Approaching the quarter pole of last month's Travers Stakes, Rattlesnake Bridge was making a four-wide bid into contention, seemingly about to set up a dramatic stretch drive with Stay Thirsty at Saratoga.
But in the final furlong, Stay Thirsty ran away from Rattlesnake Bridge and the remainder of the Travers field, putting himself among the leaders of the 3-year-old division. After drifting out somewhat in the stretch, Rattlesnake Bridge righted himself and finished a clear second.
"I was excited at the quarter pole,'' said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Rattlesnake Bridge. "I thought we were coming to get the leader, but he kept going. We were second best.''
Saturday, Rattlesnake Bridge looks to improve upon that second-place performance when he meets Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice, the multiple graded stakes winner To Honor and Serve, and six others in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.
The Pennsylvania Derby tops a 12-race card that begins at 12:05 p.m. Eastern and includes the $250,000 Gallant Bob Stakes for 3-year-olds going six furlongs. Post time for the Derby is 5:45 p.m.
Rattlesnake Bridge, a son of Tapit, did not get his career started until February and though he won his debut at Gulfstream Park, jockey John Velazquez said the colt was still immature. Velazquez didn't ride Rattlesnake Bridge again until the Travers and said the horse has improved. Velazquez chose Rattlesnake Bridge over To Honor and Serve, whom he rode to a big allowance win last out.
"First time I rode him, he was all over the place, green,'' Velazquez said of Rattlesnake Bridge. "He didn't know what the heck to do. We liked him from Day One, he's just been a slow learner.''
Prior to the Travers, Rattlesnake Bridge overcame a stumble and a wide trip to win the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park in his first try around two turns. He will break the outside post in this nine-horse field, something Velazquez feels might be a plus.
"The way the track is over there being in the middle of the track is probably better,'' he said. "I'll be watching all day and see how the track is.''
McLaughlin said he believes Rattlesnake Bridge will be stalking from fourth or fifth position. There is ample speed in the field, especially with Rush Now being confirmed on Thursday as a definite starter by trainer Tony Dutrow. Dutrow had considered running Rush Now, the West Virginia Derby runner-up, in the Kent Stakes on turf at Delaware Park, but will now run both him and Travers third-place finisher J W Blue in the Pennsylvania Derby.
"We're going to put Rush Now on the lead, it's as simple as that,'' said Dutrow, who planned to name Kendrick Carmouche to ride. "He might lose the race, but he won't lost the race to the half-mile pole.''
Ruler On Ice, who breaks from the rail under new rider Garrett Gomez, and To Honor and Serve, who drew post 7, figure to be chasing or stalking Rush Now early. Ruler On Ice was forwardly placed in the Belmont Stakes, a race he won by three-quarters of a length over Stay Thirsty. Since then, Ruler On Ice finished third in the Haskell and fourth in the Travers.
"I'm trying to keep him on the ground,'' trainer Kelly Breen said Thursday from Monmouth. "He's feeling good, almost to the point of feeling too good. He's pumped up, he's excited, I'm excited.''
Since Ruler On Ice won the Belmont Stakes in the slop, the fact there is a 70 percent chance of rain on Saturday doesn't hurt Breen's feelings.
Ruler On Ice does have to carry 124 pounds, spotting five to 10 pounds to the field.
At 2, To Honor and Serve won the Nashua and Remsen stakes at Aqueduct. He hadn't reverted to that form until he won a third-level allowance race by 8 3/4 lengths at Saratoga last month. This will be his third start since returning from a leg injury.
"He's been doing extremely well,'' trainer Bill Mott said. "He's always been particularly laid back and kind about his gallops, he's quite aggressive right now. I take it as a good sign.''
Jose Lezcano, who did win the Nashua aboard To Honor and Serve last year, replaces Velazquez.
Arthur's Tale, who has not run since finishing second in the Wood Memorial, Pender Harbour, who won two-thirds of the Canadian Triple Crown, Norman Asbjornson, a two-time winner at Parx, and Isn't He Perfect, complete the field.