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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

EVENTS CONSPIRE TO TURN PA DERBY INTO A MILLION-DOLLAR NON-EVENT…

And to think that the race held so much promise. Especially after Maximum Security aborted his Travers plans after the Haskell heat took mucho gusto starch out of his collar. Some surmised maybe it was beginning to fray.

The Travers was to have Preakness-winning War of Will who, in retrospect, should have aborted his Jim Dandy run, prior to the Travers. After the Dandy, I wasn’t sure if it was advisable for my Derby Futures darling to race again this year.

But a rubber figure-8 bit and four glue-on shoes later he was good to go, and it showed in the mornings: bullet after bullet after bullet after… “He’s back,” Tyler Gaffalione told Mark Casse and voila Bensalem here we come.

The “Derby Revenge Match” and the “Battle for Three-Year-Old Supremacy” would have to await another day. Maximum Security colicked following a jaunt Monday morning, twisting his colon into a knot.

Right now, it’s even money and pick’em: Maximum Security points for the Pegasus over his beloved Florida Derby surface, or he never races again.

Speaking of which, what’s up with Game Winner? Have we gotten the real story since he made good following his wide-throughout Derby run with a comprehensive win over outclassed Los Alamitos Derby rivals.

But he did it the right way, a schooling session, at once easy and testing before powering home to win by a short pole, eased in the final strides. It was the perfect prep; 1:48.30 for the nine furlongs off a 49.25 half-mile.

He seemed to be doing well, then he disappeared. All we heard form the camp were crickets;. It’s the sport’s first rule in the 1% era: The coupled entry of doing what’s best for horse and shareholder value. But I digress.

If WOW was my Derby Futures horse, Game Winner was my top Kentucky Derby selection, and so I stepped up to the plate. In return, only a little chin music.

Saturday’s race becomes a story of whether War of Will can recapture his excellent winter and early-spring form; if the streaking Mr . Money is all that, and whether the public had it right when they made Improbable their Derby favorite.

Mr. Money clearly is capable of winning his fifth straight graded stakes and first Grade 1. And given the amount of buzz he’s generating, would anyone be shocked if he were a slight PA Derby ante-post favorite?

The Pennsylvania Derby is, of course, a mile and an eighth. Mr. Money has been the distance twice. The Louisiana Derby was first time he went that far, finishing fifth, beaten 8 lengths. But he was 50-1.

The last time Mr. Money went nine furlongs, in the G3 West Virginia Derby most recently, he was 50-cents on the dollar. He won by 6. What a difference six months makes in the life of three-year-old racehorses.

The 2019 Derby favorite finished second the only time he raced a mile and an eighth, beaten a length by Omaha Beach over a sloppy Oaklawn Park surface in the G1 Arkansas Derby.

Remember way back, when Omaha Beach was the most dominant three-year-old in America, so much so that he became the Kentucky Derby’s morning line favorite.

Omaha Beach returns next weekend after finally recovering from what must have been the most complex procedure in the history of entrapped epiglottises.

Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, who has the singular distinction of winning four Breeders’ Cup races on one November afternoon in 2003, is preparing Omaha Beach for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Mandella has chosen the least resistant path, returning next Saturday in the Ack Ack, a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs.

It’s the most sensible option; older horses going a mile and an eighth in the G1 Awesome Again would be an extremely big ask off the bench.

Bob Baffert, the King of Audibles and Coincidences, supported the Pa. Derby with the re-blinkered Improbable who defeated three rivals in the Shared Belief at Del Mar August 25.

The City Zip colt, who also was favored in the Preakness, lost the race before it began with his Pimlico pre-race antics.

So here we are. Instead of a Big Three Summit we get three logical Pennsylvania Derby choices, each with something to prove. And with the divisional title still very much up for grabs.

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