Heavy favorite or not, the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday at Parx looks open for an upset. On paper, at least four entries are capable of winning, which makes the final selections below geared toward the best value options.
The four 3-year-olds to consider on top in this 1 1/8-mile contest are Hot Rod Charlie, Midnight Bourbon, Speaker’s Corner and Americanrevolution. Unfortunately, the Kentucky Derby champion Medina Spirit was expected to scratch because of the outside post, according to trainer Bob Baffert.
A long introduction to Hot Rod Charlie is not necessary. In his most recent start, he crossed the wire first in the Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth before a disqualification took him down. Prior to that race, he set a wicked pace in the Belmont Stakes and held second as Essential Quality closed for the win. In May, he also finished third by one length to Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby. This is a consistent runner who tries hard.
Hot Rod Charlie’s morning-line odds of 5-2 do not seem realistic, though, particularly now with the defection of Medina Spirit. Remember, this colt started in the Haskell at 4-5 with good horses such as Mandaloun, Midnight Bourbon and Following Sea present. He might go off at 4-5 again.
Because of his lack of value, Hot Rod Charlie is expendable from the top slot. He is usable underneath for trifecta and superfecta players.
As the expected second choice, Midnight Bourbon offers more value than Hot Rod Charlie. His record indicates that value may hold too. Besides his underlaid Preakness odds, the public tends to leave him alone in most races.
In his recent runner-up finish in the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, Midnight Bourbon started at 5-1 and lost by only a neck to Essential Quality after setting a slow early pace. He fought hard in the stretch but came up short.
Two starts ago in the Haskell, Midnight Bourbon also went off at 5-1. In this situation he had to contest the lead with the sprinter Following Sea before putting him away and dealing with Hot Rod Charlie and Mandaloun in the stretch. Before clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie in the stretch run and losing Paco Lopez, Midnight Bourbon was on his way to a close third.
In the Preakness Stakes, Midnight Bourbon took up the pressing role along Medina Spirit’s side. Both speed horses were pushed harder than ideal when France Go de Ina made an early move on the far side. Rombauer took advantage of the fast pace with his closing move to pull off the upset, but Midnight Bourbon lasted longer than Medina Spirit to hold second.
Despite the lack of recent wins to point out, Midnight Bourbon has shown clear talent throughout the spring and summer against the best 3-year-olds. His ability is likely not very far off Hot Rod Charlie’s ability either, if the two are not equal already. Yet Midnight Bourbon's odds will be higher. That is value.
Viable long shots Speaker’s Corner and Americanrevolution are unproven at this point, but both runners show enough talent on paper to indicate they can take the next step.
In the case of Speaker’s Corner, he came off a 307-day layoff to win a seven-furlong allowance race at Saratoga on Aug. 14 by 5 1/4 lengths over older horses. Firing off a layoff is not easy and neither is beating older horses in the first attempt.
His Belmont maiden win last fall on Oct. 11 is also notable. Speaker’s Corner won by only three-quarters of a length, but he defeated horses such as Caddo River, Greatest Honour, Miles D and Bourbonic. Bourbonic is entered in this race as a long shot.
With the maiden win in mind, Speaker’s Corner has beaten future stakes horses already. Even if those horses were undeveloped, the win is notable.
Speaker's Corner took up the mid-pack or stalker role in those sprint races. At a slower nine-furlong pace, it is possible that Speaker’s Corner sits closer to the pace.
To play him, though, bettors need to demand a good deal to compensate for the lack of graded-stakes experience. With the scratch of Medina Spirit expected to bring the odds down, value odds on Speaker’s Corner might be 6-1 or higher.
Americanrevolution might develop into one of the better 3-year-old dirt routers in Todd Pletcher’s barn, based on his few races shown.
In his most recent start, Americanrevolution smashed the field in the nine-furlong Albany Stakes for New York-breds on Aug. 27 at Saratoga.
He finished first by five lengths over the Bob Baffert-trained Bobby Bo, with another 11 1/2 lengths back to It’s a Gamble in third.
As written before on this blog, spaced-out margins indicate a quality race on dirt.
Before the Albany Stakes, Americanrevolution also won the New York Derby at Finger Lakes by 7 1/4 lengths over Purple Hearted, with another 5 3/4 lengths back to Lobsta in third.
Americanrevolution owns a stalking style that is supposed to work nicely from his outside post. Expect him to follow Midnight Bourbon on the initial cross over heading into the first turn and fall two or three lengths behind Midnight Bourbon and Hot Rod Charlie in the first half-mile.
With a comfortable trip behind the speed, Americanrevolution can win. Again the key is to demand a value price to compensate for the lack of graded-stakes experience. Given the lack of chatter on Americanrevolution, he might remain at double-digit odds even after the big defection. If he starts at 10-1 or more, that is a value deal.
In an ideal scenario, Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon will wear each other out and set up the race for Speaker’s Corner or Americanrevolution. If Hot Rod Charlie or Midnight Bourbon must win, though, then Midnight Bourbon is preferable because of the higher odds than Hot Rod Charlie.
Midnight Bourbon is the top choice because of his value and ability. With the scratch of Medina Spirit, his task up front is obviously easier, unless Hot Rod Charlie plays aggressive and tries for a duel. In that case, then one of the two long shots listed above could take advantage of the situation and win.
Top selection: No. 8 Midnight Bourbon.
Live long shots: No. 3 Speaker’s Corner, No. 10 Americanrevolution.