Classic & Dirt Mile implications for Pennsylvania Derby

Profile Picture: James Scully

September 21st, 2016

Before they step up to face California Chrome in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, Exaggerator and Nyquist will be seeking a measure of redemption in Saturday’s $1.25 million Pennsylvania Derby (G2).

Preakness winner Exaggerator exits an 11th-place effort, beaten 33 length in the Travers (G1). Kentucky Derby victor Nyquist has dropped two straight since capturing his first eight starts, finishing off the board most recently in the Haskell Invitational (G1). Both colts will either proceed on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic or skip the event entirely.

Circumstances are different for rivals Cupid, Gun Runner and Summer Revolution, with the Pennsylvania Derby serving as a stepping stone toward a potential Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) bid.

Inaugurated in 2007, the $1 million Dirt Mile filled a niche that was seen by many as a consolation prize.  Undistinguished early winners like Furthest Land and Dakota Phone did little to prop the event up, but fortunes have certainly changed in recent years with top-class performers Goldencents (2013-14) and Liam’s Map capturing the last three runnings.

And a dynamite field could be assembled on November 4 at Santa Anita, with sprint champion Runhappy targeting the Dirt Mile for his second start back this season and top older horses Dortmund and Frosted both under serious consideration given possible distance limitations for the 1 ¼-mile Classic.

Ten furlongs is too far for multiple graded winners Cupid and Gun Runner, and the up-and-coming Summer Revolution has never been two turns.

Cupid will enter the Pennsylvania Derby on a roll, posting a hard-fought victory in the Indiana Derby (G2) before a four-length domination of the West Virginia Derby (G2), and the son of Tapit brings plenty of early speed to any engagement. Bob Baffert already has Arrogate, and possibly a couple of others, lining up for the Classic and the Hall of Fame conditioner likely recognizes that Cupid is more of a middle-distance specialist at this stage in his career.

Gun Runner has proven effective up to 1 1/8 miles, capturing the Louisiana Derby (G2), but was found wanting in the latter stages of the Kentucky Derby, weaving in and out in deep stretch as he saved third by a head. The Candy Ride colt also had little left for the final furlongs when third in the Travers, but he’s unbeaten from four starts on a fast track at a mile or 1 1/16 miles.

Summer Revolution opened his racing career with a pair of smashing wins, registering a 104 BRIS Speed rating when capturing an entry-level allowance in early August, but he was hurt by a bad break in his stakes debut, the King’s Bishop (G1). The chestnut son of Summer Bird still performed admirably, finishing less than a length back of runner-up Economic Model in a fourth-place effort, and is eligible to improve upon the experience for Rudy Rodriguez. Tough to envision him winning on Saturday but Summer Revolution can earn a trip out west with a solid showing.

With divisional honors still at stake, the Pennsylvania Derby is as an important race for Exaggerator and Nyquist. And the 1 1/8-mile test also promises to serve as a Dirt Mile prep.