Pennsylvania Derby: Bettor's Delight--and Nightmare

Pennsylvania Derby: Bettor's Delight--and Nightmare
Photo: Adam Coglianese
Wood Memorial winner Tapit, 2, among contenders in Monday's Pennsylvania Derby.
The $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) Sept. 6 is both a bettor's delight and nightmare, as 12 evenly matched 3-year-olds were entered in the 1 1/8-mile race, with almost every one of them having a legitimate shot to win.

Trying to separate them is no easy task. Post positions, however, could play a major role, as the possible favorite, Tapit, drew the far outside. The son of Pulpit, who captured the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I), defeating Pennsylvania Derby foes Master David, Swingforthefences, and Royal Assault, has not started since the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), in which he was one of many horses who could not handle the sloppy track.

Tapit was all set to compete in the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) when he entrapped his epiglottis in a workout and was sent to the New Jersey Equine Clinic for throat surgery. Regular rider Ramon Dominguez will again be in the saddle, and will have to get lucky going into the clubhouse turn to avoid getting hung very wide in the big field.

Another draw of significance was My Snookie's Boy drawing the rail. The son of Crafty Friend hooked up early with Lion Heart in the Long Branch Breeders' Cup (gr. III) at Monmouth and hung on tenaciously to get beat a nose. He came from a couple of lengths off the pace in the Haskell Invitational, and put in a strong stretch run to fall a length short of Lion Heart.

My Snookie's Boy will have to break sharply in the Derby under Stewart Elliott, then wait to see if either longshots Love of Money, coming off three sprints, or Wimplestiltskin, who has shown sprint speed in the past, go for the lead.

Of the others entered, it's extremely difficult separating Illinois Derby (gr. II) winner Pollard's Vision, who also has shown speed on occasion; Wood Memorial runner-up Master David; Iowa Derby winner Swingforthefences; Queen's Plate (Can-I) winner Niigon; and the Nick Zito pair of Pies Prospect, third in the Haskell, and Royal Assault, third in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

Two unknown factors, in addition to the lightly raced Love of Money, who has scored runaway victories in two of his three career starts, are Separato, who inhaled his field in the Presidents Cup at Philly Park with an explosive last-to-first move, and Song of the Sword, who showed great promise earlier in the year only to falter badly in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (gr. I). The son of Unbridled's Song ran bang-up races to finish second in the Illinois Derby and third in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II).

Another tough horse to figure is Niigon, who won the Queen's Plate, then was second, beaten a head, in the Prince of Wales Stakes (Can-I). He journeyed across the border, only to finish a well-beaten fourth in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga. He subsequently was placed third via disqualification after being bumped hard in the upper stretch by Eddington.

Swingforthefences, who followed his second-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) with a victory in the Iowa Derby, showed little in the Haskell, but was found to have bled badly in the race, and certainly must be taken seriously in here.

Master David looked to be a serious Derby contender following a victory in the Sham Stakes and a second-place finish in the Wood Memorial, but his only in-the-money performance since was a well-beaten third in the Peter Pan. Trainer Bobby Frankel had contemplated running him in an allowance race on the grass, but when the son of Grand Slam turned in several sharp works, Frankel decided to switch plans and head for Philly Park.

As for Zito's pair, Pies Prospect may be sitting on a big race following his third in the Haskell. The son of Crafty Prospector has never been beaten when he has had the lead at the eighth pole. Royal Assault captured the Sir Barton Stakes before finishing third in the Belmont, but never threatened when third and fourth, respectively, in the Long Branch and Haskell over the speed-favoring Monmouth track. He should benefit from a fast pace over the Philly Park surface, which is not known to favor speed as much as Monmouth.

Here's the field for the Pennsylvania Derby, in post-position order with trainers and jockeys:

1 MY SNOOKIES BOY/Allen Iwinski/Stewart Elliott
2 SONG OF THE SWORD/Jennifer Pedersen/Tony Black
3 PIE'S PROSPECT/Nick Zito/C. C. Lopez
4 LOVE OF MONEY, Richard Dutrow/Robbie Albarado
5 SWINGFORTHEFENCES, Rick Violette/Shaun Bridgmohan
6 ROYAL ASSAULT/Nick Zito/Pat Day
7 MASTER DAVID/Bobby Frankel/Eibar Coa
8 POLLARD'S VISION/Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez
9 NIIGON/Eric Coatrieux/Robert Landry
10 SEPARATO/Tim Ritchey/Jeremy Rose
11 WIMPLESTILTSKIN/Eddie Coletti Jr./Hiram Rivera
12 TAPIT/Michael Dickinson/Ramon Dominguez

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