It’s nice to have choices, unless you make the wrong one.
John Velazquez, as one of the top riders in the United States, and winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, is often afforded the opportunity to ride his pick of good mounts. This fact may never have been more apparent than it is in the Pennsylvania Derby. Velazquez will ride Rattlesnake Bridge in the million dollar race tomorrow at Parx Racing. He chose him rather than taking a leg up on To Honor and Serve.
While Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice is listed as the morning line favorite, I actually believe that one will go off as the third choice tomorrow. Who are the two horses that will be bet below him? You guessed it; I expect both horses that John Velazquez had to choose between, will be the two horses bettors prefer in the 2011 Pennsylvania Derby.
By virtue of easy wins in the Nashua and Remsen Stakes last fall, To Honor and Serve was considered one of the best two-year-old colts in the country. This year has not been easy though for the son of Bernardini. Two mediocre thirds in big Kentucky Derby preps to start the year in Florida preceded a layoff due to an injury to a suspensory ligament. He was probably a little too fresh for his return to the races, when he dueled on a :45 flat half mile in the Amsterdam Stakes. He backed out to finish sixth that day, but his fans have renewed faith in the Bill Mott trained colt’s ability after a dominating performance against older allowance foes on August 26 at Saratoga.
Rattlesnake Bridge meanwhile, was an unknown commodity as a juvenile. He did not make his career debut until this February when he won a maiden race at Gulfstream Park. Since then, the gray son of Tapit has shown steady improvement, against solid competition, in his next five races, culminating with a second place finish in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes to division leader, Stay Thirsty. The improvement shown by the Kiaran McLaughlin trained was not lost on Velazquez.
Aboard Rattlesnake Bridge in that maiden win, Velazquez believed he was on a very talented colt, but one that had a whole lot of learning to do. Unable to ride him in his next four races, it was Velazquez who was back in the irons for his fine result in the Mid-Summer Derby. Needless to say, he liked what he saw in the more mature version of Rattlesnake Bridge.
There is no doubt that John Velazquez was left with a tough decision in the Pennsylvania Derby, but kudos to him for having two such attractive options, and in about 24 hours we will know if he made the right decision.