22 Days and Counting Until the Kentucky Derby

April 11, 2008 | Gary Quill

On Saturday, the last two major Kentucky Derby prep races will be run, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, KY and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, AR. Considering the Blue Grass attracted 12 starters and 14 will go post-ward in the Arkansas Derby, it appears there are plenty of owners who don’t want to chance being left out of Kentucky Derby field. It is important to note that if more than 20 horses are entered in the Derby, the field gets trimmed down to 20, based on Graded Stakes earnings.  
Here’s the field for the 84th Running of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (9th race at Keeneland).
# 1 -    Cool Coal Man (Morning Line Odds: 4-1)
# 2 -    Kentucky Bear (50-1)
# 3 -    Cowboy Cal (15-1)
# 4 -    Stevil (30-1)
# 5 -    Monba (15-1)
# 6 -    Big Truck (6-1)
# 7 -    Pyro (Even)
# 8 -    Stone Bird (50-1)
# 9 -    Medjool (30-1)
#10 -    Miner’s Claim (20-1)
#11 -    Halo Najib (15-1)
#12 -    Visionaire (6-1)
Here’s how I see it…Even though it’s a large field, it is short on early speed. There are only 4 who have ever shown the desire to be on the front end… Cool Coal Man, Cowboy Cal, Stone Bird and Miner’s Claim. Cowboy Cal only flashes speed on the turf. Stone Bird has only been near the lead versus cheaper company, Miner’s Claim looks good on paper, but he’s been on the lead when the fractions have been slow. So that leaves Cool Coal Man. I can imagine jock Kent Desormeaux, given the chance, will try to steal this one, from gate-to-wire. His biggest obstacle will be Pyro, whose only question mark will be whether he takes to the polytrack surface. He’s had a few workouts over it, but he might be hard pressed to catch Cool Coal Man. There will be about 5 others making belated moves in deep stretch just to grab the 3rd and 4th place purses. Visionaire benefited from quick fractions when he won the Gotham at Aqueduct. Halo Najib runs his best on synthetic surfaces, but flattened out 1/16th from the wire at Turfway in the Lanes Ends. Medjool was wide throughout in that same race and could move forward here. After a disastrous 2008 debut in the Fountain of Youth, Monba seems to be Todd Pletcher’s last chance for a Derby horse. He gets Prado abroad and synthetic surface on which he has run his best races.    
My play in the Blue Grass Stakes is Cool Coal Man
$10 WIN and PLACE # 1           (cost: $20)
$ 1 Part-Wheel TRIFECTA 1, 7 with 1, 7 with 5, 9, 11, 12      (cost: $8)
Let’s go to Slick Willie Clinton’s old stomping grounds, Hot Springs, AR for the 72nd Running of the Arkansas Derby (11th race at Oaklawn Park). There are 14 starters but only 12 betting interests. #12, #13 and #14 are part of the Mutuel Field. If you like one, you get all 3. Here’s the field, indicated by their saddle cloth in Post Position order…
# 1     - Victory Pete (Approximate Odds: 8-1)
# 2     - Tres Borrachos (20-1)
#12f    - Shekinah (30-1)
# 3     - King’s Silver Son (15-1)
# 4     – Gayego (5-2)
# 5     - Isabull (5-1)
# 6     - My Pal Charlie (6-1)
# 7     – Blackberry Road (3-1)
# 8     – Liberty Bull (9-2)
# 9     – Golden Yank (12-1)
#13f    - Ablaze With Spirit (30-1)
#10     - Z Fortune (4-1)
#11     - Indian Sun (5-1)
#14f    - Jazz in the Park (30-1)
Here’s how I see it…more than half of the field like to be on or near the lead, but the Oaklawn stretch isn’t kind to “deep closers”. So I tried to find a colt that doesn’t come from the clouds, yet is comfortable keeping his distance from the pace setters. Blackberry Road will be competing in his 8th consecutive Graded stakes race. He used to be a deep closer, but was closer to the pace when 4th by 4 lengths to Pyro in the LA Derby. If Borel keeps him out of traffic (which might be difficult here) he should claim his first victory of the year. Indian Sun makes his natural dirt debut after 4 starts each on turf and synthetic ovals in California. He’s faced the best of the west and never embarrassed himself. Gayego is another CA shipper who should improve off his first race going long.
My play in the Arkansas Derby is Blackberry Road
$10 WIN and PLACE on # 7               (cost: $20)
$ 2 EXACTA BOX 4, 7, 11                (cost: $12)
Who do you like in these races?