On paper, the 1 1/8-mile dirt contest looks like quite a handicapping challenge.
Among those entered are Ohio Derby (gr. II) winner Smooth Air, who may go off as the favorite; Lael Stables’ Ready Set, a narrow winner in the West Virginia Derby (gr. II); West Coast invader Two Step Salsa, who has won a pair of graded stakes at Hollywood Park; Belmont Stakes (gr. I) third-place finisher Anak Nakal; Haskell Invitational (gr. I) starters Alaazo and Atoned; and Eoin Harty trainee Tiz Now Tiz Then, who won the Iowa Derby and then came back to take third in the Jim Dandy (gr. II).
Also looking to make an impact in the contentious affair are a few lesser-known horses with big upsides. They are: Goldolphin Racing’s Numaany, who broke his maiden in astounding fashion last year at Aqueduct and has recently returned from Dubai; Gary Contessa trainee Wishful Tomcat, a speed-burner who broke his maiden by 17 3/4 lengths and was equally as impressive in allowance company earlier this month at Saratoga; Stones River, a Delaware shipper entering off a four-race win streak for Larry Jones; Phipps Stable’s Power Game, a lightly-raced Dixie Union colt undefeated in two starts; and Acai, a Rick Dutrow Jr. trainee who was briefly under consideration for the Travers Stakes (gr. I).
All consideration must begin with Mount Joy Stables’ homebred Smooth Air, who was an impressive four-length winner in the May 31 Ohio Derby at Thistledown. Trained by Bennie Stutts Jr., the Smooth Jazz colt had produced a 4-2-2 record from nine starts. His only off-the-board finish came two starts ago in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), when he finished 11th.
Based in Florida, Smooth Air has been working well at Calder Race Course. Like Ready Set and Two Step Salsa, he will carry 122 pounds and give three to eight pounds to his rivals. Regular Ride Manoel Cruz will get the call.
Ready Set, who had been close in a pair of stakes events earlier this season, had his breakout race in the Aug. 2 West Virginia Derby. The son of Touch Gold stalked the pace and made a strong late move to win by a head at Mountaineer. Initially brought along cautiously by trainer Michael Matz, he now seems poised to break into the elite of the 3-year-old ranks. Julien Leparoux will retain the mount.
Everest Stables’ Two Step Salsa has never done worse than second in six career efforts, but will be making his first start on natural dirt. The Petionville colt won the Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes (gr. III) and Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood in the early summer, and most recently, was only 1 1/4 lengths back of Tres Borrachos in the July 12 Swaps Stakes (gr. II). Trained by Julio Canini, Two Step Salsa should be a pacesetter under Martin Pedroza.
Zabeel Racing International’s Tiz Now Tiz Then could be a major factor based on his last four starts, which have included three wins and a third. In the Jim Dandy, the son of Tiznow took a short lead into the stretch, but grudgingly gave way to Macho Again and Pyro in the final sixteenth. Harty will be trying for his second $1 million victory in less than 10 days, as Colonel John scored for him in the Travers Aug. 23 at Saratoga.
Numaany could be a wild card in the Pennsylvania Derby. The A.P. Indy colt began his racing career in New York, and in his second maiden special weight start took a big lead into the stretch before veering out badly after losing his irons. Under Javier Castellano, he remarkably re-rallied and went on to score by 2 3/4 lengths. Most recently, Numaany won an allowance contest at Saratoga in his second start back from Dubai. Kendrick Carmouche will ride for Saeed bin Suroor.
$1,000,000 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II, Race 10, 4:16 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Stones River (KY), 117, Gabriel Saez
2. Ready Set (KY), 122, Julien R. Leparoux
3. Numaany (KY), 114, Kendrick Carmouche
4. Tiz Now Tiz Then (KY), 119, Miguel Mena
5. Only for Now (KY), 114, Jose C. Caraballo
6. Smooth Air (FL), 122, Manoel R. Cruz
7. Wishful Tomcat (NY), 114, Richard Migliore
8. Alaazo (KY), 114, (No Rider)
9. Two Step Salsa (KY), 122, Martin A. Pedroza
10. Anak Nakal (KY), 114, Joe Bravo
11. Atoned (FL), 114, Jose Lezcano
12. Acai (FL), 114, Corey S. Nakatani
13. Power Game (KY), 114, Elvis Trujillo
14. You and I Forever (KY), 114, Javier Castellano