Arkansas Derby (GI)

With the move of the Blue Grass, the Arkansas Derby has been left alone as the only major Derby prep three weeks out. This year’s edition is led by American Pharoah, who was ranked #2 in the rankings prior to the final preps. He’s been simply scintillating in his three stakes starts and overwhelms this field on speed. Here’s his never-in-doubt win in the Rebel:

He’s 1/2 on the morning line and, like Carpe Diem last week in the Blue Grass, is a fair bet for those willing to play dominating odds-on favorites.  He’s run three triple-digit Beyers in his career; no one else in field has run one. In addition, he’s proven over Oaklawn track with win in Rebel (was over wet track, however).

Far Right is likely to get some support. Outside of the Rebel (in which he sat out), the winter at Oaklawn has belonged to Far Right. Here’s his Smarty Jones:

And his Southwest Stakes:

Both visually impressive closes to be sure, but significantly slower than the races run by American Pharoah. The hope for Far Right’s supporters is a blistering pace, which would tire the front-running American Pharoah in the stretch. Yes, ir’s likely that the pace will be stronger than the Rebel, but it’s still far more unlikely that it would be so strong as to slow American Pharoah enough to permit the closing Far Right to catch him.

As for the others, Mr. Z had no real excuse in his last. He’s already peaked — he’s not fast enough to win here, and now he’s gone off-form. For those looking for a longer shot play, the lightly-raced Madefromlucky could very well move forward as he tries 9 furlongs for the second time. It would take substantial improvement, but that’s not impossible for any 3YO, especially a well-bred Pletcher-trainee this time of year. to give Todd Pletcher his third straight Arkansas Derby (2013, Overanalyze; 2014, Danza).

Also, don’t forget about the Lexington Stakes from Keeneland, which offers 10 qualifying points to the winner (the Arkansas Derby offers 100). Both Tiznow RJ and Divining Rod have points already, and with a win, may come close to qualifying for the Derby, if there are defections from the top 20.

Good luck and enjoy the races!

The Wood Memorial (GI)

It’s the cap to the Aqueduct 3YO season on Saturday with the Wood Memorial.

Racing returned to the main track from the inner dirt on Wednesday and a field of seven goes forward. Five return from the Gotham, won by El Kabeir:

A very impressive performance visually, although the speed figure came back less than stellar. On the whole, the NY preps haven’t been all that strong this year. That said, El Kabeir had already established himself last fall, with a win in the Kentucky Jockey Club, although he still needs to improve to dream of the hitting the board at Churchill Downs.

Of the 4 others who were smoked by El Kabeir in the Gotham, I’d only give a long look to Lieutenant Colonel, who just may have not liked the wet, inner track. It was only his second career start; might be worth it to take a chance on a rebound for a great trainer (Chad Brown) at a long price.

The two shippers, Daredevil and Frosted bring very different resumes. .

Frosted has been hyped all winter, but hasn’t shown elite speed and performance. His Fountain of Youth says it all:

Daredevil had a terrible post in the Juvenile, so tossing that is ok.  And, if you toss that race, his speed profile is great. His biggest question is the 9 furlong distance. Right now, I’d guess he might be a better miler than anything else. If he doesn’t like the distance, El Kabeir might just inherit the win, unless Lieutenant Colonel (or another) improves.

Enjoy the great racing day!

Santa Anita Derby

Blue Grass

The Blue Grass (GI)

The Blue Grass Stakes (G1) caps a terrific card on Saturday on opening weekend from Keeneland. It’s one of three destinations this week — Santa Anita and Aqueduct are the others — for Kentucky Derby contenders.

It starts what should be a banner year for the Lexington, Kentucky racetrack, which hosts the Breeders’ Cup at season’s end. Last fall, Keeneland installed a new dirt track, replacing the artificial dirt surface. As a result, the Blue Grass once again serves as a destination for horses that expect to compete for top honors in Louisville in four weeks.

Carpe Diem, #3 in my Derby rankings (prior to final preps, which started last week), leads the way. He’s even money on the morning line. I expect that he’ll be 3/5 or even lower by post time. Here’s why:

  • He’s run faster than any other horse in the field.
  • He’s won over this track in a very impressive performance last Fall.
  • He’s cost $1.7 million and he’s bred for distance.
  • His comeback in Tampa was sharp and confident.

I fully expect a top notch performance from Carpe Diem, likely earning his first triple digit Beyer and romping by open lengths against the rest of the field.

Of the other contenders, someone will have to improve to even come within a few lengths of Carpe Diem. Ocho Ocho Ocho, who at one time was #5 in my Derby rankings, had a disappointing comeback in the San Felipe last month. He’d need to fully turn it around; the ship out of the west coast — presumably to get away from Dortmund — doesn’t inspire a tremendous amount of confidence. Gorgeous Bird, inspired a great amount of hype when he won a 1st-level allowance at Gulfstream. But that speed figure from that race came back low, and he was rather dull in the Fountain of Youth.  Classy Class has been a bit of a puzzle throughout the winter. I’m excited to see him away from the inner dirt at Aqueduct. Danzig Moon was an impressive maiden winner in February at Gulfstream, but failed to back that up last time he met Carpe Diem in Tampa.

Image: Missing8519, Copyright 2007.