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Pennsylvania Derby Odds & Preview: Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon Clash

Dave Friedman

by Dave Friedman in Horse Racing News

Updated Sep 24, 2021 · 12:16 PM PDT

Pennsylvania Derby
Essential Quality (2), with jockey Luis Saez up, crosses the finish line ahead of Hot Rod Charlie (4), with jockey Flavien Prat up, to win the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 5, 2021, At Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
  • Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby is the biggest race of the year in the Keystone State
  • Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon face off again after an incident the last time they met
  • What’s the best way to bet the Pennsylvania Derby?

For the past decade, the Pennsylvania Derby has been run in late September. Moving from Labor Day Weekend has helped attract better horses, using the race as a final prep for November’s Breeders Cup.

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit was scheduled to run this year but in the end, decided to stay home in Southern California. However, Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon are battle-tested rivals with a bit of a history. Hot Rod Charlie finished first in July’s Haskell Stakes but was disqualified for drifting in and clipping heals with Midnight Bourbon, who nearly fell, and tossed off his rider.

Let’s look carefully at the field and consider who to bet on.

2021 Pennsylvania Derby Odds

Horse Odds
Hot Rod Charlie +150
Midnight Bourbon +300
Speaker’s Corner +600
Fulsome +1000
Keepmeinmind +1000
Americanrevolution +1000
Weyburn +1800
Bourbonic +2500
I Am Redeemed +3300

Odds as of September 24th

The Pennsylvania Derby is run at one-and-one-eighth miles, an eighth of a mile shorter than the Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes. It is the same distance as the Jim Dandy Stakes and Haskell Stakes. In recent years the Pennsylvania Derby has been won by top horses like Bayern, Frosted, West Coast, and McKinzie.

Weather in Philadelphia on Saturday is expected to be clear and in the ’70s. Post time for the feature event is slated for 5:49 pm ET. Television coverage will be provided by TVG.

Let’s go through several of the top options in this Grade 1 test, consider a longshot or two, and see if there is value to be found.


Hot Rod Charlie was placed seventh after interfering with Midnight Bourbon, who was unable to legally finish the Haskell because he lost his rider after the incident. That said, it does not appear Midnight Bourbon was going to contend had the contact not occurred.

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That was Hot Rod Charlie’s first race since finishing as the runner-up behind Essential Quality in the Belmont Stakes. He was third in the Kentucky Derby and seems to fire against top competition each time. That said, he has only two wins in 10 starts.


Midnight Bourbon finished sixth at the Kentucky Derby and followed it up with a decent second-place performance at the Preakness Stakes.

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After the Haskell, he returned to run the best race of his life. Midnight Bourbon just missed against Essential Quality in August’s Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

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Though Midnight Bourbon has won just twice in 11 tries, he is always right in the mix. Could he be peaking, following the career-best showing at The Spa?

Speaker’s Corner missed over 10 months of racing because of injury but looked sharp returning to win an allowance race at Saratoga last month against a solid field. He was bet heavily when running third in his debut last September and returned to win as the chalk in October. Trained by Bill Mott, and owned by Godolphin, there is reason for optimism.


Keepmeinmind looked very promising after threatening Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy.

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He returned to finish a well-beaten fourth in The Travers, though he got off to a poor start that day. Keepmeinmind has just a single victory in 11 tries.

Fulsome has won four of his last five races though they have not been against this type of competition.

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Trainer Brad Cox, one of the best in the business, has interestingly dodged the top-tier three-year-olds, but now sees fit to give Fulsome an opportunity. He’ll need his best race to get there, but he is talented and has consistently risen to the occasion.

Pennsylvania Derby Best Bet

Hot Rod Charlie is the most likely winner, but at +150 he needs to win this race better than four out of 10 runnings to make him a good bet. Midnight Bourbon offers more value. If he wins one of out four tries against this competition, he merits a bet. Midnight Bourbon ran huge in the Travers Stakes, indicating he may be at his best right now. Being the top three-year-old in May has never meant the same horse will be the strongest in the fall. Hot Rod Charlie is consistently excellent, but maybe Midnight Bourbon has grown more over the past six months. He certainly offers a better price.

The Pick: Midnight Bourbon (+300)

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