Pennsylvania Derby an important race for Nyquist, Exaggerator

September 19th, 2016

The $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Parx Racing serves as an important race for the season's first two classic winners. Unless Arrogate pops up with a superlative performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) in early November, the three-year-old title could well be decided between Nyquist and Exaggerator in Saturday's nine-furlong test.

Nyquist, the undefeated juvenile champion who retained his grip on divisional leadership following wins in the Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1), conceded some of that edge following back-to-back losses to Exaggerator in the Preakness (G1) and Haskell Invitational (G1). However, the latter has seen his own candidacy heavily scrutinized by his seeming inability to translate his wet-track form to fast tracks. Indeed, he only beat four of his 24 rivals in the Belmont S. (G1) and Travers (G1) on dry ground.

In a potential bit of good news for the connections of Nyquist, the son of Uncle Mo will break from post 9 in the Pennsylvania Derby, which has attracted a field of 12. In both the Preakness and Haskell, Nyquist drew inside and dueled into defeat both times. In his two Grade 1 wins earlier this year and in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) last fall, the Doug O'Neill trainee proved more effective breaking and/or racing well off the inside.

With a long-range forecast of minimal rain and temperatures in the low 80s through Saturday, Exaggerator, unless he finds a way to run a career peak on a fast track, could be at a serious disadvantage. However, the deep-closing son of Curlin could be aided by potentially strong fractions. In addition to Nyquist, the first group of horses past the stands is sure to include Cupid, who's taken the West Virginia Derby (G2), Rebel (G2), and Indiana Derby (G2) on the pace. Summer Revolution, who stretches out following a fourth in the seven-furlong King's Bishop (G1), and multiple New York-bred stakes winner Hit It Once More are also likely to show early foot.

In addition to the two favorites and Cupid, another win possibility is Louisiana Derby (G2) scorer Gun Runner. Third in the Kentucky Derby, he bounced back to take the Matt Winn (G3), but was not fit for the slop when finishing fifth in the Haskell. Breaking from post 13 in the Travers, the Steve Asmussen charge was a credible third, only 1 1/2 lengths behind runner-up American Freedom, as Arrogate turned in a record-smashing 13 1/2-length score.

Awesome Slew took advantage of a pace-less Smarty Jones (G3) over this track earlier in the month from post 14, romping by seven lengths, but breaks from the rail Saturday. Connect, who landed the $100,000 Curlin at Saratoga in July, is probably better than his sixth in the Travers would indicate given his sluggish start in the Midsummer Derby. Withers (G3) hero Sunny Ridge exceeded expecatations in finishing third at odds of 31-1 in the Haskell and might threaten for a minor slice.

(Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)