by Bobby Zen

bobbyzen3The racetrack formerly known as Philadelphia Park, now called Parx Racing, will feature the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday, September 20. The race is run at the distance of 1 1/8 miles and has drawn a very strong field that includes fan favorite and Kentucky Derby/Preakness hero California Chrome.

Chrome brought a four win race streak into the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, where he rather easily beat 18 other foes. He continued the streak two weeks later in the Grade 1 Preakness, defeating nine rivals in a similar manner. In the three weeks leading up to the Grade 1 Belmont, Chrome gained many fans on his quest to become the twelfth Triple Crown winner ever and first since 1978.

This has become familiar territory, as we have had eight others win the first two legs since 1997, only to taste defeat in the grueling 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes. Chrome would go down in the same manner, coming up flat and finishing fourth.

Saturday will be his first start since, and he’ll be facing a stout field.  Let’s review this field of eight, which holds several legitimate contenders for the win, in post position order:

  1. California Chrome – He has been off for 105 days while training on the West Coast, and breaks from the one-hole (not the best spot). A proven shipper, a proven G1 winner, typically needs to be near the lead for his best effort. I think he will be severely tested in this aspect, but is definitely a contender.
  2. Candy Boy – This guy is tough to figure, with only two career wins under his belt, one being the G2 Robert B. Lewis. His only bad race was in the Kentucky Derby, and he has improved dramatically in his last two. He gets the #2 jock in the country in Joel Rosario and has a strong late kick. Contender.
  3. Protonico – With three wins in five races, another horse on the improve. He ran lights out in the G3 Smarty Jones here on Labor Day, coming late for the win after being blocked. His speed ratings do not match many of these, but he has a longshot chance.
  4. Bayern – This speed-burner stopped in the G1 Travers last out, but shortens back to a distance he has won at. Speed ratings are going the wrong way, and he probably will not get the early lead he desires. Look for him to get used early.
  5. Noble Moon – Last win was on the inner dirt in the G2 Jerome, a race where he figured. He does not figure in this one.
  6. Classic Giacnroll – Ran a good race in finishing second to Protonico last out, but that is what he typically does. Last win was in an allowance race here a year ago.
  7. Tapiture – Another solid runner that is improving right now, winning the G2 West Virginia Derby by a nose over Candy Boy last out. With four graded stakes wins under his belt, he looks to make it three wins in a row under the riding of Rosie Napravnik. Contender.
  8. CJ’s Awesome – Another early speed horse, he won his last, but that was an allowance race. His first experience in a graded stakes will probably be short-lived as he vies for the early lead with many.

Here’s how I see this playing out:

With several speed horses, three or four are likely to be gunning early, including Bayern, Noble and CJ’s Awesome. This probably means trouble for California Chrome, and the speed duel will likely go for a mile or so. I like Candy Boy to live up to expectations here in the end, with Tapiture, California Chrome, and Protonico battling for the minor awards.

Good luck, and look for my late Pick 4 play on Twitter (@bobbyzen2) on Saturday.

Bobby Zen holds an MBA and is a professional handicapper and author.  His win percentage has exceeded 40 percent in each of the last five years.  Learn more at

(Featured image, of Bayern, by Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO.)