Pennsylvania Derby Review 2023: Saudi Crowned

Saudi CrownThe sloppy track looked ugly at Parx on September 23 but the 11/10 favorite, Saudi Crown put on a spectacular show for his many supporters, winning the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby from the front. Saddled by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, his gray coat was as spotless as the white silks of FMQ Stables that he carried.

The fast-closing Dreamlike (8/1) was the only horse who appeared to have any chance of reeling him in late in the stretch. Saddled by Todd Pletcher, he responded gamely to Irad Ortiz Jr’s urgings and was gaining with every stride but could not get past Saudi Crown. Owned by Repole Stable and St Elias Stable, he was beaten half a length.

The front pair were well ahead of the chasing pack. Saddled by Antonio Sano, Il Miracolo defied his odds of 25/1 to finish third, beaten six and a half lengths under Mychel J Sanchez. A photo was required to confirm that Steve Asmussen’s Magic Tap (84/10) was a neck behind him on the wire in fourth. His jockey Tyler Gaffalione alleged that he had suffered interference as there was a slight contact with Il Miracolo but the stewards rapidly dismissed the allegation. It was the fifth placed Crupi (29/1), also saddled by Pletcher for Repole Stable and St Elias Stable, who suffered the most serious loss of momentum as a result of the contact in front of him.

Saudi Crown had never won a stakes race but was heavily backed on the day, shortening from 7/2 to 11/10. Cox has campaigned this son of Always Dreaming carefully and it was only his fifth start. He was last seen on the track two months ago in the grade two Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. That was run over the Pennsylvania Derby distance of a mile and a furlong on a sloppy track. Saudi Crown led from the gates but Todd Pletcher’s 3/4 favorite, the juvenile champion Forte, managed to get his nose in front on the wire and won by that margin. Cox’s Arkansas Derby winner and Kentucky Derby third, Angel Of Empire, finished third beaten half a length.

It was another defeat by exactly the same margin in Saudi Crown’s previous race, the grade three Dwyer Stakes run over a mile on a fast track at Belmont Park on July 1. Only Bob Baffert’s heavy favorite, Fort Bragg, managed to get his nose ahead of him on the wire. The pursuing pack of five were more than ten lengths behind them. Saudi Crown’s first two starts were in sprints. He won his maiden on debut and followed up with an allowance race victory, posting impressive times in both.

Bred by Chc Inc out of the unraced New Narration, a daughter of Tapit, Saudi Crown was sold for just $45,000 in January 2021 at Keeneland’s foal sale. He was withdrawn from the subsequent yearling sales but was purchased for $240,000 in April 2022 at Ocala’s Spring Sale for two-year-olds in training. Consigned by Top Line Sales, an agent acting for Faisal Mohammed Alqahtani of FMQ bought him.

Saudi Crown’s Pennsylvania Derby triumph was a massive boost for his sire, Always Dreaming. He provided him with his first stakes race winner in style. Always Dreaming won the 2017 Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track.

What happened in the race?

Saudi Crown broke sharply from the three gate and Geroux did not have to push hard to gain his usual position at the front of the pack. Crupi was not so smartly away and veered to the right giving the whole pack a head start. Bill Mott’s Scotland (5/1) was urged forwards from the five gate by Junior Alvarado into second place approaching the first turn, racing on the outside of the leader. Saffie Joseph’s West Coast Cowboy (49/1) and the other gray, Magic Tap, were also prominent. Uriah St Lewis’ maiden, Modern Era (123/1), was unable to make use of his inside draw, finding the early pace too hot and had only the slow starting Crupi behind him. They trailed the leader by more than 20 lengths after the first quarter was covered in 23 seconds flat.

Saudi Crown established an uncontested lead of two lengths by the half mile (47.1 seconds), Scotland maintained his position in second while Juan Hernandez took third on his outside on Bob Baffert’s Reincarnate (47/10). West Coast Cowboy was next, just ahead of Magic Tap who hugged the rail.

Johnny Velazquez was mid pack on Brendan Walsh’s Gilmore (18/1) wearing the light blue silks of SF Racing and Starlight Racing that were also carried by Reincarnate. Il Miraculo was next whilst Dreamlike raced towards the rear of the main pack of nine, saving ground close to the rail with Daydreaming Boy (43/1) on his outside. Crupi left Modern Era behind in pursuit of the main pack.

Scotland’s effort came to an end after a 1 minute 12 second three-quarter mile as Il Miraculo gradually improved on his mid pack position to challenge Reincarnate for second place. Dreamlike had also made progress but was forced to run four wide on the final turn. Paco Lopez had made good headway on Crupi, saving ground on the rail.

Saudi Crown went into the stretch with a one length advantage and increased it until Dreamlike stayed on strongly approaching the wire. Crupi was making progress until he lost all momentum as Il Miraculo and Magic Tap made contact with each other. Lopez had done everything right after an awful start and would probably have made the podium without the traffic problems. The ground that Ortiz wasted on the turn on Dreamlike proved costly. Saudi Crown started looking around approaching the wire but Geroux did not have to get seriously active to maintain his lead.

What next for Saudi Crown?

Don’t expect to see Saudi Crown again until The Breeders’ Cup as he is a horse that needs time between his races. Both the Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Mile are being considered but bettors will have to wait for the final decision. Looking further ahead, his owners are unsurprisingly Saudi-based so the 2024 Saudi Cup is definitely on the agenda too.