Three weeks from Saturday is the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby and there are only a few more graded stakes races between now and then for 3 year olds to crack into the Top 20 of the Graded Stakes Earnings List. The Derby is limited to twenty (20) starters, and the pecking order is based on Graded Stakes Earnings.
This weekend is ideally the latest that any colt, gelding or filly should race if they are to be in top condition to run in the Derby on May 7th. On Saturday, there are two graded stakes races. The $750,000 Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, KY and the $1,000,000 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, AR. Both races are run at the distance of 1 1/8 miles and you can catch the Blue Grass on TVG and the Arkansas Derby on HRTV. Next week there is one final prep race, the $300,000 Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes, but racing two weeks prior to running in the Derby rarely produces a serious Derby contender. Analysis of these races are below the Pimlico recap and selections section.
Recapping Day 9 (Friday, April 15th) at the Pimlico Spring Meet…
Best Bet Concatentaion (# 7; 4th race; M/L 2-1; P/T 1-1) changed tactics when 3 foes decided to be him to the lead. He was caught 3-4 wide until entering the stretch, drew to even terms one furlong out, but lost the head-bob as Maxwell Smart would say, “Missed it by THAT much!”, having to settle for second paying $2.60 to PLACE and $2.10 to SHOW.
Best Bet pick scorecard from 9 selections at the Pimlico Meet: 3 WIN – 2 PLACE – 1 SHOW.
Longshot Ovechkin (# 5; 5th race on the turf; M/L 20-1; P/T 17-1) walked out of the gated as expected but took way too long to get into gear. He remained last as the field entered the stretch, passing only a few to finish 7th, while the more obvious “sport name” pick (#11- Baltimore Raven, M/L 5-1; P/T 7-2) was victorious. Doooohhhlllll!
Longshot pick scorecard from 9 selections at the Pimlico Meet: 2 WIN – 3 PLACE – 1 SHOW
SHOW Parlay Play of the Day, $26 on Hughes Next (# 5; 6th race; M/L 2-1; P/T 5-2) went off as the 3rd choice in a 5 horse race. He raced in 3rd for the first 6 furlongs, but got leg weary in the stretch and could only outlast one competitor, to finish 4th and make short work out of the one race win streak for the SHOW parlay play. That whittled the bankroll down to the last $20 to start fresh on the Saturday card.
For the Pimlico Spring Meet, Day 10 (Saturday, April 16th) … ALL RACES OFF THE TURF
Soup Of The Day: Chicken Noodle
Best Bet: Threeanddonedan (# 1; 1st race; M/L 8-5) leads a field of 2 year old first-timers in the first “baby race” for colts in Maryland. Though the #1 Post is always a tough slot to break from for first time starters, this guy has been flashing some extremely impressive drills in preparation of his career debut. Trainer John Salzman, Jr. is a master with 2 year olds and scored on Friday in the filly baby race (aka 2 yr olds) with Bluegrass Atatude who is stakes bound for her next start.
Longshot: Miss Fleetfoot (# 4; 10th race, $75k Primonetta Stakes; M/L 8-1) found new life when claimed in February from the Scott lake outfit. Her new surroundings must be to her liking as she has regained her old form. Stepping up into a minor stakes race is a huge jump, but with at least 3 runners wanting the early lead, and Miss Fleetfoot exhibiting a late kick in the stretch, she could pull the upset here.
SHOW Parlay available bankroll: $20.30 ($46.30 bankroll – $26 wager + $0 return)
SHOW Parlay Play of the Day: $20 on I. Turner (# 1; 8th race; M/L 6-1) who has developed into a nice colt and found his level where he can compete, and it’s in the $25k-$30k Claiming range. After two consecutive races at a higher level, the drop down to $30k should suit him just fine for a top 3 finish. Even if the track comes up sloppy, his bloodlines had no issue when running on an off track.
The Blue Grass Stakes, race 9 on the card, attracted twelve (12) runners and should be a good betting race because the Morning Line favorite #3 – Santiva, the top pick in GQ’s Derby Double Dozen published on February 10th, is a lukewarm 3-1 choice. Though I’m sticking with him as my Derby pick… for now, my opinion here is he will not win this race. My concern is why has Mike Smith who rode him in his last race (Risen Star @ FG) opted to stay in CA to ride instead of flying east for a chance at winning a $750k race? Add to my dismay that top Derby contender Dialed In’s regular jockey (Julien Leparoux) who will ride him in the Derby, picked up the mount on Sanitva. So if Santiva finishes at least 5th in the Blue Grass and continues onto the Kentucky Derby, who will ride him?
Add the fact the Keeneland surface is Poly-track, not natural dirt, which explains why 8 of the starters last race was on either turf or a synthetic surface. Turf runners tend to take to synthetic surfaces. Santiva did run second in a Grade 1 race at Keeneland last Fall, but only one Kentucky Derby winner (Street Sense) used a synthetic surface race as their final prep for the Derby. Hopefully there is a method to this madness surrounding Santiva’s journey to Churchill Downs for the first Saturday in May.
With 12 starters, one would think there should be no shortage of early speed but there is… as only #4 – Joes Blazing Aaron (12-1) has never seen the hind end of an opponent in his 2 lifetime turf races will be gunning early on as #6 – Sensational Slam (10-1) is the only runner I see willing to press the leader with Sanitva and 5 others willing to sit just off the lead. The biggest threats should come from stretch runners like #1 – Newsdad (20-1) who has run well going 9 furlongs in his last 2 races, #8 – Wilcox Inn (10-1) 3rd in the BC Juvenile Turf, #11 – Crimson China (10-1) who started his career in Great Britain and #12 – Queen’splatekitten (12-1) a fast maturing trainee of Todd Pletcher.
It’s nice to not like the M/L favorite, but one could make a case for any of the others to win this race. Settled on #8 – Wilcox Inn due to his 2 year old form and how his 3 year old debut (7½ furlongs on turf; Mar. 12th) served as a nice prep for going 9 furlongs here. Others to include in your exotics are #1 – Newsdad, #3 – Santiva, #4 – Joes Blazing Aaron, and #11 – Crimson China. A bold play would be to put Santiva in the 2nd or 3rd hole of a trifecta or superfecta which if you can fill-in the other spots with the correct horses, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.
The Arkansas Derby is the 11th race on the Oaklawn Park card featuring a full field of thirteen, with a coupled entry (#1 – Caleb’s Posse and #1A – Alternation) at 10-1. The 7-5 Morning Line favorite is the Bob Baffert trained #4 – The Factor, a speed merchant who had it all his way on the front end in his 6 length victory in the Rebel Stakes. This time he should get pressured to go a bit quicker early, from at least one of the two Todd Pletcher runners #5 – Brethren (10-1) and/or #8 – Dance City (15-1) as well as D. Wayne Lukas’ #12 – Saratoga Red (30-1).
If the early fractions resemble 23.20, 46.00 and 1:09.80, the first one under the wire will likely be in the back of the pack until the leaders enter the stretch. Candidates possessing a nice finishing kick are #1 – Nehro (5-1), #2 – Elite Alex (8-1), #6 – Sway Away (6-1), #11 – J W Blue (30-1) and #1A – Alternation. The 1 1/8 mile distance will really test The Factor’s questionable stamina bloodlines plus he’ll carry 5 lbs. more than he did in the Rebel while many of his rivals here drop a few pounds, which can be huge when going long.
Then there are the middle-of-the-pack runners. #1 – Caleb’s Posse, #7 – Truman’s Commander (30-1) fresh off his maiden win and makes first start for Nick Zito, #9 – Archarcharch (12-1) who was 3rd in the Rebel after winning the Southwest at 14-1, and #10 – J P’s Gusto (15-1) who has regressed in 2 starts since leaving the David Hofmans barn in southern CA. Strangely, 5 of the 13 starters will add Blinkers for this contest which could be a sign of the trainers desperately looking for an angle that might enhance their horses performance and propel them into the Kentucky Derby. Those runners are Elite Alex, Brethren, Sway Away, J P’s Gusto and J W Blue. Based on the A.M. work tab on these five, it appears that all have “stepped up their game” wearing Blinkers. Whether that translates in the afternoon is yet to be seen.
I’m torn between #2 – Elite Alex and #6 – Sway Away. “Alex” has been one of my Top 3 Derby contenders since early February, but has yet to fulfill his potential. Calvin Borel has stayed true to him while entertaining no other Derby wannabe’s. Sway Away disappointed big time in his re-match (Rebel) with The Factor, but has every reason to bounce back with a solid effort and has been working “lights out” at OP. Garrett Gomez won’t be riding him, but another CA jock (Patrick Valenzuela) picks up the mount, traveling from the West Coast to Arkansas just to ride in this race.
A jock coming in for just one race, albeit a $1,000,000 purse is the reason the selection here is #6 – Sway Away. If exotics tempt you, then consider using #3 – Elite Alex, #4 – The Factor, #2 – Nehro and #1A – Alternation.
As a side note, the races on Friday at Oaklawn Park were all won by runners either on or just off the lead and the race times were very fast, which (unfortunately) plays right into the hands of The Factor in the Arkansas Derby. I hate when track management feels it necessary to scrape the track surface in order to make it lightning fast. If this trend continues on Saturday, then my selection will be toast.
2011 Derby Prep race Scoreboard
Date Prep Race GQ’s Pick Order of Finish
Jan. 30th Holy Bull Dialed In Dialed In, Sweet Ducky, Gourmet Dinner
Feb. 5th Whirlaway Preachintothedevil Toby’sCorner,JJ’s Train,Preachintothedevil
Feb. 12th Sam F. Davis Beamer Brethren, Too Experience, Watch Me Go
Feb. 12th Robert B. Lewis Tapizar Anthony’s Cross, Riveting Reason, Quail Hill
Feb. 12th El Camino Real Positive Response Silver Medallion,Jakesam,PositiveResponse
Feb. 19th Risen Star Santiva MuchoMachoMan,Santiva,RogueRomance
Feb. 20th San Vicente Sway Away TheFactor,SwayAway,PremierPegasus
Feb. 26th Hutcheson Black N Beauty Flashpoint,TravelinMan,LittleDrama
Feb. 26th Fountain of Youth Bowman’s Causeway Soldat,GourmetDinner,ToHnrAndServe
Mar. 5th Gotham Stay Thirsty StayThirsty,NormanAsbjornson,TobyCorner
Mar. 12th Palm Beach (turf) Ari C JoesBlazingAaron,Queen’splatekitten,Newsdad
Mar. 12th Tampa Bay Derby Beamer WatchMeGo,CrismsonKnight,Brethren
Mar. 12th San Felipe Jaycito Premier Pegasus,Jaycito,Bench Points
Mar. 19th Rebel Sway Away The Factor,Caleb’s Posse, Archarcharch
Mar. 26th Vinery Farm Spiral Animal Kingdom AnimalKingdom,DeciMomnt,Twnspired
Mar. 26th Louisiana Derby Left PantsOnFire,Zehro,MuchoMachoMan
Mar. 26th Sunland Derby Astrology TwiceTheAppeal,Astrology,RulerOnIce
Apr. 3rd Florida Derby Dialed In Dialed In,Shackleford,ToHonorAndServe
Apr. 9th Wood Memorial Uncle Mo Toby’sCorner,,Arthur’sTale,,UncleMo
Apr. 9th Illinois Derby Sour Joe Vann,Zoebear,The Fed Eased
Apr. 9th Santa Anita Derby Mr. Commons MidnightInterlude,CommatotheTop,Mr.Commons
Apr. 16th Blue Grass Wilcox Inn
Apr. 16th Arkansas Derby Sway Away
Enjoy a great day of thoroughbred horse racing. Share the fun with a friend.
For Preakness information, go to www.preakness.com.