Math Wizard shocked the racing world when he registered an improbable victory in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby last September at daunting odds of 31-1. Now, the former claimer must show he can be more than a one-race wonder.
The son of Algorithms, claimed by young trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. for $25,000 on Jan. 31 of last season in behalf of owner John Fanelli, has lost his last four starts since that big afternoon at Parx Racing despite some credible performances. Joseph sees hope beyond that slide.
“I think he’s in top form now, probably as good as he’s ever been,” he said.
That conviction will be put to the test in the 4-year-old’s next start, expected to come in either the $500,000 Woodward Stakes (G1) on Sept. 5 at Saratoga Race Course or the $600,000 Charles Town Classic (G2) in Charles Town, W. Va.
Joseph will present the pros and cons of each race but ultimately leave that decision to Fanelli and the rest of the large ownership group Fanelli has assembled. He is heartened by Math Wizard’s latest effort and the way he is training.
The colt comes off a second-place finish in the Monmouth Cup (G3) on July 18 at Monmouth Park. He rallied from last in the early going to produce a determined late run that left him a length and a half behind Global Campaign.
In his first work since that encouraging performance, Math Wizard drilled four furlongs in 48.65 seconds last Thursday at Saratoga. That ranked ninth among 54 horses breezing the same distance that morning.
“He’s coming back into a nice form,” Joseph said, “and this is a good time of year to get into a good form.”
Recapturing the Pennsylvania Derby magic has not been easy. Math Wizard was asked to take his game to yet another level in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. He responded with a solid fifth-place finish that left Joseph satisfied.
“He was facing older horses. We knew it was stacked up against him,” the trainer said. “We were happy with the way he ran. He beat every 3-year-old in the race.”
Math Wizard started this season in the Feb. 17 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park and came in a disappointing 11th.
That was followed by a wasted trip halfway around the world to a Dubai World Cup that was never run because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As frustrating as that experience was, Joseph understood. “Considering what is going on in the world, you can’t get upset over things,” he said. “You’ve got to roll with the punches.”
After being given time to recover from his futile journey, Math Wizard was afforded the luxury of running out of his own stall in a June 13 Handicap at one mile at Gulfstream Park. He finished fifth in a race that did not unfold as expected with Paco Lopez aboard.
“He’s the kind of horse that you’ve got to wait with him and make one run,” Joseph noted. “He broke and Paco kind of rushed him with a mid-race move.”
Joseph expected Math Wizard to step up after that race. There is every indication he did that in the 1 1/8-mile Monmouth Cup with Trevor McCarthy aboard. Now, the huge question is whether he can continue to advance.
Math Wizard gave Joseph, a native of Barbados, his first Grade 1 victory. No matter what the future holds for a horse that owns three wins, three second-place finishes and three third-place results in 17 starts for earnings of $1,102,740, the trainer will be content.
“He’s basically an overachiever, put it that way,” Joseph said. “With Math Wizard, you can never feel disappointed. What he’s done for us, we’re just thankful. Everything else is gravy.”
He is in a starkly different position, though, with Ny Traffic. That New York-bred 3-year-old prepped for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby by finishing a fast-closing second to Authentic in the July 18 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth.
Ny Traffic began working toward the Derby with a four-furlong drill clocked in 49.72 seconds last Thursday at Saratoga.
“He’ll probably have three more works and, fingers crossed, I think we’re going to the Derby with a really legitimate contender,” Joseph said in anticipation of his first Derby starter.