By Steve Haskin
California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I), will break from the rail in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) Sept. 20 at Parx Racing, not exactly the most ideal draw for the even-money morning-line favorite.
The nine-furlong Pennsylvania Derby will mark California Chrome’s return to the races following his eventful fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), in which he was stepped on by another horse coming out of the gate, ripping off a good chunk of his ankle.
The race will be streamed live at 4:30 p.m. ET on the America’s Best Racing homepage.
What California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza will have to contend with in addition to breaking from the rail in the eight-horse field is the always dangerous speed of Bayern, the runaway Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner who stopped badly to finish last in the Travers Stakes (gr. I). The son of Offlee Wild will break from the ideal post 4 under Martin Garcia and has been installed as the 7-2 second choice.
Horses with a race over the Parx dirt surface often have an advantage, and that should bode well for the chances of Protonico and Classic Giacnroll, the one-two finishers of the Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III). The Todd Pletcher-trained Protonico exploded late to snatch victory in the final yards.
Another danger to California Chrome could be the once highly regarded Kentucky Derby contender Tapiture, who has won both his starts since his 15th-place finish in the Derby at Churchill Downs. The son of Tapit returned with a workmanlike two-length victory in the Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill June 14 before scoring by a nose over Candy Boy in the West Virginia Derby (gr. II).
Vicar’s in Trouble, third in the West Virginia Derby, came back to score an impressive victory in the Super Derby (gr. II). Tapiture will break from post 7 under Rosie Napravnik and is the 5-1 third choice.
Candy Boy, who also finished second to champion Shared Belief in the Los Alamitos Derby, always gives a good account of himself and he has also been entered in the Pennsylvania Derby at a generous 12-1 with Joel Rosario aboard. Noble Moon and C J’s Awesome round out the field.
Despite the array of talented horses in the Pennsylvania Derby, all eyes will be squarely on California Chrome, who developed a nationwide fan base during his Triple Crown journey.
The California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit indicated his sharpness for the Pennsylvania Derby by working six furlongs in 1:10 1/5 between races at Los Alamitos before coming back with a maintenance six-furlong drill in 1:13 4/5.
Because of the bonus system instituted by Parx Racing, California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, and owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn of Dumb Ass Stable, each will receive $100,000 just for running, by virtue of California Chrome having won two legs of the Triple Crown.
The main tasks facing Espinoza are avoiding trouble breaking from the rail and not taking on Bayern too early, while not letting him get too easy of a lead, as he did in the Haskell. On paper, the only other horse that appears capable of running with Bayern is C J’s Awesome, who will break from the outside.
The son of Awesome Again, trained by Ken McPeek is coming off a 7 1/2-length wire-to-wire romp in a Saratoga Race Course allowance event, so Espinoza will have to see if C J’s Awesome can put pressure on Bayern before deciding on a strategy.