The biggest meeting of the year at Parx Racing – formerly known as Philadelphia Park – on Saturday embraces five Graded stakes on dirt and turf, with a pair of million-dollar Grade 1s bringing some famous names to the south-east corner of the state.

Two big hitters in Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon lock horns in the feature Pennsylvania Derby on their way to a possible rematch in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and a deep, strong bunch of fillies including Grade 1 winner Maracuja renew rivalries from spring and summer in the Cotillion Stakes. There’s also pure speed on display in the shape of multiple Grade 1 winner Jackie’s Warrior, who will be a hot favourite in the six-furlong Gallant Bob Stakes.

Pennsylvania Derby Grade 1, $1,000,000, 1m1f, 3yo

The scratching of Kentucky Derby winner and hot topic Medina Spirit has considerably changed the biggest race of the year at Parx Racing, removing one of the most likely winners and altering the pace aspect of the Pennsylvania Derby.

Now the feature event boils down to two class acts trying to get back on the winning trail after a trying time at the top level. It has been a long time between drinks for both Midnight Bourbon and Hot Rod Charlie, but for one of them the wait will probably soon be over.

Midnight Bourbon (3-1) last won a race back in mid-January but has hardly missed a Grade 1 since, finishing runner-up in the Preakness and the Travers and getting tripped up in the Haskell when he would have finished third. Last time out he ran the race of his life when pushing Essential Quality all the way to the line in the Travers at Saratoga, cutting out the fractions to the top of the stretch and digging deep to keep the margin of defeat to a neck, with Keepmeinmind more than five lengths back in fourth.

He is a pace factor, he will be on the front end, and his talent and consistency give him obvious credentials in a race where true Grade 1 quality is at a premium. His last run indicated that he might be improving, because he needs to if he is to beat Hot Rod Charlie, something he hasn’t managed in three encounters.

Hot Rod Charlie (8-5) is another not-quite-but-almost colt, winner of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in March – by two lengths from Midnight Bourbon – and third in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Belmont. He passed the post first in the Haskell at Monmouth Park but rightly had his number taken down after drifting across Midnight Bourbon and causing him to stumble.

That aside, Hot Rod Charlie was a worthy ‘winner’ of the Haskell, nosing out Mandaloun after a tremendous battle in the final sixteenth, and in pounds and ounces is a slightly superior runner to Midnight Bourbon. He is another pace factor, he likes to be forward, and given that he and his main rival are in adjoining gates the early stages of the race are likely to be crucial.

But unless the pace is vicious, these two have the class to cope with the improvers and the closers, and Hot Rod Charlie is narrowly preferred to come out on top for the fourth time.

Revolution could shake things up

The opposition is led by Keepmeinmind (5-1), a late closer who will benefit from the effects of any speed duel. The main issue here is that Keepmeinmind is a serial non-winner; he’s zero-for-seven in 2021, one-for-11 lifetime, and on the basis of the Travers can’t win here.

The drop back to nine furlongs, the trip at which he chased home Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga in July, is in his favour but it’s still hard to see him grinding it out against these high-class rivals. He has the call over Jim Dandy fourth Weyburn (10-1), who is another pace contender.

A greater threat to the big two may come from left field, where Americanrevolution (15-1) has been making hay this summer. He comes here looking for a four-timer after laying his rivals to waste in a black-type at Saratoga last month, winning by five with the third horse almost out of sight. That was a race for state-breds and this is a Grade 1, so the gulf in class is obvious, but it’s easy to like the way he is moving up.

Another on the move is Speaker’s Corner (8-1), a five-length winner of a Saratoga allowance last month on his first start for ten months. That will have tuned him up nicely and improvement is almost certain, while the shape of the race could suit his stalking style, although he has a lot to find to give him even a puncher’s chance against solid Grade 1 opposition.

Fulsome (10-1) is another who has been improving, posting four wins in 2021 before landing the Grade 3 Smarty Jones here over a mile-sixteenth on his most recent start. That profile may be tempting for exotics players but he is, like Keepmeinmind, hoping to pick up the pieces from a speed duel and that plan may not pan out the way he wants.

He’s still much preferred to fellow last-time-out course winner I Am Redeemed (20-1), who picked up a black-type over a mile-sixteenth and has never run anywhere other than this Philadelphia venue and, along with Bourbonic (10-1), shock winner of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in April – Weyburn fourth – but off that level in three starts since, looks overmatched today.

Horse Betting Prediction Hot Rod Charlie (Americanrevolution to show)

Cotillion Stakes Grade 1, $1,000,000, 1m 1/2f, 3yo fillies

In the absence of divisional leader Malathaat, the Cotillion offers an opportunity to those smarting after a recent defeat at the hands of that star filly, compensation on a grand scale and with a Grade 1 tag attached.

Here is the supporting cast from the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga last month, won by Malathaat from runner-up Clairiere, third Army Wife, fourth Will’s Secret and seventh Maracuja, but it’s not as simple as expecting the same order from those fillies today.

Serial close-but-no-cigar type Clairiere (9-5) ran her lifetime best in the Alabama, but her come-from-behind style of racing hasn’t paid off recently and won’t be assisted by the shorter trip here. She stole second in the last few jumps at Saratoga, cashing in by passing tired horses, but Army Wife (3-1) can flip that Alabama form back at the distance over which she was an easy winner of the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks at Prairie Meadows.

Army Wife has run her best two races on her last two starts – before the Iowa Oaks she won the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico – and she got caught up in a pace duel in the Alabama. This won’t be quite so hectic with Always Carina (9-2), who finished a nose ahead of Clairiere after trying to wire the field in the Grade 2 Mother Goose at Belmont in June, the only pace angle in the race. Always Carina couldn’t cope back at seven furlongs in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga last time out, but she’ll be happier at this distance and her front-running tactics can give Army Wife something to aim at.

Will’s Secret (10-1) was more than six lengths behind Army Wife in the Alabama and is similar to Clairiere in that she finds it hard to get her head in front. A bigger threat may come from Maracuja (5-1), the only filly ever to finish in front of Malathaat.

Maracuja got that scalp in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at the Spa in July, when picking up the pieces in a tactical contest that later proved misleading in terms of pure form. Her inconsistency is a big worry but Maracuja has the capability to run a big race if the cards fall her way.

Leader Of The Band (12-1) has never been off the board at Parx but her victory in the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks on her penultimate start – Allworthy (12-1) three lengths back in fourth – suggests she needs to step up a fair way to figure here. Obligatory (12-1), on the other hand, is worth a second glance for exotics possibilities.

Winner of the Grade 2 Eight Belles at Churchill Downs in April, she closed late to snatch second place in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont in June and couldn’t recover from a poor start in the Test last time out. She’s in the mix.

Horse Betting Prediction Army Wife

Gallant Bob Stakes Grade 2, $300,000, 6f, 3yo

Sometimes there’s no need to think too hard about a race. Jackie’s Warrior (4-5), winner of three Grade 1s and three Grade 2s, is a mortal lock to add the Gallant Bob to his glittering record.

He’s a brilliant sprinter and needed to be last time out when outgaming Life Is Good in the Grade 1 Allen Jerkens at Saratoga, hanging on by a neck after an electrifying burn-up that stopped the clock less than a second outside the 43-year-old track record.

That is form of the very highest standard, and he won’t even need to be that good to see off this bunch despite reverting to six furlongs for the first time since his second career start. Jackie’s Warrior will simply be too fast for them, as he was in the Allen Jerkens for Newbomb (10-1), beaten nearly 30 lengths into fifth.

Beren (6-1) is the local boy with four of his six wins in 2021 coming at Parx, the most recent over course and distance when wiring the field in a black-type affair, coming home six and a half lengths clear of Marvalous Mike (20-1). His track record makes him the obvious choice for the exacta ahead of Real Talk (5-1), another all-the-way winner last time out, this time in a black-type at Monmouth Park.

Before that Real Talk had Awesome Gerry (8-1) two and three-quarter lengths back in fourth when runner-up in a Listed at Gulfstream Park in July, while Pickin’ Time (10-1) dropped back down to this distance and was brave in winning a black-type at Monmouth Park last month, when getting weight all round.

Black-types and Listeds are all very fine, but Jackie’s Warrior is a multiple Grade 1 winner and class will out.

Horse Betting Prediction Jackie’s Warrior

Turf Monster Stakes Grade 3, $300,000, 5f turf, 3yo+

In a big field full of closely matched sprinters, one name stands out from the crowd for more than one reason. Firstly, Caravel (9-5) is the only filly in the race, and secondly she has the form in the book to beat the boys.

The daughter of Mizzen Mast has speed to burn, and showed it off to great effect when kicking away to win the Grade 3 Caress over five and a half furlongs at Saratoga in July. A month later at Woodbine in the Grade 1 Highlander, Caravel may have found the extra half-furlong an unwanted imposition when fading in deep stretch to finish third. Back at the flying five over which she has never been beaten today and down in grade, Caravel is definitely the one to catch.

Firecrow (7-2) ran the best race of his life last time out when winning a Listed at Pimlico by a comfortable neck – The Connector (12-1) sixth – but that was four months ago, and he may find the layoff weighing heavy on his legs today. A better alternative for the exacta is Carotari (9-2), who has never won at graded level but came within half a length last time, caught close home when bidding to go gate to wire in the Grade 3 Troy at Saratoga.

That’s strong form – third-placed Gear Jockey has won a Grade 3 since – and stacks up well in this company, giving him the call over the likes of Del Mar allowance winner Beer Can Man (8-1), who at the age of three and with just two starts this year has scope for improvement that many of these lack, and Monmouth Park black-type winner Belgrano (8-1).

Battle Station (8-1) bounced back from some below-par performances when runner-up in the Grade 3 Parx Dash last time, closing late but coming up short by a nose, with Amblin Man (30-1) fifth. A repeat of that display would give him a chance of hitting the board, while local sweetheart Admiral Abe (10-1), who has won nine times at Parx, is another with ‘show’ claims after beating Smooth B (15-1) by a length and three-quarters in a black-type over course and distance on dirt, with Hollywood Talent (20-1) a distant fourth. The switch to turf is an obvious concern, though.

Betting Horse Racing Prediction Caravel

Greenwood Cup Grade 3, $200,000, 1m4f, 3yo+

The graded-stakes action gets under way with this stamina-sapping contest full of – with one exception – battle-hardened campaigners who have few secrets to hide from the bettor.

Back on the dirt after a fruitless foray on turf, morning-line choice Moretti (2-1) is a leading contender on the strength of his fourth place in the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park in July, when those in front of him comprised Max Player, Mystic Guide and Happy Saver. To be three lengths behind the winner there is form that today’s opposition can hardly dream of.

Last time out Moretti finished a length behind Shooger Ray Too (8-1) in a Listed contest at Saratoga, but that was over a European-style mile and three-quarters, and Moretti visibly weakened in the final quarter. Back at this more conventional distance he can flip the form with Shooger Ray Too, who is more at home on the claiming beat over shorter routes.

Course specialist Magic Michael (9-2) is six-for-seven here but all in allowances or claimers over a much shorter distance, and this represents a far stiffer test. The old boy Sheer Flattery (6-1) is another Parx specialist (six-for-nine), and last time out carried 128lb and left his handicap rivals eight lengths and more behind. He’s another going further now but he couldn’t be in better form.

Sea Foam (8-1) was an easy winner of a Saratoga black-type handicap last time out but seems to reserve his best for the Spa, and along with Lookin At Roses (8-1), winner of a Monmouth Park handicap before finishing runner-up in a similar race here, makes little appeal.

The sole three-year-old Last Samurai (10-1) has more scope for improvement than his rivals, but has a wide gap to bridge after scrambling home by a nose in an allowance optional claimer at Colonial Downs two runs ago, his only victory outside maiden company. Math Wizard (5-1), on the other hand, has been there and done it with victory in the 2019 Pennsylvania Derby on his resume.

The five-year-old hasn’t won in nine starts since but was good enough to be fifth in a Breeders’ Cup Classic, and if his last outing – his first in six and a half months – when a distant third in a black-type at Saratoga has put him straight then he could be a value shot to upset the favourite.

Betting Horse Racing Prediction Math Wizard

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