Géroux thinks Saudi Crown will handle Pennsylvania Derby rain

Géroux thinks Saudi Crown will handle Pennsylvania Derby rain
Photo: Jessica Morgan / Eclipse Sportswire

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.”

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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 TypePl. 
Aug. 22, 2023SouthlawnCathryn Sophia6th
Sept. 24, 2022Daydreaming BoyMaiden spec. wt.4th
Sept. 24, 2022SocietyCotillion (G1)1st
Sept. 24, 2022CyberknifePenn Derby (G1)3rd
Sept. 24, 2022StonegateAlphabet Soup Hcp.6th
Aug. 23, 2022InterstatedaydreamCathryn Sophia2nd
Aug. 23, 2022Best ActorSmarty Jones (G3)1st
July 12, 2022Princess GracePenny Mem. (G3)1st
Sept. 25, 2021Marion FrancisPlum Pretty3rd
Sept. 25, 2021Warrior's ChargeParx Dirt Mile3rd
Sept. 25, 2021AllworthyCotillion (G1)8th
Sept. 25, 2021FulsomePenn Derby (G1)4th
Aug. 24, 2021Privet MoonParx Summer Sprint3rd
Aug. 24, 2021Marion FrancisCathryn Sophia3rd
Aug. 24, 2021FulsomeSmarty Jones (G3)1st
Aug. 23, 2021Miss ConstrueMaiden spec. wt.6th
Aug. 23, 2021CinnabunnyGarofalo Mem.3rd
Aug. 23, 2021VaultMrs. Penny2nd
Sept. 22, 2018Hollywood StrikeAllowance2nd
Sept. 22, 2018Monomoy GirlCotillion (G1)2nd
July 4, 2017CambodiaPenny Mem. (G3)3rd
Sept. 24, 2016Granny's KittenAlphabet Soup Hcp.1st
Sept. 24, 2016Tale of LifePa. Derby Champion6th
Sept. 24, 2016CounterforceGallant Bob (G3)6th
Sept. 24, 2016Gun RunnerPenn Derby (G1)2nd
July 4, 2016Quality CountsMaiden claiming2nd
July 4, 2016ZipessaPenny Mem. (G3)1st
Sept. 19, 2015KodivaMaiden spec. wt.2nd
Sept. 19, 2015Bluegrass BeatAllowance4th
Sept. 19, 2015Ground TransportBayern8th
Sept. 19, 2015I'm a ChatterboxCotillion (G1)1st
Sept. 20, 2014Good Bye GregGallant Bob (G3)6th
Sept. 11, 2010ZoelingMr. Jenney Hcp.1st
Sept. 19, 2009ZoelingMr. 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,” Cox 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.”

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