Cathryn Sophia could be the Mid-Atlantic's new star

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TwinSpires Staff

September 23rd, 2016

by Teresa Genaro

A decade ago, the Pennsylvania Derby was not run. Parx – then Philadelphia Park, affectionately called the Pha, a nod to its program abbreviation – was being renovated, and the race went on hiatus for a year.

The timing was not great. Mid-Atlantic racing had been given huge boosts in the previous two years thanks to Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex. Those neither ran in the Pennsylvania Derby, both were based in the Mid-Atlantic, and Smarty Jones had famously attracted 8,500 people to Parx for a morning workout as he prepared for his Triple Crown run in the Belmont Stakes.

On-track handle for the Pennsylvania Derby – held on Labor Day – in 2004 and 2005 was $846,600 and $700,000, respectively. When the race was brought back in 2007, on-track handled plummeted to $544,131, a result, no doubt, of the missed year and lack of a local equine star.

Though Parx doesn’t release attendance figures, Pennsylvania Derby Day, whether on Labor Day or its new late-September date, is a draw for local racing fans. And while they don’t have a horse of Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex’s Q-rating to root for, there’s a horse running on Saturday that unites those horses’ connections, returning trainer John Servis and owner Chuck Zacney to the Grade 1 winner’s circle.

The head of the Cash is King partnership that campaigned Afleet Alex to a championship season and wins in the Preakness and Belmont in 2005, Zacney purchased the Maryland-bred Cathryn Sophia at the Fasig-Tipton Maryland sale two years ago, paying a paltry $30,000 for her. Afleet Alex was stabled at Delaware Park and, like him, the daughter of Street Boss stayed in the Mid-Atlantic for her first two starts, running at Parx and Laurel, winning by 12 and 16 lengths, respectively.

In the barn of trainer John Servis, she was a peripatetic filly, training over the winter in Florida, in the spring at Keeneland and Monmouth, and in the summer at Saratoga, but she came home to Parx late last month, preparing for her start in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion.

She took some time off after finishing third in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont in June, and Servis, who grew up in West Virginia but whose father is from Philadelphia, elected to prep her for the Cotillion back home at Parx in the Princess of Sylmar Stakes, named for the Pennsylvania-bred filly who, like Cathryn Sophia, won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

Servis, of course, became a household name back in 2004 when he trained Smarty Jones to eight straight wins and two-thirds of the Triple Crown. Twelve years ago, Philadelphia Park was Triple Crown command central.

It is, no doubt, a little quieter around the Servis barn now than it was then, and Cathryn Sophia hasn’t attracted nearly the amount of regional coverage, or inspired nearly the amount of regional pride, that Smarty Jones did.  Should she win on Saturday, though, should she best Songbird in their first meeting, the Mid-Atlantic can – and should – rightly call this millionaire filly its own.

Cathryn Sophia photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography