On Track With Johnny D: Circus Comes To Town

Saturday, the circus comes to town and I’m going. I’m as excited as a 10-year-old, too. Barnum & Bailey in Bensalem, PA. Sort of. It’s not the real circus, of course. After 146 years that show’s been cancelled. But it’s close because it includes a company of performers who put on diverse entertainment shows. Plus, there’s gambling, popcorn and peanuts.

This circus can’t boast elephants, lions, tigers or bears. No clowns, musicians, dancers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, magicians, or unicyclists either. However, there will be trained horses. Plenty of them, too. 135 entered to compete in 13 heats worth over $3 million.

Big-name jockeys are scheduled to appear on horseback, too. Imported, as the song goes, ‘…from California to the New York Island.’ The spectacular ‘Flying Oritz Brothers’ will perform death-defying acts alongside world-famous headliners like the ‘Pride of Puerto Rico’ Johnny V., and ‘Big Money’ Mike Smith.

Alas, there won’t be a Bearded Lady. I may have to settle for a white-headed Bob Baffert sighting instead.

Like with any circus worth its cotton candy machine there will be a ‘Freak Show.’ It’s officially called the Cotillion and the star attraction is Monomoy Girl.

One online dictionary defines the word ‘freak’ as:

  1. A very unusual and unexpected event or situation.

The Cotillion—a one million-dollar, mile and one-sixteenth dirt race for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Casino and Racing—an emporium known as the home of Smarty Jones, year-round racing, high-takeout on exotic wagers and the largest casino gaming complex in Pennsylvania—second only to Nevada in US gaming revenue.

  1. A person, animal or plant with an unusual physical abnormality.

That’s Cotillion favorite Monomoy Girl and her abnormality is that she runs faster than any other sophomore Thoroughbred filly in the nation. In racing, unlike in the circus, the term ‘freak’ is reverently used to describe a horse gifted with unusual talent. One that breathes ‘different air’ from the rest. Monomoy Girl fills that bill.

She has won 8 of 9 career starts--failing by a mere neck in her fourth start while drifting in and out like a drunken sailor. All wins have been by comfortable margins, except for a close half-length score in the mile and one-quarter Kentucky Oaks. That afternoon she defeated Wonder Gadot--a nearly $1.4-million earner and winner of two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown. She’s also in the Cotillion field. Monomoy Girl has a deadly one-two punch: Early speed and the ability to close resolutely from off the pace if need be.

A one million-dollar purse is nothing to sneeze at, so Cotillion competition runs deep. Besides Wonder Gadot, Monomoy Girl will need to outrun the more than capable Midnight Bisou. ‘Girl is one of just five fillies to ever have finished in front of ‘Bisou in nine career starts. Wonder Gadot is another.

Victory by any other of the four entrants would be a major surprise.

Parx circus sideshows include the $100k Alphabet Soup, for registered PA-breds at a mile and one-sixteenth on turf; the $150k PA Derby Champions at a mile and one-sixteenth and the Grade 3 Gallant Bob, a $300k sophomore six-furlong sprint.

In the ‘Champions all eyes will be on the return of nearly $3 million dollar-earner Collected from the Bob Baffert outfit. This race is to be used as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the 5-year-old. The incredible Aztec Sense, winner of 6-in-a-row, 8 of his last 9, and 9 of his last 11, could stand in the way. Plus, ‘Sense is a perfect 5-for-5 at Parx! Trainer Jorge Navarro, who claimed the gelding for $12,500 just over a year ago, wins at a mind-boggling 38% in the house that Smarty built. Millionaire Sunny Ridge also is in the field.

The Gallant Bob features Firenze Fire--Champagne, Jerome and Dwyer winner now concentrating on a one-turn career. He finished a respectable third in the H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga last out and can be expected to be rolling home late.

Rest assured Saturday’s proceedings won’t be ‘three-ringed’ with acts performed simultaneously. Each stands on its own merit demanding the audience’s undivided attention—in person, on simulcast screens and at wagering windows. However, make no mistake, the afternoon’s main event—the one we want to see most—is the $1 million, Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.

While this version of the PA Derby doesn’t boast a star with the magnitude of a Triple Crown winner, a depth of talent and storylines makes it intriguing. For example, is McKinzie ready to fire for Baffert off a six-month vacation? The Hall of Fame trainer once ranked the colt as best in his barn. You might recall that Baffert also trained this year’s Triple Crown winner Justify.

Hofburg, saddled by ‘Hall resident Bill Mott, has been on the verge of great success since finishing second in the Xpressbet Florida Derby in March. However, he disappointed a bit in the Kentucky Derby and then clunked along for third in the Belmont Stakes. A dominating performance in the Curlin at Saratoga last out screams that more is expected immediately. Forced to skip the Travers with a minor illness, he’s trained well for this race.

Bravazo has been this sophomore season’s iron horse. He won the Grade 2 Risen Star in February; was sixth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness in May; sixth in the Belmont in June; and Haskell runner-up in July and third in the Travers in August. Could September be Bravazo’s magic month? In his rich career Hall-of-Famer D. Wayne Lukas has upended bigger apple-carts than this.

Instilled Regard, making his first start for multiple Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown, was fourth last out in the Kentucky Derby at 85-1 for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. He’s a Grade 3 winner and was narrowly defeated last December in the Los Alamitos Derby as the meat in a Bob Baffert—trained runner sandwich between Solomini and McKinzie. Might he fire fresh and move forward Saturday?

And then there are recent sharp winners to consider. Axelrod, easy winner last out of the Smarty Jones—this race’s local prep. He’s steadily improved for trainer Mike McCarthy and boasts back-to-back Grade 3 wins. Mr Freeze iced foes in the West Virginia Derby with an 8-length tally at 6.60-1 odds. That was his best race ever and a repeat puts him in the mix. However, that’s asking a lot against this contentious lineup.

Saturday, the circus comes to town and I’m going. I can’t wait. Can you?

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Circus Comes To Town

On Track with Johnny D |