The $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby Saturday at Parx Racing, which took a hiatus last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is back and better than ever for 2021. Nine horses are likely to run, including Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie, who crossed the finish line first in the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes in July only to be disqualified for interference and placed last of seven. Keepmeinmind and Bourbonic, respectively the seventh- and 13th-place Kentucky Derby finishers, are winless in six races combined since then and hope to improve back to top form, although it must be noted Keepmeinmind was only beaten a half-length for the win in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes in July by Essential Quality. That divisional leader is bypassing the Pennsylvania Derby after winning the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes one month ago.
Fourth-place Jim Dandy finisher Weyburn earned the biggest victory of his career this past March in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes but has only managed fourth-place finishes in his two tries at the mile and one-eighth distance he’ll travel in Saturday’s race. Midnight Bourbon improved off a sixth-place effort in the Kentucky Derby to finish second in the Preakness Stakes, but then did lost his jockey in the Haskell when Hot Rod Charlie drifted into his path in the stretch. Midnight Bourbon enters the race off a strong runner-up effort, beaten a neck, to Essential Quality in the Travers. Next comes a quartet of horses which have never run in the same races the other five have run in. Fulsome just won the Grade 3 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx and earlier this year took the Oaklawn Stakes at the distance of the Pennsylvania Derby, so he must be respected. Recent double stakes winner Americanrevolution is another horse deserving a close look as he won the Albany Stakes at this distance four weeks ago. I Am Redeemed has won three of four career starts including the Storm Cat Stakes at Parx last month, while Speaker’s Corner stretches out to two turns for the first time and runs in a stakes race off a very strong win at Saratoga last month. Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit was entered but will not run in this race per an announcement Tuesday, Sept. 21.
Main contenders to win:
Trainer Bill Mott is in the Hall of Fame for many reasons, and one of those is his ability to know when a horse in his care is talented enough to compete at the top level. With that in mind, Speaker’s Corner is my top choice to win this year’s Pennsylvania Derby. Speaker’s Corner is the most lightly raced horse in the field, having run just three times. He debuted a little over one year ago and finished third, but then improved sensationally off the experience to win last October. Whatever kept him away from the races from last fall until last month is irrelevant now as Speaker’s Corner returned on Aug. 14 to win impressively beating older horses at the distance of seven furlongs, which is a difficult task off a long layoff. Jose Ortiz rode Speaker’s Corner for the first time last month and returns again with a colt that is highly likely to take a big step up in his second start off the layoff, just as he did in his second career start. Considering Speaker’s Corner earned a 107 Equibase Speed Figure with the effort last month, he could easily run faster than favorites Hot Rod Charlie (113 in July) and Midnight Bourbon (109 last month). In addition gaining the physical fitness and mental maturity, we can also expect Speaker's Corner to improve based on Bill Mott's ability to score victories when stretching a horse out from sprint to a route in its second start off a layoff over the past two years. Examples include Candy Man Rocket in the Sam F. Davis Stakes last winter and Art Collector just last month in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga. Additionally, owner/breeder Godolphin, whose Essential Quality is one of the top 3-year-olds of 2021, is on a hot streak as they owned the winners of the Summer Stakes, the Natalma Stakes, the Pattison Canadian International Stakes, and the Jockey Club Derby Invitational last weekend. As such, it may be very difficult to pass on Speaker’s Corner as a win bet at high odds in this year’s Pennsylvania Derby.
Americanrevolution is also likely to go to the gate at high odds, even though he has a perfect three-for-three record in 2021. Moving to the barn of Todd Pletcher for his first start of the year and second of his career and following eight months off, Americanrevolution won a sprint race and then when stretching out to two turns improved dramatically for a 7 ¼-length win in the New York Derby. Better still, in the Albany Stakes last month at Saratoga (held at the distance of the Pennsylvania Derby), Americanrevolution won in a hand ride by five lengths to earn a 108 figure which logically should to be improved upon based on his current pattern. Jockey Luis Saez, who recently captured the Saratoga riding title against the strongest rider colony in North America, has been aboard for all three of the colt’s wins to date and will be in the saddle once again. A son of Constitution, whose Tiz the Law won four graded stakes as a 3-year-old last year, Americanrevolution has tremendous potential to run well in this race, and I would not hesitate to bet him to win in addition to Speaker’s Corner if the odds are high.
Hot Rod Charlie is a street fighter of a horse with a very strong competitive instinct that is backed up with great ability. He’s finished first, second, or third in seven straight races, and Hot Rod Charlie has never lost his physical edge since last October when earning his first win. After finishing third by a length in the Kentucky Derby and earning a career-best 109 figure in the process, Hot Rod Charlie battled head-and-head for most of the last half-mile in the often grueling Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets five weeks later. He ended up losing by 1 ¼ lengths to Essential Quality but was 11 ¼ lengths clear of third-place finisher Rombauer, who had just posted an upset win in the Preakness three weeks earlier. Then, in the Haskell Stakes in mid-July, Hot Rod Charlie did everything asked when outfinishing Mandaloun by a nose, but he was disqualified and placed last for drifting in with an eighth of a mile to go and in the stewards’ view causing Midnight Bourbon to trip and lose his jockey. That effort earned Hot Rod Charlie the best last race Equibase Figure in the Pennsylvania Derby field of 113 that, if repeated, would make him very tough to beat. That is, if Speaker’s Corner and Americanrevolution don’t continue their patterns of improvement and run faster.
Midnight Bourbon has only won two of 11 career races, finishing second in four others. The best of those four came in his most recent race last month in the Travers. After leading from the start in an otherwise paceless race, Midnight Bourbon dug in and went head-and-head with Essential Quality for the entire last eighth of a mile, coming up a neck short and earning a 109 figure. Certainly if he can repeat that effort in the Pennsylvania Derby, Midnight Bourbon could be in the thick of the action at the finish.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Bourbonic (100), Fulsome (102), I Am Redeemed (111), Keepmeinmind (106) and Weyburn (109).
Hot Rod Charlie
Must use on exacta tickets and could possibly win: