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War of Will is Chris Garrity's choice in the Pennsylvania Derby.
War of Will is Chris Garrity's choice in the Pennsylvania Derby.|Fair Grounds
Thoroughbreds

Saturday Stakes Racing: Garrity Picks the Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion at Parx, plus races at Laurel Park and the National Pick 5

The first race on his card goes off at 3:30 pm EDT.

Chris Garrity

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It's a big day today, the first big day in racing's best season. The Triple Crown races get most of the attention in this sport, but serious racing fans know that the fall is the greatest time of year in the Sport of Kings. It is when the bases are run, and when championships are decided.

The headlining track today is Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, which runs the Pennsylvania Derby and the Cotillion, both Grade 1 races, along with a host of undercard stakes. But there is other good action around the country, and we will try to look at as much of it as space allows. We will note that we expect fast dirt and firm turf everywhere; with that out of the way, let's go.

Parx Racing, Race 9, 4:34 pm ET

Grade 2 Gallant Bob Stakes, 6 furlongs, dirt, 3-year-olds

Nine sophomore colts line up for the Gallant Bob. There are some seriously fast horses in the field, and because of them, we need to talk about the dirt racing surface at Parx. It is deeper, and more tiring, than most other dirt tracks, and while it is not moon dust -- it's still good, old-fashioned dirt racing -- it does force horses to exert more effort to get over it. This, combined with the number of confirmed front-running speed horses in the Gallant Bob, make us look to a horse coming from just off the pace.

That horse is 2-1 morning line favorite 7-King Jack, who starts for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. He has decent tactical speed, but he is not a speedball, and will not be on the lead. He should, however, get a nice stalking trip, just behind the speed horses, and we expect him to make a powerful move at the top of the stretch, as the front-runners begin to tire, to seize control of the race. His last two races were at longer distances, 7 furlongs and a mile, and the extra fitness those longer races gave him will be an excellent foundation for going six furlongs on the deep Parx dirt. Even better: he's earned identical Beyer Speed Figures of 99 in each of those two races; when horses his age pair up figs, it is very frequently a sign that they are improving rapidly, and will run even better next time. We love King Jack in this spot, and will bet him to win. The bet: Parx Racing, Race 9, $50 to win on 7-King Jack.

Parx Racing, Race 10, 5:14 pm ET

Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, dirt, 3-year-old fillies

The Cotillion drew 11 runners, and it's a very good field. There's a lot of speed in this one too: Kentucky Oaks winner 1-Serengeti Empress, 8-Guarana, 10-Bellafina, and 11-Jaywalk all like to be on or near the front. A fascinating subplot of the race will be who gets the lead -- our guess is Serengeti Empress, who has the most natural early speed, and has the tactical advantage of breaking from the rail, but any one of these could end up in front.

Will this set the race up for a horse coming from off the pace? we think so: we like 3-Street Band in this spot. She has done her best running, including winning this year's Indiana and Fair Grounds Oaks, coming from mid-pack and overtaking speed horses. We also like the fact that today's distance seems to be her best: she's 3 for 5 lifetime at a mile and a sixteenth. She's going to be a big price -- she's 8-1 on the morning line, and may be even higher by post time -- so we will bet her to win and to place. The bet: Parx Racing, Race 10, $15 to win/place on 3-Street Band.

Parx Racing, Race 11, 5:48 pm ET

Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, 1 1/8 miles, dirt, 3-year-olds

The evolution of the Pennsylvania Derby the past decade or so has been fascinating to watch. What used to be strictly a second-tier race, on par with the derbies in Ohio or Indiana, has, because of slots-fueled purses and a very shrewd decision to move the race to five weeks before the Breeders Cup, become a first-order race, a prime prep for top 3-year-olds looking to get one last start against their contemporaries before taking on older horses in the Breeders Cup. Even after the scratch of morning line favorite Maximum Security, this is a field of six that would have been inconceivable at Parx just a few years ago.

The defection of Maximum Security leaves 2-Improbable, the beaten favorite in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, as the 8/5 morning line choice, with 6-Mr. Money, winner of the Indiana and West Virginia derbies and probable pacesetter, the 2-1 second choice.

We have reservations about both of these horses: Improbable proved during Triple Crown season in the spring that he is a horse who usually runs Beyer Speed Figures in the mid-90s; his last race was better, a 104 in the Shared Belief at Santa Anita, but he beat only three other horses that day, and he rode a speed bias to do it. It is possible he has improved, but we are not buying it, especially at a short price. We think he will probably hit the board, but we see a win as being, well, improbable. Mr. Money has won four races in a row, but they've all been against suspect competition; when he ran against top horses in Kentucky Derby preps in Louisiana this spring, he was trounced. We have a hard time taking him at a short price here.

We like 4-War of Will. We think he proved in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness that he is superior to the horses lining up against him today. He did run poorly in the Belmont Stakes, and his effort last out in the Jim Dandy was similarly not his best, but we think he had legitimate excuses in both of those: the grind of the Triple Crown caught up to him in the Belmont (it was his sixth race of the year), and in the Jim Dandy, he found himself unexpectedly on the lead, when he's always done his best running coming from off the pace. We think he looks primed for a top effort today.

We see Mr. Money setting the pace, with Improbable right behind him. We think War of Will makes a move at both of them at the top of the stretch, and takes the Pennsylvania Derby in a thrilling stretch duel with Improbable. We think War of Will is the best horse, but we also think that at 4-1, he is by far the best bet. We will bet him to win. The bet: Parx Racing, Race 11, $35 to win on 4-War of Will.

Laurel Park, Race 7, 3:30 pm ET

Grade 3 Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup, 1 mile, turf, 3 & Up

We like 6-Frontier Market in this spot, and we like him quite a bit. This 6-year-old Chad Brown trainee is a real throwback, the kind of horse who took a long time to get going -- he didn't make his first start until he was almost 5, and he didn't break his maiden until he was nearly 6 -- but since then, he's been pretty good. It's a reminder that not all horses are the same, that some are late-bloomers who take more time to develop physically. Frontier Market has run twice this year, both in allowance company, and they've both been strong efforts; he just missed two back, finishing second, and he won his last race to earn a crack at a stakes race. We think he moves forward again today, as the shape of the race should suit him: he's a closer in a race that looks to have plenty of speed. We see him taking the prize with a strong late move. We will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Laurel Park, Race 7, $30 to win on 6-Frontier Market.

Laurel Park, Race 8, 4:00 pm ET

Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, 6 furlongs, dirt, 3 & Up

A field of eight will go to the post in the De Francis, but we like only one of them: it's 2-Killybegs Captain. This gray 5-year-old son of Mizzen Mast is coming off a very good third in the Grade 1 Forego in August at Saratoga, and we think that a repeat of that race will take this one. We also like his stalking style: there are two evenly matched speedballs in here, 3-Altissimo and 5-Sparticle, and while they are both fast, neither has enough of a speed edge over the other to control the pace. We see the two of them fighting for the lead through very fast fractions; when they tire at the top of the stretch, we think Killybegs Captain takes over. We will bet him to win at 9/2. The bet: Laurel Park, Race 8, $30 to win on 2-Killybegs Captain.

There's a National Pick 5 today, featuring races from Parx Racing, Woodbine Race Course, and Belmont Park. The bet is hosted by the New York Racing Association, and NYRA rules and takeout apply. We like the sequence, so we'll take a stab at the Pick 5, and we will do so as follows:

Race 1, 4:34 pm: Gallant Bob (Parx Racing, Race 9): 7-King Jack:

Race 2, 5:14 pm: Cotillion Stakes (Parx Racing, Race 10): 1-Serengeti Empress, 3-Street Band, 8-Guarana

Race 3: 5:32 pm: Sweet Briar Too Stakes (Woodbine, Race 9): 1-Special Relativity, 5-Katie Baby, 7-Sister Peacock

Race 4: 5:48 pm: Pennsylvania Derby (Parx Racing, Race 11): 2-Improbable, 4-War of Will

Race 5: 5:57 pm: Kelso Handicap (Belmont Park, Race 10): 2-True Timber, 3-Pat on the Back, 5-Prince Lucky

That's a pick 5 ticket as shown below:

Cross Country Pick 5: 7 with 1,3,8 with 1, 5, 7 with 2,4 with 2, 3, 5.

We will play this at the 50-cent base amount, for a total wager of $27.

That's all for today. Enjoy the racing, and, as always, good luck at the windows.