PENNSYLVANIA DERBY | PURSE: $1 MILLION | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
J. Paul Reddam's Handsome Mike parlayed a front-running trip into a two-length upset in Saturday's Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, winning as the 19-1 longest shot at Parx Racing. The Scat Daddy colt proved resilient after setting a moderate pace beneath Irad Ortiz Jr., withstanding challenges from Alpha and Stephanoatsee before re-asserting command in deep stretch, and snapped a seven-race losing skein in the process.
Trained by Leandro Mora, who is subbing for the suspended Doug O'Neill, Handsome Mike entered the 1 1/8-mile test for three-year-olds with only a turf maiden victory to his credit, recording unplaced finishes in his last three outings, but he was able to turn things around while receiving an ideal set-up on Saturday, rating on the front end through opening splits in :25 and :49 1/5.
Alpha, who was tracking Handsome Mike in second down the backstretch, advanced to even terms approaching the conclusion of the far turn, sticking a head in front through three-quarters in 1:14, but the 3-5 favorite could not sustain his momentum after straightening for home and weakened to sixth. Stephanoatsee rallied up the rail into contention, drawing even in upper stretch, but he began to run out of steam approaching the eighth pole and retreated to fourth.
After shrugging his challengers, Handsome Mike dominated through the final furlong, winning under a hand ride, and stopped the teletimer over the fast track in 1:51 3/5.
The dark bay colt paid $40.40, $14 and $9.80 to his supporters.
Macho Macho got up late for second, a neck better than Golden Ticket in third. It was another half-length back to Stephanoatsee, who was followed by Casual Trick in fifth. Csaba brought up the rear.
Handsome Mike, whose previous stakes placers were a second in last year's Grade 3 Generous Stakes on turf and a third in February's Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, more than tripled his career earnings to $756,780 and his career line now reads 10-2-1-1.
Bred in Kentucky by John Liviakis, Handsome Mike is the first foal out of the winning Smart Strike mare Classic Strike, a half-sister to multiple stakes queen From Away. This is also the immediate female family of Grade 3 winner Court Hostess.
The Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile could be next for Handsome Mike.