Five Key Takeaways From Pennsylvania Derby Day

Mike Smith, holding trophy, admitted his mistake in the Cotillion Stakes might have cost Abel Tasman a win but bounced back with a perfect ride on West Coast in the Pennsylvania Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five major takeaways from Pennsylvania Derby day on Sept. 23 at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa.:

EYE-OPENING RACE: I went into the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby utterly confused about how I would vote when the time came to decide the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male. Then it all became clear with West Coast’s resounding 7 ¼-length victory, tying him with Always Dreaming with his second Grade 1 victory on dirt. Yes, Always Dreaming has the luster of a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner. But his failure to do anything significant in three races after that is costly. It’s ever-improving West Coast all the way.

PATIENCE, PATIENCE: During a recent interview with the great 70-year-old French trainer Freddie Head, he described the art of training as “patience, patience.” He has a disciple in American counterpart Bob Baffert, who did not push Arrogate into the Triple Crown races last year and was rewarded with a record-setting Travers and a tremendous victory against California Chrome in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. This year, he debated running West Coast in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets before opting for an easier spot. He is again being rewarded big time.

MUCH RESPECT: My respect for jockey Mike Smith continually grows. He was the first to admit that he mishandled Abel Tasman in the $1 million, Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes, leading to her runner-up finish to It Tiz Well. He tried to compensate for an outside post and a poor start by charging up the rail before the serious running was about to begin. Although she fought valiantly, Smith had not left enough in reserve. “I didn’t ride her very well. It wasn’t my finest moment,” Smith said. “If I had to do it over again, I should have stayed outside.” How refreshing.

Van Dyke aboard It Tiz Well (Eclipse Sportswire)

YOUNG TALENT: Drayden Van Dyke, an impressive young rider based on the West Coast, proved to be unflappable when he piloted It Tiz Well to victory in the Cotillion. He stayed cool when Smith made a startling move up the rail with prohibitive favorite Abel Tasman, something Van Dyke could not have been counting on. Although he was aware of the surprise twist in the race, he responded by doing exactly what he was supposed to do. He continued to focus on getting his mount to relax for the stretch run. “My filly was there for me the whole time,” he said. “I was just waiting to push the button.”

WORTH NOTING: Giuseppe the Great is one of those sneaky good horses that continually gets overlooked. In addition to his third-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby at odds of 47.20-1, his resume includes runner-up finishes in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes and Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets to go with a fourth in the Dwyer Stakes for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito. Jockey Luis Saez noted that Irap and rival Mario Gutierrez may have compromised his horse in the Pennsylvania Derby when they cut in front of him. “I don’t think he could have won, but we could have finished maybe at least second,” he said.

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