There is such a thing as a sure thing at Parx Racing on Saturday. According to the National Weather Service, there is a 100 percent chance of rain for the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.
As the likelihood of a sloppy track increased during the week, jockey Florent Géroux said yes, he was paying attention to the forecast.
“I take a look just as much as you guys,” he said in an interview for Horse Racing Nation’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “Hopefully, we’re on the good side of it.”
Géroux has been down this path before with Saudi Crown, the lightly raced, gray colt he will ride in the Penn Derby. Last out nearly two months ago, they had the lead almost all the way around a sloppy Saratoga main track in the Jim Dandy (G2). In an aggressively physical finish, Irad Ortiz Jr. and Forte came through to catch Saudi Crown and win by a nose.
That first time going two turns earned Saudi Crown a 105 Beyer Speed Figure, according to Daily Racing Form. That followed a 106 for the one-turn Dwyer (G3) at Belmont Park, where the 3-year-old Always Dreaming colt ridden that one time by Javier Castellano lost by a nose going a mile on a fast track.
“Those are two serious numbers,” trainer Brad Cox told the Parx media-relations team.
Rain or shine, one turn or two, Saudi Crown has demonstrated the ability to compete at a high level even though he has raced only four times, all since April.
“I’m a big believer that good horses take their track with them,” said Géroux, who also rode Saudi Crown’s first two races this spring, both wins. “Even at Churchill where it’s a fairly tight track, he won there. At Keeneland, it’s a different surface. At Saratoga it’s more on the deeper side, and last time he managed to work his way around the slop very well. I don’t think the track is a problem for him.”
Saudi Crown, the 7-2 second choice on the morning line Saturday, may be expected to take his usual forward trip out of post 3. The same goes for 3-1 favorite Reincarnate, the Bob Baffert-trained, Good Magic colt who got stuck with post 11 for the 1 1/8-mile race. Allowance winner Magic Tap, 5-1 in the program, and Curlin Stakes victor Scotland at 6-1 might keep them company early from posts 4 and 5.
Considering all the front-end speed, Géroux stopped just short of committing Saudi Crown to an early lead.
“First time off he was laying second or third,” Géroux said, remembering Saudi Crown’s six-furlong, debut win at Keeneland. “He’s a quick horse. I don’t want to rate him if I don’t have to, but on the same token, I don’t want to go on a suicide battle. He appears to me to be the quickest of the field, so let’s ride him like the best horse.”
Géroux, 37, a native of France who is 16th in career earnings among active jockeys in the U.S. and Canada, has a record of 34: 8-7-7 at Parx including two wins in the Cotillion (G1) and a second, third and fourth in the Penn Derby. Conversely, Reincarnate’s rider Juan Hernández never has ridden at the Bensalem, Pa., track.
|Geroux at Parx||Horse||Type||Pl.|
|Aug. 22, 2023||Southlawn||Cathryn Sophia||6th|
|Sept. 24, 2022||Daydreaming Boy||Maiden spec. wt.||4th|
|Sept. 24, 2022||Society||Cotillion (G1)||1st|
|Sept. 24, 2022||Cyberknife||Penn Derby (G1)||3rd|
|Sept. 24, 2022||Stonegate||Alphabet Soup Hcp.||6th|
|Aug. 23, 2022||Interstatedaydream||Cathryn Sophia||2nd|
|Aug. 23, 2022||Best Actor||Smarty Jones (G3)||1st|
|July 12, 2022||Princess Grace||Penny Mem. (G3)||1st|
|Sept. 25, 2021||Marion Francis||Plum Pretty||3rd|
|Sept. 25, 2021||Warrior's Charge||Parx Dirt Mile||3rd|
|Sept. 25, 2021||Allworthy||Cotillion (G1)||8th|
|Sept. 25, 2021||Fulsome||Penn Derby (G1)||4th|
|Aug. 24, 2021||Privet Moon||Parx Summer Sprint||3rd|
|Aug. 24, 2021||Marion Francis||Cathryn Sophia||3rd|
|Aug. 24, 2021||Fulsome||Smarty Jones (G3)||1st|
|Aug. 23, 2021||Miss Construe||Maiden spec. wt.||6th|
|Aug. 23, 2021||Cinnabunny||Garofalo Mem.||3rd|
|Aug. 23, 2021||Vault||Mrs. Penny||2nd|
|Sept. 22, 2018||Hollywood Strike||Allowance||2nd|
|Sept. 22, 2018||Monomoy Girl||Cotillion (G1)||2nd|
|July 4, 2017||Cambodia||Penny Mem. (G3)||3rd|
|Sept. 24, 2016||Granny's Kitten||Alphabet Soup Hcp.||1st|
|Sept. 24, 2016||Tale of Life||Pa. Derby Champion||6th|
|Sept. 24, 2016||Counterforce||Gallant Bob (G3)||6th|
|Sept. 24, 2016||Gun Runner||Penn Derby (G1)||2nd|
|July 4, 2016||Quality Counts||Maiden claiming||2nd|
|July 4, 2016||Zipessa||Penny Mem. (G3)||1st|
|Sept. 19, 2015||Kodiva||Maiden spec. wt.||2nd|
|Sept. 19, 2015||Bluegrass Beat||Allowance||4th|
|Sept. 19, 2015||Ground Transport||Bayern||8th|
|Sept. 19, 2015||I'm a Chatterbox||Cotillion (G1)||1st|
|Sept. 20, 2014||Good Bye Greg||Gallant Bob (G3)||6th|
|Sept. 11, 2010||Zoeling||Mr. Jenney Hcp.||1st|
|Sept. 19, 2009||Zoeling||Mr. Jenney Hcp.||5th|
|Total 34: 8-7-7|
“You have to take that a little bit into consideration,” said Géroux, who is based most of the year in Kentucky. “It’s always better when you travel. I try to go out of town as much as possible if I have the right opportunity. I believe down the line it’s a little bit of an advantage. Some jockeys prefer to stay local and rack up the wins. I’m more about quality over quantity. ... Why not? It could be a little bit of an advantage if you see it like that.”
Bought last year by Faisal Mohammed al Qahtani of Saudi Arabia for $240,000, Saudi Crown has been pointed to the Penn Derby for nearly three months. It was just a question of how to connect the dots from his runner-up finish July 1 in the Dwyer.
“We didn’t know how we were going to get there,” said. “We thought we were going to take the Smarty Jones path (in August), then back to the P-A Derby. But the way the Jim Dandy came up, we thought we’d take a run there, and he ran well. Ran a winning race. Then came out of it in good order. ... Running back in four weeks (in the Grade 1 Travers) would have been asking a lot of him.”
Now summer comes to a climax for Saudi Crown on the first day of fall in a race that could stamp him as a legitimate candidate for a Breeders’ Cup race in November at Santa Anita, whether it is the Dirt Mile or the Classic.
By graduating from single-turn sprints to a route of ground to two turns in the slop, Saudi Crown has responded with performances that have been analytical successes even if he still has yet to register a stakes win.
“The beauty of it is this horse doesn’t know he lost,” Géroux said about the Jim Dandy. “If you look at the picture closely, they never really went by him.”
Géroux and Cox think Saudi Crown may be sitting on a breakthrough performance Saturday.
“It’s not an easy race,” Géroux said. “There’s plenty of horses in there who are capable of winning the race. We just need to get away smoothly and, hopefully, take it from there.”
“I love how he’s doing,” Cox said. “He’s a good horse. A very good horse.”