By Lewis Gould
Math Wizard rallied from last to win the seven-figure Pennsylvania Derby yesterday at Parx by a neck over Mr. Money at 31-1 odds.
“That is the greatest $16,000 maiden claiming race there will ever be,” said winning trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. after his first start — and victory — in an American Grade 1 stakes. “I know things can change, but there will never be a claimer like that one.”
Under an aggressive ride from Irad Ortiz Jr., the chestnut son of Algorithms defied the odds and added even more uncertainty to the 3-year-old division.
“‘I’m 100% crazy enough to go to the Breeders’ Cup” said majority owner John Fanelli, who owns the colt along with Collamele Vitelli Stable, Bassett Stables, Ioannia Zoumas, Wynwood Thoroughbreds, and Joseph, “though I don’t want to make any decisions now. I don’t want to say it’s a weaker field [of 3-year-olds], but there’s been a lot of injuries. You’re seeing a lot of different things happen to these horses.”
Just getting to the Pennsylvania Derby was tricky enough for Math Wizard. After his horse was sixth behind Mr. Money in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby Aug. 3, Joseph gave his 3-year-old some time off and he blossomed back at his Florida barn.
The original thought was to run in the Grade 3 Remington Park Derby Sept. 29, but when Joseph heard there would be a competitive field, he looked for other options. The Parx race came into play, but Joseph wasn’t sure of how he could get Math Wizard to Pennsylvania in time for the race until Fanelli arranged for a Fed Ex flight Sept. 19.
It was such a last-minute deal that jockey Edgard Zayas decided to stay in Florida, opening the door for Ortiz to win the Pennsylvania Derby for the second time, joining his win at 19-1 odds in 2012 with Handsome Mike.
Math Wizard paid $64.20 to win.
Improbable was the 6-5 favorite off a sharp and well-behaved win in the Shared Belief Stakes for trainer Bob Baffert, but he reverted to his wayward ways in the starting gate Saturday, rearing at the start which kept him toward the back of the pack.
“He reared. There was nothing I could do,” jockey Mike Smith said. “I was lucky to stay on. He’s a son of a gun in the gate.”
Without the ailing Maximum Security to set the pace, that job fell to Allied Racing Stable’s Mr. Money, who got away with a cushy :49.60 opening half-mile as War of Will and Spun to Run pressed him.
With the exception of the overmatched maiden Shanghai Superfly, the field bunched up at the top of the stretch after six furlongs in 1:13.44 and Mr. Money dug down and fended off the challengers — except for one.
Moving on the far outside, Math Wizard was fourth at the eighth pole, but went past Mr. Money late to narrowly prevail in 1:50.94 for the 1 1/8 miles.
“When he changed leads in the stretch, he took off,” Ortiz said.
For trainer Bret Calhoun, there was disappointment in Mr. Money’s loss but satisfaction in a body of work that includes four wins and a second in the Goldencents colt’s last five races.
“There’s no excuses,” said Calhoun who was uncertain of future plans for his 3-year-old. “It’s very disappointing obviously, but we won four in a row and that’s not easy.”
Pride was just one of the many emotions that filled the 32-year-old Joseph as he savored the biggest and most unlikely win of his career.
“I was overwhelmed by this. Everything was to be. We were blessed. We just claimed him at the right time. You dream about it, but you when think about it realistically, you can’t expect to win a $1 million race with a $25,000 claim,” said Joseph, who won the 2009 Barbados Triple Crown with Areutalkintome. “Racing gets a bad rap but nothing gives me a feeling like this, outside of my kids. These horses mean everything to me.”