Brian’s Derby Preps: The Arkansas Derby

Oaklawn Park: The Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/18 miles

#2 Nehro (5-2): Surprised many with a fine second at big odds in the GII Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and now tries to prove that wasn’t a fluke while securing some important graded earnings for the Derby. No knock on his last run, but the top three finishers ran around the track together chasing a 99-1, so it looks like the front-runners were flattered, and today the pace is much quicker; siding against.

#3 Elite Alex (8-1): “Finally!” That’s what his legions of fans are saying after the blinkers go on and trainer Ritchey has told jockey Borel that this colt does in fact have an abundance of tactical speed. It’s a testament to his quality that he’s run so well from out the back in his last two preps and with the hood added today, he should be that much closer to The Factor early, which means he’ll be in a good spot turning for home. Served notice with that awesome drill over the track 4/6 and don’t forget, he needs to run at least second to get into the big dance at Churchill next month, so you know darn well the screws are tightened for today; finally gets over the hump.

#4 The Factor (7-5): Freakishly fast colt has done nothing wrong this year and that included a powerful local win in the GII Rebel against many he meets again here. Never been opposed on the lead and while no one figures to make the front over him today, there is a lot of other speed entered, so who knows if he can ration things out a bit if pressured early. Respecting his talent and his speed, but this will be the toughest test to date at an unknown distance, all at a very unappetizing price; trying to beat him on top.

#5 Brethren (10-1): The bloom came off the rose mighty fast in the GIII Tampa Bay Derby when he was a bad third with no excuse. Pletcher adds the blinkers today, but not sure that’s a good move here with all the other speed entered. Let’s face it, if he weren’t Super Saver’s little brother he’d be about 50-1, but instead you’ll be lucky to get 12-1 on a horse that has never run fast enough to win even a N1X against good company; longshot.

#6 Sway Away (6-1): Liked his chances in the Rebel, but he lost his race at the start after a bad break (where he chipped a tooth on the starting gate) and things got worse from there when he ran into tons of trouble. Actually rallied nicely to finish a well-beaten sixth and now the blinks go on today, which is an odd move after just one bad race where it wasn’t even his fault. Expecting a rebound but not one that will net him all the marbles; playing underneath.

#1 Caleb’s Posse (10-1): Surprising second in the Rebel after making a wide run from midpack, and he continues to outrun his sprinter’s pedigree. Things get a lot tougher today and he’s got an extra bit of ground to deal with, so you have to wonder if he can keep answering the bell every time; the price will be there again if you’re a believer.

#7 Truman’s Commander (30-1): Sharp maiden winner over the track has since been purchased by LaPenta and transferred to Zito’s care, so at least they thought a lot of his win. To say this is a step up in class is an understatement, and while it looks like he’s a comer, this isn’t the spot to prove it; not today.

#1A Alternation (10-1): Coupled with ‘Caleb’s and he enters off three straight wins, including two over the track, and is 3-for-3 since getting to go two turns. He’s got a nice stalking style to take advantage of the fast splits he’ll see here, but this is his first start in a stakes and things won’t be easy; adds depth to the entry but a minor award might be his ceiling.

#8 Dance City (15-1): Broke his maiden going this distance at GP in January in the slop and then won a 1-mile N1X there in March. Brings a ton of speed to the party, and you could see him lapping right onto the flank of The Factor early and really softening that guy up for the stretch, which helps the rest but does nothing for his own chances; stop and pop seems likely.

#9 Archarcharch (12-1): Annexed the local GIII Southwest and then was a decent third in the Rebel while racing close up early. Should be better suited to drop back and make a run like he did in the Southwest, and with snappy splits expected today, he should fall back into that trip and have a chance to do some damage; contender, though others rank higher.

#10 J P’s Gusto (15-1): Regressed a ton in the Rebel after running a fine second in the Southwest, so now the blinkers go on in an effort to regain some early focus. Another who has a ton of tactical speed and there’s a chance the hood gets him keyed up early and pressing the issue, but other than that, he’s an outsider; passing.

#11 J W Blue (30-1): Fifth in the Rebel in his first stakes start and now blinkers go on to try and get a bit more tactical speed from this closer. He seems to have some talent, but this is just way too much too soon; longshot.

#12 Saratoga Red (30-1): No one is mentioning it, but this colt ran huge in the Rebel, all things considered. Think about it: in his second lifetime start, first against winners, and in a stakes, he chased The Factor early, lost contact entering the far turn, but held nicely and finished fourth and ahead of several highly regarded runners. Doesn’t he have to improve off that run? Drew well today and with his tactical speed, he should get a good position early, and it’s also quite likely he won’t have to do the dirty work chasing The Factor for the first half-mile; if you’re looking for a big upset, you’re probably shopping here.

Selections:

#3 Elite Alex

#4 The Factor

#12 Saratoga Red

4 thoughts on “Brian’s Derby Preps: The Arkansas Derby

  1. I agree Brian. I like Elite Alex, and the blinkers move caused an immediate response and Ritchey was thrilled. I will use Elite on top, over Sway Away, The Factor, and Alternation. Good Luck.

  2. Something I have since become aware of, is Sway Away lost several teeth when he hit the starting gate in the Rebel coming out of it. It could not have been an easy race for him. For that reason, I have re-adjusted my play to put both, Elite Alex and Sway Away on top of the rest. Both are by Afleet Alex, and both would need to finish either 1st or 2nd to have enough graded stakes earnings to make it into the Kentucky Derby this year. Nothing else will do. It’s crunch time. Again, Good Luck to all!

    One more item, I’m backing Commander in the Northern Spur Stakes (9th Race at Oaklawn Saturday), who Larry Jones has described ‘as having one of the fluid strides that he has ever seen, a thing of beauty.’

  3. Good luck August! I did note the tooth issue above on Sway Away and I agree, it had to be a hindrance. And I thought he actually ran well with the trouble, slow break, rankness into the first turn, etc. MY only worry is about him adding blinkers…he was such a touted horse and ran so huge in the San Vicente but now, after one bad race where he had troubled and some bad circumstances, the blinkers go on? Odd.

    My worry on Elite Alex, as much as I like him today, is that he’s going to get hammered at the windows again. For a horse that really has done nothing of any significance he gets bet off the board an awful lot. I’d take 6-1 today, but the truth of it is that anything less is a huge underlay.

    Good luck!

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