By Gene Kershner
As a young boy whose grandparents lived just outside of Philadelphia, I never made it the 5.4 mile distance from the backyard where I hit wiffle ball home runs as a faux Greg Luzinski to Keystone Race Track. It’s still a track on my wish list to visit, now known as Parx Casino and Racing (formerl Philadelphia Park). My grandfather did take me to see the first football game at Veterans Stadium (versus O.J. and the Bills) in 1971 and to see Hank Aaron play the Phils in 1974, but never to see the ponies.
Keystone opened in 1974, wherein thoroughbred racing ceased at Liberty Bell Park and commenced at the Bensalem, Pa. track. On Saturday afternoon the slots-fueled racetrack will deliver one of the best racing cards in its history with two $1 million races scheduled, not something you see everyday, even at the major thoroughbred tracks around the country.
The two races feature a rematch of the Travers dead heat competitors, Golden Ticket and Alpha in the Pennsylvania Derby as well as a much-awaited showdown between Questing and My Miss Aurelia in the Cotillion Handicap.
The Cotillion only drew four fillies to run in the big race, including the Prince of Wales champion, Dixie Strike (4-1) who won the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown in July at the border oval for trainer Mark Casse. New York’s top rider and Saratoga meet champion Ramon Dominguez will ride Dixie Strike for the first time.
The big matchup is between last year’s 2-year-old champion My Miss Aurelia (8-5) who is trying to return from an injury running in her second race of the year after winning a $100K non-graded stake at Saratoga. Corey Nakatani gets the mount back from Julien Leparoux who rode her at the Spa. She’s won all five of her career races, but will face the test of her career in the talented Questing.
Questing (1-1) comes into the race off a monster performance in the Grade 1 Alabama at the Spa, where she swept the two big 3-year-old filly races winning the Coaching Club American Oaks on opening weekend with young rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard. She won the Alabama by nine lengths in commanding fashion and should have no issues shortening up to the 8 ½-furlong Cotillion. She’s the pick based on her recent efforts and that My Miss Aurelia is still working her way back off the long layoff.
Moment in Dixie (6-1) will complete the four horse field for trainer Jimmy Toner.
The $1 million Pennsylvania Derby has attracted six colts and two ridglings, including the two horses that dead-heated in the Travers. Alpha (9-5) drew the four post and has been a killer everywhere he’s ridden except for Churchill Downs where he bombed in both the Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Kiaran McLaughlin is looking to complete a Questing-Alpha double and take home all the cash back to New York.
Alpha has worked well off the Travers victory where he had to extend to catch the longshot Golden Ticket (5-2) at the wire. David Cohen will return in the irons on the Speightstown colt who shocked the Spa crowd with his effort in the Travers at 33-1 odds.
The race has also attracted the West Virginia Derby winner Macho Macho (4-1), who took advantage of a hot pace duel at Mountaineer to pick up the pieces late where he defeated talented horses such as Bourbon Courage and Hansen for trainer Steve Asmussen.
If you’re looking at a possible upset winner, Csaba (5-1) looks to be on the improve and may succeed returning to dirt after several solid efforts at Calder and on an off track in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame at Saratoga.
Alpha appears to be the one to beat on paper and McLaughlin continues to be very high on him. I’ll probably key him on top of the other three horses in the exotics.
Post Time Outlook – 1) Alpha; 2) Csaba; 3) Golden Ticket; 4) Macho Macho