Despite a tropical storm, a sloppy and sealed racetrack, a couple of front-runners came through with victories in $1 million races at Parx Racing.
With Tropical Storm Ophelia leaving the track a sloppy mess on its biggest day of the year Saturday (Sept. 23), Saudi Crown was bet down to the 6-5 favorite and won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1), holding off Dreamlike by a half-length. He was 7-2 on the morning line.
A race earlier at Parx in Bensalem, Pa., 3-1 second choice Ceiling Crusher pulled a surprise with a gate-to-wire win over 2-1 favorite Pretty Mischievous in the $1 million Cotillion (G1) for 3-year-old fillies.
Neither race was part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In’’ series but look for both to show up at racing’s “world championships” at Santa Anita on Nov. 3-4.
Saudi Crown, owned by Faisal Mohammed Alqahtani’s FM Stables, is likely to run in the $6 million BC Classic (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 4, with the bigger target being the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) in February 2024.
“Based off the pedigree, by a Derby winner (Always Dreaming) out of a Tapit mare, with his physical deal, he could handle the mile and a quarter,” Cox said of the BC Classic distance. “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 to work — I think the Saudi Cup is one race that is definitely on the target as well.”
As for Ceiling Crusher, O’Neill said the $2 million BC Distaff is possible, although the filly would have to be supplemented to the race at $150,000.
“It will be up to the guys and gals, if they want to write a big check,’’ O’Neill said of owners Wonderland Racing Stables, Todd Cady, Tim Kasparoff, and Ty Leatherman. “This was our Breeders’ Cup. We looked at this on the calendar months ago and the fact that is coming true.”
Saudi Crown ($4.20 on a $2 win bet), ridden by Florent Geroux, broke alertly and moved right to front. Challengers along the way in the 1 1/8-mile race included Scotland, Reincarnate, and Dreamlike, who made a strong bid in the stretch, but Saudi Crown prevailed.
The 3-year-old gray colt improved to three wins in five starts – with two seconds — all in 2023, and earnings of $817,085. In his previous race, Saudi Crown was nosed out at the wire by 2-year-old champion Forte in the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga in July over a sloppy track.
“He broke like a rocket and from there I thought I was in a great spot,’’ Geroux said of Saturday’s race. “He started looking around the last eighth of a mile. His ears were flopping a little bit — a little bit too much for my liking, but it was great.”
Cox believes Saudi Crown is now among the top 3-year-olds and is “battled tested” after the Jim Dandy and Pennsylvania Derby.
The last time out (Jim Dandy), he got beat a nose by a champion in his first run around two turns,’’ Cox said. “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.”
Il Miracolo was a distant third, followed by Magic Tap, Crupi, Reincarnate, Gilmore, Daydreaming Boy, West Coast Cowboy, Scotland, and Modern Era.
Based on the final odds, it was not much of an upset but 2-1 favorite Pretty Mischievous was unable to catch 3-1 choice Ceiling Crusher in the stretch and was beaten a half-length to end a three-race, Grade 1 winning streak.
Ceiling Crusher, a Cal-bred, came into the 1 1/16-mile Cotillion with five wins in six starts, including the Torrey Pine (G3) at Del Mar on Sept. 2. This was her first trip outside California, and jockey Edwin Maldonado came through with a winning ride.
The bay filly ran over a sloppy track for the first time. She took the lead out of post 2 and held a steady edge over Majestic Creed, then Hoosier Philly, and finally Pretty Mischievous, who made a final push under Tyler Gaffalione but came up short.
Still a leading contender for the 3-year-old filly championship, the Brendan Walsh-trained Pretty Mischievous has a record of 10-7-2-1 and earnings of $1,944,560.
“A little disappointed in that she maybe didn’t handle the track great initially,’’ Walsh said. “Tyler said as soon as she switched her leads down the back, he kind of felt her way back into the race. But you know, Doug’s filly got the jump on us, and she was gone.
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.