Gemologist had a really nice victory last week (watch), holding off a late challenge by Alpha to win the Wood Memorial Stakes. What I really liked about the colt’s race was that he had settled into a nice lead in the stretch, but was able to kick into another gear when Alpha came up late. That type of resiliency could be huge in the Kentucky Derby.
In the Santa Anita Derby, I’ll Have Another nipped Creative Cause by a nose (watch). This was a heck of a battle in the stretch, and the rematch between these two colts in the Kentucky Derby should be interesting to watch — both will be top contenders on May 5. Blueskiesnrainbows surprised many by leading for nearly the entire race and finishing third.
On to this week’s races. The Kentucky Derby field will pretty fall into place after this weekend:
Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 1, Keeneland, 3 year olds, 1⅟8 miles , Saturday 6:18 PM EST)
The overwhelming morning line favorite in this race is Hansen (6-5), who is 4-1-0 in five career starts, including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He has experience on synthetic surfaces like the one at Keeneland, winning twice on synthetic as a two-year-old. In March’s Gotham Stakes, he showed he can sit off the pace, which he will need to win at this distance. Heavy Breathing (12-1) has won at this distance, but looked poor in his only start on synthetic. Prospective (10-1) has looked great on synthetic in his career and has been much improved since the addition of blinkers. Dullahan’s (6-1) only career victory was here at Keeneland; look for him to make a late run from far back. Howe Great (6-1), trained by Graham Motion for Team Valor, will likely help set the early pace, but is carrying his heaviest weight assignment ever. Ever So Lucky (12-1) has finished in the money in all of his career starts, and has faced some tough competition in those races (including a loss to Gemologist). He’s had strong workout lately and figures to be a factor. Hero of Order (12-1), the winner of that shocking upset in the Louisiana Derby, is a total wild card here. We are going to learn if his only career win was a fluke or not.
Prediction: I smell an upset of Hansen. Part of me wants to pick Dullahan, but I haven’t liked how deep closers have looked on synthetic this year, so I’m going with Prospective.
Arkansas Derby (Grade 1, Oaklawn Park, 3 year olds, 1⅟8 miles , Saturday 6:45 PM EST)
The two biggest contender for the Arkansas Derby are both trained by Bob Baffert: Secret Circle (5-2) and Bodemeister (9-5). Bodemeister has put up huge 101 Beyer figures in his last two races, but distance has always been a concern with this colt, and starting all the way outside at the 11 post position is not going to alleviate those concerns. He’s racing without blinkers for the first time today, which is a high-percentage move for Baffert (wins 38% of the time). Secret Circle has improved consistently throughout his career, and is the one to beat. He has bad habit of drifting in the stretch. Two others to watch out for are Isn’t He Clever (6-1) and Optimizer (6-1). Isn’t He Clever got run down in the stretch last time out, but will be running without blinkers at Oaklawn, which may help. Optimozer has shown some late speed which may get him into the money.
Prediction: I like Isn’t He Clever to hold off Secret Circle.
Where To Watch: Both of these races will air on CNBC starting at 6:00 on Saturday.
What’s Ahead: Next Friday I’ll be previewing the Grade 2 Jerome and the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington, which are basically the final two realistic chances to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. No column on April 27 because the Derby Trial Stakes hasn’t been relevant in decades — no modern horse is going to be a factor in the Derby on less than a week’s rest (also I’ll be a bit busy getting married that week). Then, I’ll be back the first week of May with blowout coverage of the event everyone’s been waiting for: the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby. Look for previews of the Kentucky Oaks and relevant undercard races, a horse-by-horse breakdown of the Derby field, and predictions from the entire Sports Dump team.