The $1,000,000 Grade 1 – Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park is the last chance for prospective owners’ and trainers’ to give their horses an opportunity to earn a spot in the starting gate in Louisville for the 143rd Running of the Kentucky Derby. We are seeing a number of common foes facing off in this one, but their are also some improving 3-year-olds who are getting into good form at just the right time. The early morning-line favorite is 2-year-old Eclipse Award Champion, Classic Empire. The 3-year-old sired by Pioneerof the Nile needs no introduction. He was the forefront of this years Derby picture until he laid an egg in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February. Mark Casse decided to give him some time off to recover from a “nagging hoof abscess”. He skipped the Fountain of Youth and may not have even started in the Arkansas Derby had it not been for the qualification line for the Derby moving from the mid-20’s to the mid to upper-30’s. Either way, I believe Mark Casse will have Classic Empire tuned up for a race he absolutely needs to improve in off the dull debut in the Holy Bull. He was established as the slight 8/5 favorite over Todd Pletcher’s Malagacy who drew the 12-post at early odds of 2/1.
Here is a breakdown of every horse in the field….
#1 – ROCKIN RUDY (Mario Gutierrez/Doug O’Neill 12% 43 starts)
A new face to the Derby trail, California shipper, ROCKIN RUDY comes in off back to back 2nd place efforts on the down-the-hill turf course at Santa Anita in which he led into the stretch and was beaten but finished willingly in both efforts. It must be noted that he opened for a tag for $80k in his debut and crushed by 11 lengths over a mediocre field earning a Brisnet Speed Figure(BSF) for the effort. It’s hard to gauge where this horse is at because of the grass efforts, but when Doug O’Neill sends one forward it’s hard not to pay attention after what IRAP did last weekend. Should improve some 3rd off the layoff, takes blinkers off so tactical change is obvious, and also goes from turf to dirt.
OUTLOOK: Contrary to IRAP, ROCKIN RUDY has not had to face near the competition that IRAP was battling from start to start. He faced MASTERY and multiple top Derby prospects over and over again. With ROCKIN RUDY, they are likely going to try and rate for the first time and sit behind other horses. With MALAGACY and CLASSIC EMPIRE in the field, it will be interesting to see where they all get aligned moving into the far turn. There is not going to be room for all of the ‘off-the-pace’ types heading for home, so somebody gets the trip and somebody doesn’t. You are definitely going to get the odds if you like this one. He belongs in exotics and even on top if you see the race breaking down up front.
#2 – CLASSIC EMPIRE (Julien Leparoux/Mark Casse 19% 36 starts)
We talked a little bit about his poor effort in the Holy Bull up top, but what I didn’t mention is that he was caught 5wide in the early stages of the race and was pressing forward on the pace. It looked like a typical prep for the Fountain of Youth, but then the foot problems started.
OUTLOOK: There is no doubt in my mind that this horse is ultra-talented in the long-term. This horse has the same sire as AMERICAN PHAROAH, so there is obviously the pedigree to run at the classic race distances, but the problem comes down to form. I am glad to see that the last two works were both from the gate and both were very quick. I would like to think that he has gotten past the foot problems and they are serious about taking this race. If that’s the case, HE IS THE ONE TO BEAT
#3 – SILVER DUST (Corey Lanerie/Randy Morse 0% 5 starts)
I have been on this horses side to pull the upset in a number of starts the past couple months, but he has failed to produce against weaker fields than the ones he faces Saturday. Had a little bit of trouble finding room in the Southwest, but got free and closed a bit late. Then the Rebel Stakes was full of problems late in the race again. He got away from the gate, to be nice we’ll say “not well”. Then he was steadied again and was evenly paced in the latter stages.
OUTLOOK: Even though his BSF’s have improved from 84 to 87 to 91 in his last three starts, the races really haven’t looked that much better as a whole. He went off at extremely long odds in the Rebel and had the same chances that SONNETEER had in the stretch to grab a piece of the pie and he couldn’t do it. I AM NOT QUITE JUMPING OFF THE BANDWAGON COMPLETELY. He could rally up for 3rd or 4th to make your trifecta though, when you look at his pattern late in races, he passes tired horses.
#4 – PETROV (Ricardo Santana, Jr./Ron Moquett 12% 42 starts)
Another face we have seen a number of times in Hot Springs shows up for the Arkansas’ big finale. Everybody wanted to believe that if PETROV didn’t have to do the chasing of the pace up front, that he would be the one tracking down the leader in the final half furlong, but it didn’t work out that way in the Rebel. He had every chance to run at MALAGACY and it just didn’t happen. It was a pretty even effort in the final 500 yards and it earned him 4th.
OUTLOOK: It’s hard to gauge whether this horse is just a trier or whether he really has talent. They tried to change tactics and it really didn’t help a whole lot in his last start. This time around they are switching to a local jock which could help a little bit if he can get him in similar position to what he was doing in the Southwest. ONE LINER is off the Derby trail, but I thought that was Petrov’s most impressive effort, he was just outkicked that day and ran a good 97 BSF. After the last three starts of which I wasn’t a big favorite of PETROV’S I am not really going to change my stance. I do like the change to Santana, Jr. It can’t hurt his chances to have an Oaklawn guy up in the irons and if he can press on similar to what he did in his first two Derby preps he could get himself enough points for a starting spot in May. I AM OFF THIS HORSE, I DON’T THINK HE HITS THE BOARD SATURDAY
#5 – GRANDPA’S DREAM (Alex Canchari/Chris Hartman 18% 17 starts)
It took til his fourth start and switch to Minnesota-boy Alex Canchari in the irons to get this one in the winners’ circle with a 90 BSF. He did that on March 25th at Oaklawn and did running on the front end. He is going to have to pick up his feet and run a bit faster in the late stages, but my guess is with Canchari they are going to gun it and just try to wire this bunch. His sire SHACKLEFORD almost pulled the strings on his big day, so why not go with that tactic Saturday.
OUTLOOK: It would be the shock of the world to pull the upset on Saturday with Grandpa’s Dream. You want to turn the Derby field on it’s head like IRAP did last week, watch this horse earn a trip to the winner’s circle. IT WOULD TAKE A MIRACLE, BUT WHO KNOWS, NOT ON MY TICKETS.
#6 – LOOKIN AT LEE (Luis Contreras/Steve Asmussen 20% 85 starts)
Another horse we have seen a bunch over the past six months shows his face again. He has run much more of the typical path seen in the past on a horses road to the Derby. The MSW, ALW, STAKES WIN then Derby path is a new phenomenon. LOOKIN AT LEE has had 8 starts and comes from dead last to try and run by them all late. His biggest problem as a 3-year-old has been the slow paces in both starts. His BSF’s have not fallen off like his finishing margins have.
OUTLOOK: I am not ready to give up on LOOKIN AT LEE. He can close like a freight train if he gets the fractions up front like he needs. I am going to use this one, one last time and try to score big. I think I am going to get some big odds. With the Derby on the line, I see a hot pace up front, and I am hoping it’s somewhat ridiculous up front and it sets up perfect for LOOKIN AT LEE.
#7 – SONNETEER (Kent Desormeaux/Keith Desormeaux 21% 14 starts)
I thinking lightning struck once at odds of 112-1 last time at Oaklawn because he just got his nose on the wire at the right time in the right spot. We did see a maiden win last weekend and that caused a ruckus at the racebooks across the country. It would take another improvement off the Rebel effort to have a chance in this one.
OUTLOOK: Still a maiden and I can’t see why this one deserves to be on any tickets again. Unless you really think the Rebel wasn’t a fluke and there is talent for this horse by Midnight Lute. I AM GOING TO TAKE A STAND AND HOPE IT WAS A FLUKE
#8 – ROWDY THE WARRIOR (Luis Quinonez/Donnie Von Hemel 6% 31 starts)
We have seen Rowdy a couple times this Spring and he hasn’t shown a whole lot when he faces graded company. His best effort was passing tiring rivals in the Smarty Jones to pick up 3rd, but I wouldn’t call it a sharp effort by any means.
OUTLOOK: It’s going to take a major, MAJOR step forward to have any hope. I DO NOT SEE HIM IN THE MIX IN THIS SPOT. He just has not proven anything yet.
#9 – UNTRAPPED (Mike Smith/Steve Asmussen FTS)
We have seen Untrapped in Louisiana and Arkansas this Spring. He is one of the few horses that allows us to compare races across states and it’s a look at how each field compares to one another. He had EVERY chance to go by Malagacy in the Rebel and he just could not do it. The added distance in the affair Saturday could benefit this one with TRAPPE SHOT as his daddy. There is no doubt that his lineage benefits him the longer the races get, but I am not sure why he has failed in his last three graded stakes.
OUTLOOK: With the amount of big closers in the race and then the others are mostly early speed types, this benefits UNTRAPPED, he should sit the trip and get the jump on the closers that will be coming from far back like LOOKIN AT LEE. I LIKE HIS CHANCES TO HIT THE BOARD, ESPECIALLY W/ MONEY MIKE UP.
#10 – ONE DREAMY DUDE (Geovanni Franco/Jack Van Berg 33% 3 starts)
Has had six chances so far and is still a maiden. He debuted at Churchill and ran pretty slowly at odds of 20-1 back in November. His next five starts have all been pretty disappointing with the exception of losing by a nose back in February at 22-1.
OUTLOOK: This maiden will be a maiden after Saturday, I would put my left pinky finger on it. Ehh, wait? I would have to think about that one with my boy Geo. up in the irons.
#11 – CONQUEST MO MONEY (Jorge Carreno/Miguel Hernandez 17% 23 starts)
Was undefeated heading into the Sunland Derby and he ran a very good second to HENCE. Now the debate starts, how good was the Sunland Derby? On paper, the speed numbers are decent. The time was very good when you compare it with the Blue Grass, Santa Anita, and the Wood Memorial. It was one of the few 9 furlong races run before April. He has steadily improved and I like the fact that he he continues to run his race.
OUTLOOK: After three pretty much wire to wire victories in January and February. The Sunland Derby rolled around and invaders came from California and everywhere to try and earn some Kentucky Derby points. It did not put any scare into CONQUEST MO MONEY. He broke 7th made up ground along the backstretch and battled hard to finish just behind HENCE who looks good to make it right now.
OUTLOOK: It’s hard to gauge this one because I am not the biggest fan of Jorge Carreno as a rider. I have watched him the past three Summer’s at Canterbury and he can struggle if he finds trouble during a race. That said, he has guided this horse very well thus far. Trainer has not won a graded stakes race in the past year, but that doesn’t mean he can’t finish second. Big difference, THIS IS NOT HIS HOMETRACK. NEEDS SOME HELP, MAYBE HIS BUDDIES CANCHARI AND FRANCO will give him some advice about how to ride Oaklawn.
#12 – MALAGACY (Javier Castellano/Todd Pletcher 25% 20 starts)
We talked about this one up top and after the running of the Rebel, I was impressed with his ability to fight off rivals, and it will be interesting to see how Todd Pletcher treats this race. With Malagacy already having qualified for the Kentucky Derby, he really doesn’t have anything to race for in this spot except, get ready for the Derby. Drawing the outside post could be interesting and a preperation if the draw goes wrong in the Derby, he will have to navigate his way into position and pounce on the speedsters at the right time.
OUTLOOK: Distance is still a big question with MALAGACY and I really like this horse long term, but I don’t know if I like him between nine furlongs and 12 furlongs. He is the best front running speed type, so it’s either him or the front falls apart and CLASSIC EMPIRE and the rest gobble him up. It’s a tough call, but I am going to pick against MALAGACY in this spot. If he proves me wrong and wins impressively than we may be staring the best Pletcher entry right in the eyes.
MY TOP PICKS:
#9 – UNTRAPPED
#6 – LOOKIN AT LEE
#2 – CLASSIC EMPIRE
#3 – SILVER DUST
#12 – MALAGACY (If we get a Tapwrit type effort, I honestly think this is gameplay by Pletcher)