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Sep 19, 2014

Up the Backstretch: This is big, really big

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Ten years after the Pennsylvania Derby was going to host for the first time the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner in the form of local runner Smarty Jones, Parx Racing will finally get that honor on Saturday when California Chrome starts the 1 1/8-mile race.

This is big, really big for the little racetrack just over the city line from Northeast Philly.

Oh, there have been Triple Crown race winners who have competed at the track in the 40 years since it opened in 1974.

In the early days of the Pennsylvania Derby, horses used the race as a final prep for the Belmont Stakes. Temperance Hill won the 1980 "Test of the Champion" after failing to win the PA Derby as the favorite, but went on to become that year's champion 3-year-old.

The following year, Summing became the only 3-year-old to win both the PA Derby and Belmont Stakes.

Just last year, Travers winner Will Take Charge outdistanced his rival Moreno at Parx Racing only weeks after a photo finish decided the Saratoga race.

Now California Chrome comes into Saturday's $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on his way to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. He becomes the only reigning Kentucky Derby winner to start the event as he makes his return to the races following more than three months off since a dead heat for fourth in the Belmont Stakes.

The chestnut colt, trained by Art Sherman, was flown from California for the chance to collect $800,000 by winning the stakes, $200,000 coming from bonuses.

"He ships so good," assistant trainer Alan Sherman noted Wednesday. "He never turns a hair. He doesn't mind the travel one bit. It's given us the opportunity to take him wherever we want."

Owned by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, "Chrome" was installed as the even- money morning line favorite versus seven rivals and will be ridden again by Victor Espinoza from the inside post.

"Nobody wants the one hole, but there's nothing you can do about it," Sherman said Tuesday after his colt arrived at Parx.

It won't be an easy race for Chrome. The colt will have to contend with front-running Haskell winner Bayern, who is coming off a last-place finish in the Travers at Saratoga four weeks ago. The Bob Baffert-trained colt is the 7-2 second choice with Martin Garcia back to ride the 3-year-old from post 4.

"If there is any time to do it," Baffert assistant Jim Barnes said about facing the Derby and Preakness champ, "it's probably now. He is coming off a layoff. He (California Chrome) has good works ... We're ready to take him on."

Bayern was ninth versus Chrome in the Preakness, 21 lengths behind. On the same program as the Belmont Stakes, Bayern won the Woody Stephens Stakes at seven furlongs by an eye-popping 7 1/2 lengths. Seven weeks later, the colt won the Haskell at Monmouth Park by 7 1/4 lengths.

Of the other six in the race, just Tapiture, at 5-1, is the lone entrant with single-digit odds. The colt, trained by Steve Asmussen, comes into Saturday's start off consecutive wins in the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs and the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park.

Rosie Napravnik again has the mount aboard Tapiture and the pair will break from post 7. The colt was 15th to Chrome in the Run for the Roses before posting his wins with the country's leading female jockey in the saddle.

While a record crowd is expected for Saturday to watch the Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ race, don't expect any carry over for continued large attendance at Parx Racing.

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