Why I’m Playing Against West Coast in the Pennsylvania Derby

Pennsylvania-Derby-OddsThe Pennsylvania Derby has been accorded Grade I status for the first time in its 39-year history and the field assembled for Saturday’s Parx Racing feature appears worthy of the greater esteem.

West Coast, winner of the prestigious Travers Stakes (G1) on Aug. 26, has been made the 8/5 morning line favorite, but I believe he is vulnerable.

Below is my horse-by-horse analysis of Saturday’s $1 million, Grade I event:

1-TIMELINE (5/1)
Sometimes, all the numbers in the world won’t help a handicapper evaluate a horse. Such is the case with this guy.

From a speed and pace figure standpoint, he fits beautifully in Saturday’s field, but what is one to make of his (non-) performance in the Haskell Invitational? Did he just not feel like running that day or was he outclassed? That is, quite literally, the $1 million question.

So, what I do in situations like this, where I have no definitive opinion, is seek a bargain price. At odds of less than 9-2, I’ll let my doubts rule the day; at anything greater than that, I’m willing to give Chad Brown’s runner the benefit of the doubt.


Fair Odds: 9-2 

2-OUTPLAY (12/1)
Love the improvement and the rash of positive Pace Profiles (see below for an explanation).

He’ll need to progress further to take home the top prize here, but that is certainly not out of the question.


Fair Odds: 12-1

3-WATCH ME WHIP (20/1)
Made a nice move on the turn to get into contention in the Indiana Derby (G3) last time out, but his overall speed and pace figures leave a lot to be desired.

Fair Odds: 30-1 

4-WEST COAST (8/5)
As a general rule, bettors looking for value should always downgrade a performance resulting from a perfect trip — and West Coast’s trip in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga was the very definition of perfect.

To begin with, he took the shortest path to victory — well, almost. According to Trakus, the Bob Baffert trainee travelled 6,669 feet in the Mid-Summer Derby (6,660 feet would be the minimum). By comparison, Irap, who finished third, travelled 6,726 feet, meaning that he actually ran faster than the winner that day.

  • West Coast (37.56 MPH)
  • Irap (37.59 MPH)

(Chart from Trakus.com.)

Secondly, West Coast went wire to wire on a day in which four of seven Saratoga dirt races were won in similar fashion. Worse, he did so while rating on a slow pace.


Granted, West Coast is not a one-dimensional speedball, so it’s not like he needs the lead and will necessarily go faster to get it on Saturday. However, he’s not likely to get anything close to the dream run he had in the Travers either — and that makes him a very dubious proposition at a short price.

Fair Odds: 7-2

5-IRAP (3/1)
When this guy won the Ohio Derby (G3), recording a 109 Brisnet Speed Figure (BSF) and -4 late speed ration (LSR), I initially thought it was a fluke. But, since that time, the Doug O’Neill trainee has proven to me that he’s taken his game to a whole new level and I think he’s the rightful favorite on Saturday (doesn’t mean he’s a shoo-in to win, but I do think he’s the horse to beat).

Fair Odds: 3-1 

He’s had a string of runner-up performances against lesser and it’s hard to imagine a scenario — short of huge, overnight improvement — that gets him to the winner’s circle on Saturday.

Fair Odds: 15-1 

7-GAME OVER (15/1)
Among the horses with double-digit morning line odds, this guy intrigues me the most. After a bid-and-hang effort in the Ohio Derby (which has turned out to be a key race), the son of Mineshaft recorded a -4 LSR while finishing second and closing ground late in the West Virginia Derby (G3).

He’s lightly raced with just four lifetime starts and I think he can still improve. He’s in capable hands and his last two workouts have been outstanding; big chance at a big price.

Fair Odds: 6-1 

Son of Curlin was one of the Kentucky Derby favorites, but has appeared a little one-dimensional of late. Although his run in the Wood (G2) was encouraging, there’s simply no getting around the fact that Irish War Cry runs better on the pace than off it.

Like Timeline, he’s a hard call for me, because (also like Timeline) the talent is there. It’s just a matter of adapting to the pace of Saturday’s race and, in that regard, much depends on Outplay. If that one is sent early — and it would make sense given his inside post — Irish War Cry beomes the odd man out, forced to track wide.

If, on the other hand, Irish War Cry is hustled early and can drop over on Outplay, Timeline and West Coast, it’s a different ball game. Hence, my fair odds are more a reflection of that scenario playing out, which I think is somewhat unlikely.

Fair Odds: 8-1 

9-TERM OF ART (20/1)
His last nine starts have been in graded company, but his speed and pace figures are weak. 

Fair Odds: 30-1 

This dude was my top choice in Saratoga’s prep for the Travers, the Jim Dandy (G2), and he ran well to finish second at 14-1.

But this isn’t the Jim Dandy.

Saturday’s competition is much stiffer and Guiseppe looks to be a fringe player.

Fair Odds: 20-1

Speed Rations Explained

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