

3. Handsome Mike (KY)

I Ortiz, Jr.

114

L Mora

20-1

4. Alpha (KY)

R A Dominguez

124

K P McLaughlin

9-5

5. Junebugred (KY)

A Cintron

119

S Hobby

20-1

6. Golden Ticket (KY)

D Cohen

124

K G McPeek

5-2

7. Csaba (KY)

R Maragh

114

P A Gleaves

5-1

8. Macho Macho (KY)

C S Nakatani

122

S M Asmussen

4-1

 

 

 

 

 

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

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