The Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx on Saturday is a 1 1/16-mile race, but heavy favorite Abel Tasman and Salty, one of her chief rivals, likely will have to run a bit farther than that after drawing the outside posts in the field of 12 3-year-old fillies.
Outer posts at the Cotillion distance are difficult due to the relatively short run to the first turn, and horses without sharp speed risk getting fanned wide or having their riders take back in an effort to save ground. Abel Tasman, in post 11, and Salty, post 12, may benefit from a few scratches and move inward but still will be handicapped.
In races over a mile or over at Parx this year, three of the four outside posts are winning at 11 percent or less. Conversely, the winning average from posts 1 and 2 are 16 percent and 15 percent.
The beneficiaries of the draw appear to be It Tiz Well, Lockdown, and Actress, all of whom will start from inside stalls.
The $1 million Cotillion will be the 10th of 13 races and immediately precedes the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. In all, there are five stakes on the card.
Abel Tasman has taken control of the 3-year-old filly division in her last three starts by winning the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, the Acorn at Belmont Park, and the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, all Grade 1 races. The burst of speed she showed for jockey Mike Smith in the CCA Oaks, where she rocketed from sixth to first on the backstretch, may be needed again to overcome her post.
Bob Baffert, while not thrilled with her draw, has a lot of confidence in the daughter of Quality Road, whom he trains for the China Horse Club and Clearsky Farms.
"It's tricky, but she'll be all right," Baffert said. "It just takes her about 100 yards to get going. We don't have plans. Mike will just read the break and take it from there."
Salty, trained by Mark Casse, has yet to finish ahead of Abel Tasman in three meetings, but her second-place finish in the one-mile Acorn was strong, and she was beaten only a length. She finished fifth to Abel Tasman in the Kentucky Oaks and third, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, in the CCA Oaks after an awful start.
"She was the last one loaded, and the assistant pulled himself up in the gate and put her head up in the air, and the starter sprung the latch," Casse said. "She never had a chance to settle herself."
Salty, who will be ridden by Tyler Gafflione, will be turning back in distance from a third-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama and from 1 1/8 miles in the CCA Oaks.
"Some people think a mile is her thing," Casse said. "The 1 1/16 miles may work to her advantage."
Abel Tasman and Salty should get a reasonable pace to set up their runs. Run and Go is quick and stretching out from a sprint, and Thirstforthecup, Proud and Fearless, and It Tiz Well also have speed.
It Tiz Well held on for second by a head over Salty in the Alabama after setting the pace to upper stretch before being overtaken by Elate. She figures to be forwardly placed throughout from post 4, and jockey Drayden Van Dyke likely will be able to work out a nice trip.
In her start prior to the Alabama, It Tiz Well won the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Lockdown, post 1, and Actress, post 2, had similar journeys in the Alabama, launching strong off-the-pace moves on the far turn before tiring. It should be noted that they moved into the quicker middle fractions of the race.
The quarter-mile from the half to the six-furlong mark went in 23.96 seconds, and the following quarter to the one-mile split at the top of the stretch went in 24.95. They had little left for the final quarter-mile, which was run in 26.32.
Both Lockdown and Actress may rebound at this shorter distance.
Lockdown, trained by Bill Mott, came into the Alabama off a solid runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Mother Goose. Actress, conditioned by Jason Servis, finished third, beaten a half-length by It Tiz Well, in the Delaware Oaks.
The Cotillion field is completed by Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks winner Teresa Z, and Mopotism, who finished second in both the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks and Grade 3 Indiana Oaks before ending up seventh in the Alabama.
Stay Fond, part of a three-horse Todd Pletcher-trained entry, and Sine Wave have been cross-entered in the $300,000 Charles Town Oaks on Saturday night. Stay Fond is expected to run at Parx.