On Sept. 20, Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome is coming to run at Parx in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, just after Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable runs in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes.
Technically, it could get better. Last year's 2-year-old champion Shared Belief, who missed the Triple Crown races because of a foot problem, remained unbeaten in six races with a dominating win in last Sunday's Pacific Classic at Del Mar. No horse has looked better or run faster in 2014 than Shared Belief that day. It is possible Shared Belief could come east to challenge California Chrome in a 3-year-old showdown, but that decision has not been made.
Parx has built its national-level stakes program around September when Saratoga and Del Mar conclude and trainers need one final serious test before the Breeders' Cup. The hope was that one year the connections of the most significant 3-year-olds would deem Parx the place to be for those races. This is that year.
The Parx September action starts Monday with a card that will be anchored by four stakes worth $1 million. It is the annual Smarty Jones Day with a special touch as this is the 10th anniversary of Roy and Pat Chapman's Pennsylvania-bred superstar winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
They will run the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds going a mile and 70 yards, a race that could include a potential starter for the Pa. Derby. According to Sinatra, the connections of Albano, second in the Haskell and stabled at Delaware Park, may also enter the Smarty Jones. Just Call Kenny, winner of the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park, should be one of the Smarty favorites. If he wins, he very likely would come back in the Pa. Derby.
While the Smarty Jones should be a very nice heat, Sinatra said when they draw the races today, he likely will put the $300,000 Turf Monster as the last of the four stakes.
It should be an all-star cast of grass sprinters going 5 furlongs on grass. The ageless Ben's Cat, winner of 27 races and $2 million for his ageless owner/trainer King Leatherbury, is coming back to race at Parx for the eighth time. He has five wins, a second and a third at the track.
It is hard to separate Ben's wins, but his nose win in the July 12 Parx Dash may have been his most amazing. He looked hopelessly beaten in the stretch, but once again seemed to know exactly where the wire was.
Tightend Touchdown was a nose back, Marchman another nose behind. Both are back and that's not all. The field is going to be loaded with 2013 Turf Monster winner Stormofthecentury, Bold Thunder and Private Zone, 2013 Vosburgh Stakes winner making his first start on grass and first in 2014 on any surface.
"The Monster is going to be a great race," Sinatra said.
In fact, it will be a don't-blink race. If the course is hard and fast, the winner could finish in around 56 seconds. And it will not be a very difficult race to win.
The other two stakes are the $200,000 Greenwood Cup, horse racing's version of the marathon, a mile-and-a-half race on dirt and the $200,000 Turf Amazon, the female version of the Turf Monster at 5 furlongs on the grass course.
It absolutely will be high-class racing on Labor Day at Parx. And that is just the appetizer for Sept. 20. The $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes for 3-year-olds at 6 furlongs will be run just before the $1 million races that day.
The Pa. Derby and Cotillion can be seen on a live, 90-minute broadcast on The Comcast Network (4:30 p.m.) and later on Comcast SportsNet, via tape delay after the Phillies game. The plan now is to run the Cotillion at 4:45 and give the fans and bettors an hour to get ready for the Pa. Derby at 5:45. For the second consecutive year, Laffit Pincay, from NBC Sports, will host the show.
Last year, the Cotillion (won by Close Hatches, one of America's best fillies in 2014) and Pa. Derby (Travers winner Will Take Charge flew home along the rail to win on the way to the 3-year-old championship) were terrific. This year, the races are going to be that much better with the Kentucky Oaks winner in the Cotillion and the Kentucky Derby winner in the Pennsylvania Derby.