The Penn Mile

With one week to go before the Belmont Stakes, we take a diversion to the 3YO turf division with the GII Penn Mile from Penn National Race Course. It’s restricted to 3YO and carries a purse of half a million dollars. As the name suggests, it’s 8 furlongs — a mile on the turf. Only in it’s 5th running, the Penn Mile has become a key turf race for 3YO, especially in the eastern half of the country. That doesn’t mean that western horses aren’t shipping in, as we will see. It will be run at 7:45 eastern time, as part of a special mid-afternoon card at Penn National, which normally runs exclusively at night. Firm turf is expected.

Maraud is a likely deserving favorite with a morning line of 5/2. He won the GIII Palm Beach at Gulfstream on firm turf in an early test in March. He ran near the pace that day. He followed it up two starts later with on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs in the GII American turf, where he came off the pace on the yielding turf. Both of those race brought excellent Beyer Speed Figures. He’s trained by 3YO specialist (along with many other things) Todd Pletcher. He’s only run at mile once (early in his career) — typically running 8.5 furlongs — and finished a disappointing 3rd as the favorite.

Therapist has been off since late March when he won the Cutler Bay in track record time. He earned a tied for field-best 92 Beyer for that performance. He’s won 4 of 5 starts, with his only loss coming at the hands of Maraud in the Palm Beach. He’s 2 for 2 at the mile, with his other wins coming at the 6f distance. He prefers to come from slightly Freshened by Christophe Clement, who made his reputation on the turf (he’s since become a very good dirt trainer), he should be a major contender for the top prize today.

He’s Bankable is a bit slower than the top two, but has won two stakes in a row — both at 8.5 furlongs. He won them both in front-running fashion. It took him a while to break his maiden and couldn’t pass the N1X condition, but seems to have turned into a new horse in his last 2 starts. Trained by Mark Casse, he’ll be hoping for an easy trip on the front end — something that happens out east more often than not.

Hawkish is relatively inexperienced but ran a tied for field-best Beyer in a first-level allowance at Aqueduct in April. He was the heavy favorite that day with an easy field, something that can ultimately create an unrepeatable Beyer (although the second-place finisher went on to win next out). Despite the fast speed, a win would be a surprise in his stakes debut. It is an ambitious placing, but one that makes sense. He is trained by James Toner.

Encumbered ships in from the west coast and makes his seasonal debut. He was last seen getting smoked by Mendelssohn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, losing by 16 1/2 lengths. You always need to fear a horse that was good at 2 — he won the Del Mar Juvenile Turf — making his 3YO seasonal debut. That said, it still should be a little much for him to find the winner’s circle for trainer Simon Callaghan. ColtandMississippi is another Todd Pletcher trainee. Unlike Maraud, he’s significantly slower and without a win on the turf. He did have a nice third in the 6f Bridgetown at Aqueduct but would have to improve quite a bit to factor today. Way Early, for George Weaver, is inexperienced, with only a maiden win on the turf and a second in an NY-restricted allowance. A win would be a major surprise. Smart Remark returns to the turf after a poor performance in the Pat Day Mile. He broke his maiden on turf for his only win on the surface. Trained by Victoria Oliver, a win is not out of the question — he’s shown some speed on the turf — but he’d still need to improve and rebound from the last performance.

Analysis: The race comes down to how Maraud handles the shorter distance. If it affects him (he wants to go longer), then this is Therapist’s race to lose. I’ll side with Therapist who is proven at the distance.

Good luck at the races!