Oaklawn may not have gotten Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra Friday in the Apple Blossom, but they did get a pretty solid renewal of the Arkansas Derby. The newly minted Grade I has a trio of top Kentucky Derby contenders in Rule, Noble’s Prospect and Dublin, and there are some decent new shooters looking to make the jump into contention as well. Let’s take a look.
Oaklawn Park: The Grade I, $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles
1. Super Saver: You kind of got the feeling that this colt was vulnerable in the TB Derby, and it proved to be the case when he tired late after being pressured on the lead. That was his first start of the year, so it was somewhat to be expected, but winner Odysseus was under a drive for six furlongs, and Schoolyard Dreams came back to disappoint in last weekend’s Wood, so not sure how tough that race really was. And even before that run, there were some delays and bad vibes about his 3yo campaign, so you just have to wonder if they are still trying to play catch-up. Drew the rail here and there’s plenty of other speed signed on, so it’s going to be tough to shake them all off and then fend off the closers at this 9F trip; siding against the extremely vulnerable chalk.
2. Dublin: As we’ll point out in a bit, jockey Nakatani hasn’t had a very good spring riding some nice 3yo prospects. For some reason he had this guy four-wide the entire way in the Rebel before making a premature move on the turn. Predictably, this colt tired and was beaten by a few nice prospects, including neighbor Noble’s Prospect. Thompson back aboard today and if he reverts to his closing second in the Southwest, which marked his seasonal debut, then he can win this for sure. Plenty of speed to track and a patient ride might bring out his best; expecting a huge run from the top choice.
3. Noble’s Promise: That was some return in the Rebel, when he made the lead late only to be nailed on the line by Derby contender Lookin At Lucky. And don’t forget: that was his first start of the year and first start on dirt. Can he do it again? Well, 9F’s figures to be stretching his pedigree mighty thin and that was a gut-wrenching return, so you have to think about the dreaded bounce today. Has the tactical speed to sit a dream trip and get the jump on the closers, so there’s little doubt that he’ll be in the right place turning for home; major player and the horse to beat.
4. Northern Giant: Late addition to the field has done some good things since the switch to two turns, and he’s got a nice stalking gear to ensure a dream trip. Enters off a fine second in the GII Lane’s End over the Polytrack, but this is clearly the toughest test of his career. Lukas wouldn’t bring him here if he weren’t going great guns, and it’s nice to see that big romp over the track as well. If there’s a true 9F horse in the race, you’re looking at him, and he’ll be a much better price than the three favorites to his inside; can’t fault anyone looking this way in the search for value.
5. Uh Oh Bango: Decent 3yo debut in the Rebel when he dueled on the lead and tired late behind the big three. He was only beaten 6 ¾ lengths that day and you know he needed the race, so improvement seems likely. The question is whether or not it will be enough, because aside from that second to Rule over the sloppy Delta surface last fall, he’s never run very fast going two turns. Look for him early, just not sure about late; passing.
6. New Madrid: Easy to root for this guy as he’s trained by Tim Ice, who did such great work last year with Summer Bird. And it’s worth noting that that aforementioned runner ran third at a huge price in this race fresh off a maiden win, just like this son of Rock Hard Ten. Should be up close early and he has a nice attack post, but this is a rock-solid field that has some big ideas three weeks from now; not expecting him to make an impact.
7. Berberis: A bit like New Madrid in that he’s run three career times and enters off a two-turn maiden win. And much like his friend next door, he’s really up against it in terms of seasoning and speed figures. Respect Asmussen immensely but this is a mighty tall task; longshot.
8. Line Of David: The lone West Coast invader tries dirt for the first time, and with his high cruising speed, he should be involved from the get-go. Sadler has been hot this spring and he’ll bring a major contender in Sidney’s Candy to CD, so he clearly knows how to handle a talented 3yo. Nice to see him reach out for Court, a top local rider, and this colt is two-for-two since blinkers were added. Hard to envision him winning this, but with his speed they’ll know he was in there; passing today, but worth monitoring down the road.
9. Pulsion: That must have been some fire Nakatani was chasing in the Florida Derby because he had this stone-cold closer dueling through insane splits on the inside of heavy favorite Rule. Simply no idea what he was doing that day, but it’s a credit to this colt’s talent that he was beaten only seven lengths after being taken completely his element. The blinkers come off today in an effort to get him to settle, and with this outside draw and all the speed to his inside, it seems like a good strategy. The only issue is whether he’s good enough to take advantage of the race flow. Last fall he looked like a real comer, but this winter he hasn’t bridged the gap, so up to this point the answer would be “no.” Still, you’ll get a nice price to find out, and even though he was soundly beaten in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, it’s not like his figures put him too far behind the best of this group; worth using on top as a saver.
3. Noble’s Promise
4. Northern Giant