By Mike Beer
The 2014 crop of 3yo fillies has been dominated by one horse from the start of the year, and that horse, Untapable, will once again be in the spotlight in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion at Parx.
Since she is so clearly the horse to beat in this race, let’s start with her before we move on and check out some of the other talented runners in the field.
Untapable has run against her fellow 3yo fillies four times so far this year. She was won those four races by a combined 31 lengths, and has never had an anxious moment in any of them. She overcame the far outside post and the best her class had to offer in her comprehensive win in the marquee race for this division, the Kentucky Oaks, back on May 2. And, most recently, she acquitted herself quite well when finally taking a much anticipated shot against the boys in the Grade 1 Haskell. Considering that the Haskell was dominated up front over a track that was favoring inside speed, Untapable did very well indeed to finish just shy of two lengths out of second place after getting caught out in a wide trip all the way.
There is no need for us to go on and on about a horse who is going to be heavily favored on Saturday. To us, Untapable deserves to be heavily favored in the Cotillion, and we are having a difficult time mustering much enthusiasm for playing against her. So let’s see if we can find some value underneath.
We’ll note here that Stopchargingmaria, who made hay at Saratoga in Untapable’s absence, is likely to scratch from this race and instead await a start back home in NY.
Of the others, Sweet Reason is clearly the one from whom Untapable has the most to fear. The question surrounding Sweet Reason in this spot is obvious. To this point in her career, she has established herself as a horse who is at her best around one turn. In picking up her third Grade 1 victory, in the prestigious Test Stakes at Saratoga, she now has something that Untapable does not have. But taking a horse like her on the stretch-out, as talented as she is, has a way of not working out in this game. We like her very much as a horse, but we have to be against her as the second choice on Saturday.
Joint Return has quietly gone about her business from day one, racking up stakes wins and putting money in the bank, and she did her very best when parlaying a perfect trip into a Grade 1 placing at Saratoga last time. She’s a deep closer who will be running at the end while hoping the race comes back to her a bit. In that scenario she could get a piece, but Pace Projector doesn’t like her chances to catch a set-up, and her lifetime top TFUS Speed Figure of 93 leaves her wanting.
Little Alexis has made no mistakes through just three career starts, and she ran a fast race in her debut way back in February. She has real talent and upside, which is a combination we like, but this is a very tough spot in which to stretch out in distance for the first time. We’ll see where she stands on the board come post time, but at a big price we could use her.
Jojo Warrior has put up new top figures of 95 and 98 since stretched out in distance for her last two starts. She ships in for a top trainer, and she has the speed to be a forward factor from the start. There are things to like here, and getting out in front of Untapable may not be the worst idea in the world, but Jojo Warrior is going to have to improve to get a piece of this. Since she doesn’t feel like a very interesting price in this race, we’re looking elsewhere to complete our exacta.
Cassatt and Vero Amore look too slow, though the former is lightly raced and has never run a bad race.
That leaves us with House Rules, and at 20/1 on the ML, she will be our main use with Untapable. House Rules began to improve with more distance in Florida over the winter, and she dropped a couple of tough decisions to Todd Pletcher-trained short-priced favorites in graded stakes down there. She didn’t seem to run up to her best around one turn at Belmont when defeated by both Untapable and Sweet Reason in June, but she was back at the top of her game at Saratoga last month. It was only an allowance race, and she faced a field rated at just 93, but House Rules came through with one of the best performances of her career in that start, which was her first official start with trainer Jimmy Jerkens. We think she prefers two turns to one, and since she has established graded stakes credentials from early in the year, we’ll take her to complete our Cotillion exacta with the heavy favorite.
Exacta: Untapable over House Rules.
By Justin Finch
Nominally a Grade 2, the $1,000,000 Pennsylvania Derby has a Grade 1 feel this year, as well as a Grade 1 purse, and that, of course, is due to the presence of 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome. California Chrome is even-money on the morning line for this 9-furlong race. But we have an interesting field of eight horses, and there figure to be some nice prices on the toteboard for those who fancy the chances of anyone other than the favorite.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, at the opening half-mile, Bayern will have a clear early lead. Protonico will be a stalking second, closely followed by a ground-saving California Chrome and a wide C J’s Awesome. Then there will be another gap back to the next group of three, this one composed of Noble Moon, Tapiture, and Candy Boy. Then there will be a healthy gap back to the trailer, Classic Giacnroll. The pace of the Pennsylvania Derby projects to favor neither frontrunners nor closers.
Now let’s take a look at the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
California Chrome (1-1): His scintillating six-race winning streak ended with his disappointing performance in the Belmont, which he came away from with an injured foot. Now he’s back after a break of 105 days. His trainer, Art Sherman, is not what we would call a “layoff trainer.” Indeed, he gets a rating of only 66 with layoff horses (on a short sample). And it’s hard to avoid wondering whether the grinding Triple Crown chase took a toll on California Chrome. Moreover, his connections have expressed a hint of frustration over not being able to get more workouts into their horse, and his workouts have received mixed reviews from the clockers. But let us not go too far with this negativity. California Chrome is a colt who can run speed figures of 117 at his best. He is not going 12 furlongs today. He is not facing Shared Belief. If he runs his race, he is very likely to win the Pennsylvania Derby, and that is a statement that cannot plausibly be made about any other horse in this race, with the arguable exception of Bayern. California Chrome is the most likely winner. Whether he is worth betting on at dimunitive odds is a different matter altogether.
Candy Boy (10-1): No match for California Chrome in the spring, he seems to have come into his own of late. He received deceptively difficult trips in both the Los Alamitos Derby (where he launched an early, wide assault on Shared Belief and was taken to the woodshed down that endless Los Al stretch for his trouble) and the West Virginia Derby, where he had trouble of the mundane sort (groundloss) while the winner had trouble of the “highlight film” sort. We have never been big fans of John Sadler shippers. And his circuit switch rating is a scanty 58. But this colt ran his race in West Virginia, Sadler notwithstanding, and he’s 10-1 on the ML, and adjusting his recent speed figures for groundloss, were one so bold, would put this colt in territory that can win this race. A very interesting horse in this spot.
Protonico (8-1): Received a claustrophobic trip most of the way in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones. Then got some breathing room and exploded late for the score. It was a nice effort. It was his first graded stakes win. It earned a respectable speed figure of 102. However, better will almost certainly be needed today. But his trainer, Todd Pletcher, gets a rating of 98 when attempting a repeat victory and 89 in three-year-old stakes.
Bayern (7-2): Ran a clunker in the Travers, and we don’t think that the 10 furlongs or the fast pace or the drying- out track serve as reasonable explanations, even in combination. Went back to California after the Travers. Worked a couple of times at Santa Anita. And now Baffert sends him to Pennsylvania. Bayern is no stranger to clunkers, nor is he a stranger to running huge races in their wake. His best speed figures, a 118 and a 116, are a match for California Chrome’s best. He figures to have a clear early lead in here. Baffert gets a 95 rating with circuit switchers. Bayern has a puncher’s chance in here.
Noble Moon (15-1): Improving colt is in tough.
Classic Giacnroll (15-1): Saved almost all of the ground in the Smarty Jones but was still overpowered by Protonico after that one overcame considerable trouble. We have a hard time seeing Classic Giacnroll reversing that verdict today, let alone dealing with the best that this salty field has to offer. But he does have the best Late Pace rating in the field, a 105, and that could stand him in good stead as far as hitting the bottom of the trifecta is concerned.
Tapiture (5-1): Has won two Grade 2s and two Grade 3s. Comes in off solid speed figures of 108 and 107, numbers that can play in here if California Chrome and Bayern fail to bring their best. Overcame showy trouble in winning the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby in his last start. Locked in down on the rail in mid-stretch, his rider checked him hard, yanked him off the rail, and then made an electrifying late run to nail Candy Boy on the line. Tapiture is a contender. What gives us pause is our nagging feeling that there are a couple of horses in here whose best, should they bring it, will render Tapiture’s best inadequate to the occasion.
C J’s Awesome (12-1): Improving colt finds a difficult spot today.
The play: Win bet on Candy Boy (assuming that his morning line odds of 10-1 hold up reasonably well).
Use Candy Boy under California Chrome and Bayern in exactas.
Use Candy Boy and Bayern in multi-race wagers.