Saudi Crown got a comfortable lead right out of the gate and stayed out front for the entire race, winning Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. The Brad Cox trainee got his first Grade 1 victory in the 1 1/8mile contest besting a field of nine 3-year-olds by a half-length.
The lightly raced son of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming was the even-money favorite after winning the first two starts of his career in an April maiden victory at Keeneland and an allowance the following month at Churchill Downs. Cox then sent Saudi Crown to New York to try graded-stakes competition, where he was second in the Dwyer (G3) and the Jim Dandy (G2) by a nose each after setting the pace both times.
“In the Dwyer, he had come off a 6 1/2-furlong race and was stretching out to a mile,” Cox said. “He went up the backstretch a little quick that day but overall finished up well. He was passed, he came back and lost the bob. The last time out (Jim Dandy), he got beat a nose by a champion (Forte) in his first run around two turns. We have asked a lot out of him in last two runs, and I think he gained a lot of experience and has been battle-tested in his last two runs.”
#3 SAUDI CROWN gets it done on a wet track at Parx, winning the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) over #2 Dreamlike @flothejock up for @bradcoxracing and owners @FMQStables. :trophy: pic.twitter.com/NecjkXaV9g— TVG (@TVG) September 23, 2023
Jockey Florent Géroux had no trouble getting Saudi Crown out of the gate quickly to secure a clear position setting the pace. He was ahead by a margin of between one and two lengths and was able to control the race while setting comfortable fractions of 23.16, 47.27, 1:12.17 and 1:37.99.
“He broke super sharp,” Géroux said. “I broke, and I was almost like a good length-and-a-half in front, so when you break that sharp, it allows you to take a better position instead of breaking flat-footed or a step slow. He broke like a rocket, and from there I thought I was in a great spot.”
Saudi Crown was able to turn back early challenges from Scotland and West Coast Cowboy. Magic Tap was third early, was able to sustain his position for most the race and eventually finished fourth.
“It’s great, especially winning a Grade 1 race,” Géroux said. “He’s a 3-year-old. This year it’s just too bad because he came very late to the party.”
With Reincarnate, the 9-2 second choice, Bob Baffert was trying to win this race for the fifth time. He was part of the early pace and got as close as second midway through the nine furlongs but tired while chasing on the sloppy track and faded to finish sixth.
Dreamlike and Il Miracolo sat behind the early leaders in ninth and seventh, respectively, and were the horses who provided challenges for Saudi Crown down the stretch. Dreamlike finished second, and Il Miracolo was another six-lengths behind in third.
Dreamlike broke his maiden at Saratoga for Todd Pletcher but was seventh in an allowance last month. Il Miracolo raced on the Kentucky Derby trail and was the winner of the Smarty Jones (G3) at Parx in the track’s major prep race for the Pennsylvania Derby.
Saudi Crown earned $546,000 for the win, which moved his career earnings to $817,085 and improved his career record to 5: 3-2-0.
“You know he has always been a good horse,” Cox said. “We thought a lot of him last year at Saratoga as a 2-year-old. He had a setback, and the owners were all good with giving him as much time as he needed. And he rehabbed well. He is two noses from being undefeated. Very proud of what he did.”
Saudi Crown produced a $4.20 win on a $2 ticket. The $2 exacta with 7-1 Dreamlike paid $28.60, and Il Miracolo at 25-1 rounded out the 50-cent trifecta that returned $85.55.
Looking ahead to future races for Saudi Crown, Cox said, “He could be in the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic. Based off the pedigree, by a Derby out of a Tapit mare with his physical deal, he could handle the mile-and-a-quarter. Obviously, you have to get the right setup. I am not sure he has to have the lead in order to win. He is a pretty kind horse who breaks well.
“I will tell you this, with his Saudi-based ownership group (Faisal Mohammed al-Qahtani’s FMQ Stables), great guys to work with and for, I think the Saudi Cup (G1) is one race that is definitely on the target as well.”