James Bond fans understand that people should never say never.
That $16,000 maiden claimer has already become famous through its 9 ¾-length winner, Maximum Security, who went on to post Grade 1 wins in the Xpressbet Florida Derby and the TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes, not to mention being disqualified from first to 17th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
But on Sept. 21, that maiden claimer was elevated to an even more lofty status when another horse from that race became the Grade 1 winner of a $1 million stakes.
In the aftermath of Maximum Security being scratched from the $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby because of a colon issue, it fell to Math Wizard to bestow even more fame on that December claimer. He was third that day, but in one of the sport’s top races for 3-year-olds, he rallied from last to win the seven-figure stakes by a neck over Mr. Money at 31-1 odds.
“That is the greatest $16,000 maiden claiming race there will ever be,” said winning trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. after his first start — and victory — in an American Grade 1 stakes. “I know things can change, but there will never be a claimer like that one.”
It probably would take a math wizard to calculate the odds of two horses emerging from a maiden claimer and each becoming a winner of a Grade 1 stakes with a $1 million purse, but on Saturday, under an aggressive ride from Irad Ortiz Jr., the chestnut son of Algorithms defied the odds and added even more uncertainty to the 3-year-old division.
Maybe it’s crazy, but if Math Wizard can return and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, could it make the “other” horse in the Dec. 20 maiden claimer the champion 3-year-old male?
Crazier things have happened.
Or have they?
“‘I’m 100% crazy enough to go to the Breeders’ Cup” said majority owner John Fanelli, who owns the colt along with Collamele Vitelli Stable, Bassett Stables, Ioannia Zoumas, Wynwood Thoroughbreds, and Joseph, “though I don’t want to make any decisions now. I don’t want to say it’s a weaker field [of 3-year-olds], but there’s been a lot of injuries. You’re seeing a lot of different things happen to these horses.”
Just getting to the Pennsylvania Derby was tricky enough for Math Wizard. After his horse was sixth behind Mr. Money in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby Aug. 3, Joseph gave his 3-year-old some time off and he blossomed back at his Florida barn.
The original thought was to run in the Grade 3 Remington Park Derby Sept. 29, but when Joseph heard there would be a competitive field, he looked for other options. The Parx race came into play, but Joseph wasn’t sure of how he could get Math Wizard to Pennsylvania in time for the race until Fanelli arranged for a Fed Ex flight Sept. 19.
It was such a last-minute deal that jockey Edgard Zayas decided to stay in Florida, opening the door for Ortiz to win the Pennsylvania Derby for the second time, joining his win at 19-1 odds in 2012 with Handsome Mike.
Why Math Wizard paid $64.20 to win added up.
Unlike Maximum Security, Math Wizard was claimed out of the Dec. 20 race. He was also claimed in his next two starts, capped by an 18 ½-length victory when Joseph claimed him for $25,000 on Jan. 31 in a seven-way shake.
“There were seven people in there,” Fanelli said, “though the way people talk, you’ll hear there were a thousand in there.”
After running in a starter race, Joseph got ambitious and lined up stakes assignments for his new acquisition and Math Wizard did not embarrass himself.
He was fourth in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes, followed by a fourth in the Oaklawn Park Invitational as the favorite, a second in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby, and a third the Grade 3 Indiana Derby, again behind Mr. Money.
The weak effort in the West Virginia Derby was disappointing, but Joseph saw enough positive signs afterward to try graded stakes company again.
“When we got him home, he looked different,” Joseph said. “His coat came back.”
He was surely a different horse in the Pennsylvania Derby against five opponents that included Improbable, the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Preakness winner War of Will, and Mr. Money, who had beaten Math Wizard in his last two starts en route to four straight Grade 3 wins.
Improbable was the 6-5 favorite off a sharp and well-behaved win in the Shared Belief Stakes for trainer Bob Baffert, but he reverted to his wayward ways in the starting gate Saturday, rearing at the start which kept him toward the back of the pack.
“He reared. There was nothing I could do,” jockey Mike Smith said. “I was lucky to stay on. He’s a son of a gun in the gate.”
Without the ailing Maximum Security to set the pace, that job fell to Allied Racing Stable’s Mr. Money, who got away with a cushy :49.60 opening half-mile as War of Will and Spun to Run pressed him.
With the exception of the overmatched maiden Shanghai Superfly, the field bunched up at the top of the stretch after six furlongs in 1:13.44 and Mr. Money dug down and fended off the challengers — except for one.
Moving on the far outside, Math Wizard was fourth at the eighth pole, but went past Mr. Money late to narrowly prevail in 1:50.94 for the 1 1/8 miles.
“When he changed leads in the stretch, he took off,” Ortiz said.
For trainer Bret Calhoun, there was disappointment in Mr. Money’s loss but satisfaction in a body of work that includes four wins and a second in the Goldencents colt’s last five races.
“There’s no excuses,” said Calhoun who was uncertain of future plans for his 3-year-old. “It’s very disappointing obviously, but we won four in a row and that’s not easy.”
Pride was just one of the many emotions that filled the 32-year-old Joseph as he savored the biggest and most unlikely win of his career.
“I was overwhelmed by this. Everything was to be. We were blessed. We just claimed him at the right time. You dream about it, but you when think about it realistically, you can’t expect to win a $1 million race with a $25,000 claim,” said Joseph, who won the 2009 Barbados Triple Crown with Areutalkintome. “Racing gets a bad rap but nothing gives me a feeling like this, outside of my kids. These horses mean everything to me.”
Street Band Punches Distaff Ticket in Cotillion
Yet bettors at Parx Racing seemed to overlook the trainer Sept. 21, allowing his sophomore filly in the $1 million, Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes, two-time graded stakes winner Street Band, to start as the 7-1 fifth wagering choice. And then Street Band went out and delivered like Jones-trained fillies tend to do, registering a 2 1/4-length upset over Guarana in a Parx race that shared top billing with the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.
Farther behind than usual in the Cotillion, Street Band did not look like a winner early in the race, ahead of just one opponent when 10th after a quarter-mile. But when a fast pace unfolded in front of her — with Jaywalk and Bellafina throwing down quarter-mile fractions of :22.75, :46.27 and 1:11.19 — the positioning provided a benefit, rather than a hindrance.
With plenty in reserve under Sophie Doyle, she passed one foe down the backstretch to move into ninth and then steadily began picking off those in front of her. She advanced to sixth by the six-furlong marker, caught 11-10 favorite Guarana at the eighth pole, and pulled clear. Strongest of the 11 fillies at the finish line, she completed 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.20.
The race provided the filly with her first Grade 1 triumph. Earlier in 2019, she had won the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans and the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks at Indiana Grand. She paid $17.40.
Guarana, who stalked the pace in the Cotillion before taking the lead at the top of the stretch, lost for the first time in four starts in finishing a clear second. Horologist was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and Bellafina was fourth.
Among other Grade 1 winners, 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner Seregenti Empress was sixth, and Jaywalk, the champion 2-year-old filly of last year, ran seventh.
She is owned by Jones and his wife, Cindy, and partners Ray Francis, Medallion Racing, and MyRacehorse.com. Bred in Kentucky by Larry and Cindy Jones and Ray Francis, she is by Istan out of the Street Cry mare Street Minstrel, who Jones also trained.
As far back as 2004, the Cotillion has proven a key Distaff steppingstone. Ashado won the Cotillion and Distaff that year, something Untapable later did in 2014. Last year, Monomoy Girl won the Distaff after crossing the wire first in the Cotillion, although Midnight Bisou was declared the Cotillion winner by stewards, who deemed Monomoy Girl impeded her in the stretch.—Byron King