Key Races & Bets for Saturday, September 22


PA Derby Champion Stakes – Race 8 at Parx – Post Time 3:41 PM Eastern


Collected opens as the 6/5 favorite and is a FALSE FAVORITE, on many counts, which makes the race exceptionally playable. “Never bet a Grade 1 winner making a comeback from a layoff in a non-graded race” is an old handicapping angle in play here. A non-graded race off a layoff for a previous grade 1 winner has to be considered a throwaway race, one which of course a horse can win, but on the other hand the trainer is telegraphing this isn’t important one bit. Collected needs to get in at least one race before running in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, having finished 2nd in the race last year, and needs this kind of race but coming back from eight months off, in a decent enough field, although he can win on class, it’s just as likely if there’s a battle in the stretch Smith is NOT going to ask him for all he has to offer because that would hurt his chances in six weeks.


On the other hand, there are a trio of horses with good form that can be played as overlays, starting with Exulting, shipping in from New York for McLaughlin. The five year old won just one of his first eight races but has won two in a row, the last with a career best 110 Equibase figure (the 2nd best last race figure in the field) and is on a pattern for another career best. Bravo gets the call and is a very strong rider for the barn with a 15 for 53 record going back the last two years, 3 for 9 in stakes. Opening at 10/1, Exulting is all but impossible to ignore given how easily he won his last two races.


Aztec Sense is another very playable horse at anywhere near his 6/1 starting odds. He’s won six in a row, three over the course including a pair of $100K stakes like this one, earning 106 figures in his last two. He can win on the lead or from just off the pace and he’s been in front at the 8th pole in all of those recent wins, giving no horse a shot to pass late. Having won ALL five two turn races in his career, and for the super high percentage Navarro barn, Aztec Sense would be no surprise.


Name Changer has won 7 of 15 career races including a three-for-four record this year. He won the G3 Monmouth Cup when last seen at the end of July and fired to win off a similar short layoff in May. Jose Ortiz rode him for the first time in the Monmouth Cup and rides back and repeating any of his last 3 efforts, with 116, 113 and 113 figures, if neither of the other two contenders jumps up, gets him another stakes win.


For exotics, we’ll toss in Sunny Ridge, who until a 9th place effort when overmatched in the Woodward had good form to similar, and Zanotti, who has finished second in FIVE of SEVEN races this year and who has a lot of heart.


Bets: Exulting and Aztec Sense to win at odds of 5 to 2 or more.

Consider a win bet on Name Changer at odds of 5 to 2 or more as well.


When making multiple win bets, always a good idea in a race like this with a bad favorite, use a “Dutching” tool (like the free one at Amwager) which allows you to set the amount you want to win or the amount you want to spend, and allocates your wagers accordingly based on odds.


Exacta: Exulting, Aztec Sense and Name Changer over Exulting, Aztec Sense, Name Changer, Sunny Ridge and Zanotti.


Play the reverse of that exacta as well, because the reward is well worth the risk and if any two of the three main contenders finish 1st and 2nd, we win twice. That exacta is: Exulting, Aztec Sense, Name Changer, Sunny Ridge and Zanotti over Exulting, Aztec Sense and Name Changer.


Doubles: ALL in Race 8 with Still Having Fun and Seven Trumpets in Race 9.


Doubles (additional wager): Exulting, Aztec Sense and Name Changer in Race 8 with Still Having Fun, Seven Trumpets, Smooth B, Earned Success and Whereshetoldmetogo in Race 9.


For the pick 3, use the horses above in races 8 and 9 and just single Monomoy Girl in race 10 (an otherwise unplayable race).


Gallant Bob Stakes – Race 9 at Parx – Post Time 4:14 PM ET


Seven Trumpets finished second last month in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at odds of 32 to 1, beating second betting choice Firenze Fire by half-length, the latter having NO EXCUSE. Still, for some reason (one I won’t complain about), Seven Trumpets opens at 12/1 here while Firenze Fire opens at 2/1 and although Firenze Fire isn’t a totally false favorite like Collected is in the previous race, the likely high odds offered on Seven Trumpets are notable. Now first or second in his last SIX one-turn races, Seven Trumpets came back to work a half-mile in 46.8 which was the best of 78 on the day so his form can’t be questioned. Considering his off-the-pace running style and considering Forced and War Giant are BOTH need-the-lead types likely to go 22 for the 1st quarter and 44 and chance for the half mile, Seven Trumpets gets a fantastic post to run into and repeating that last effort with a strong 106 Equibase figure may get him the upset win.


Another closer likely to benefit greatly from the early pace is Still Having Fun, who finished 5th (after being 8th early) in the Jerkens. Prior to that, he proved himself at the level with a win in the Woody Stephens on Belmont day and a 106 figure matching Seven Trumpets best effort. Rosario rides back and the colt has been first or second six or seven one turn races and therefore cannot be ignored for a second, opening at 12/1.


Earned Success opens at 10/1, ridiculously high odds for a horse trained by Chad Brown. Brown also saddles Engage, who has run okay in four of five this year but who has finished evenly in the last eighth of a mile for 2nd in three of those. Earned Success is three-for-four in his career and is on an improving pattern with 92 then 102 figures in his last two. He’s only started four times so has more to show us and therefore rounds out the three main contenders for win bets.


That being said about the main contenders, there is really not a single horse in the field to be totally tossed out, even considering the likely pace duel, so the strategy will be to key on two or all three of the above, either with win/place bets or exactas.


Bets: Seven Trumpets and Still Having Fun to win at odds of 3/1, adding place bets at 6 to 1 or more (and/or playing the exactas below instead of place bets). Consider a win bet on Earned Success at 4 to 1 or higher.


Exacta: Seven Trumpets over ALL, AND the reverse which is ALL over Seven Trumpets


Exacta option 2: Seven Trumpets and Still Having Fun over ALL and (the reverse) ALL over Seven Trumpets and Still Having Fun.


Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash – Grade 3 Race 10 at Laurel – Post Time 5 PM ET


The Man loves to win races, now with 10 victories in 15 starts, better still 6 for 7 at this basic six furlong trip. He has a great stalking running style and his last three races earned Equibase figures of 109, 109 and 107 which are better than all but one of favorite Switzerland‘s figures (the best earned on a sloppy track) and better than or as good as the last two figures earned by Always Sunshine. The Man has excellent tactical speed and should be in the top three from the start under Vargas, the only rider he’s ever known since his career debut, more reasons to suspect a big effort at a square price as he opens at 8/1.


Always Sunshine and Switzerland are the logical win contenders for exotics but are likely to go to post at odds too low for a win bet, particularly when offered so much value on The Man. Always Sunshine won his last two races, both non-graded stakes, and has won over the track, but interestingly enough has the same number of career wins (6) at the trip as The Man. Switzerland disappointed at 3/1 last out in the Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga and will appreciate the class relief. He won three in a row prior to that with 103, 107 and 118 figures, the latter over a sloppy track but in a grade 3 stakes like this one.


Bets: The Man to win at 2 to 1 or more.


Exacta: Box The Man and Always Sunshine. Box The Man and Switzerland.

Trifecta: Box The Man, Always Sunshine and Switzerland.


Pennsylvania Derby – Race 11 at Parx – Post Time 5:45 PM Eastern


Axelrod gets slight preference among four horses I feel have more of a probability to win than the rest. Since stretching out to two turns on dirt in his third start as a three-year-old in June, Axelrod has really come to hand. In his first dirt route after two turf sprints this year, Axelrod finished second at 23 to 1 odds in the Affirmed Stakes while earning a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure then one month later he rallied gamely from last of nine to win the Indiana Derby with a 102 figure, before tying his career-best effort with an easy four length victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes last month. Jockey Joe Bravo rode Axelrod for the first time in the Smarty Jones and got along with the colt marvelously and the familiarity with the track may be an edge as well. In the Smarty Jones both horse and jockey had to wait for a clear path on the turn and when that path never materialized, Bravo swung Axelrod out eight paths wide into the stretch from where the horse accelerated in the blink of an eye to draw off. That’s the same kind of effort I’m expecting of Axelrod in the Pennsylvania Derby, one that can help him post the upset for his third stakes win in a row.


Although away from the races for more than six months, McKinzie cannot be completely discounted as a contender when considering wagers in this race. There’s little concern about racing around two turns off a long layoff insofar as trainer Bob Baffert is concerned as Stats Race Lens statistics reveal Baffert has a three-for-five record with horses returning off similar layoffs in two-turn stakes races over the past five years. With regular jockey Mike Smith aboard and with 106, 111 and 118 figures earned in his three dirt route races, McKinzie must be respected as a contender even though he’s coming off an injury and a layoff.


Hofburg just ran the best race of his career when earning a 113 figure while geared down to a five length margin of victory in the Curlin Stakes at the distance of the Pennsylvania Derby. Although winning the Curlin easily, trainer Bill Mott is putting blinkers on for this race. Considering the stature of this Hall-of-Fame trainer I will not argue with the equipment change off a win, particularly considering the colt shows a portentous blinkers on/fast workout pattern as his recent half-mile workout was the best of 60 on the day. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. rides once again and if there is any improvement from that last effort, Hofburg might put on quite a show.


Mr Freeze rounds out the quartet that I feel can win the race and opens at double digit odds. He has won three of his four races to date and missed by just a half-length in the other. He enters the Pennsylvania Derby off a career-best effort with a 102 figure in the West Virginia Derby, in which he drew off to win by eight lengths with plenty of gas left in the tank. This will be his toughest test to date, but it must be noted his sire To Honor and Serve won the 2011 running of this race. As the late bloomer in the field, having just begun his career in April, Mr Freeze may be capable of getting the job done.


Bets: Axelrod to win at 2 to 1 or more. Mr Freeze to win at 3 to 1 or more.


Exacta: Axelrod, Mr Freeze, Hofburg and McKinzie over Axelrod, Mr Freeze, Hofburg, McKinzie, Instilled Regard, King Zachary, Core Beliefs and Bravazo.

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Ellis Starr

Ellis is a well respected handicapper and contributor of AmWager. He has been a public handicapper for more than twenty years, educating racing fans of all skill levels with detailed commentary few other handicappers provide.

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