Brian’s Derby Preps: The Arkansas Derby

Oaklawn Park: The Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles

Horseplayer Now‘s Brian Nadeau previews this afternoon’s Florida Derby.

#1 Cozzetti: Romans charge enters off a closing third in the GII Tampa Bay Derby in his first try over a fast main track and drew well as he tackles by far the best toughest crew of his career. On paper it looks like he’ll get an honest pace set-up, as a few in here want to be involved early, so with his late running style, there’s a chance he could rally into the number at a big price; exotics potential.

#2 Stat: Pletcher colt looked good pressing the pace and then running off in a Gulfstream Park optional claimer last time and he projects as the inside speed in his two-turn debut today. Son of Unbridled’s Song is undefeated in his two starts over a fast main track and has a lot of upside, but beating seasoned stakes runners all while making your first start at two turns seems like it’s asking an awful lot; talented, but playing against.

#3 Najjaar: Made up a ton of ground in the local GII Rebel behind a few of these, but at no point was he any threat, so he’ll need to step forward once again to factor. On the plus side, he’s two-for-three locally, so you know he likes the strip, and he’ll get honest splits to rally into, which aids his chances as well. As a son of Belmont winner Jazil, he should like the added ground and will no doubt be closing again, but predicting anything more than a minor award seems a bit ambitious; using only on the bottom rung of the exotics.

#4 Jake Mo: Hard-nosed colt has been a fringe player in all the local preps for this and basically ran in place en route to a fourth in the Rebel, so he’s going to need a strong push forward to better that run. Versatile sort drew well and he’s by Derby winner Giacomo, so the trip won’t be an issue, but up to this point he’s just not making the right kind of dent when the real running begins; needs softer.

#5 Secret Circle: Won the local GIII Southwest in fast time, then was all out to hold on late in the Rebel, so as talented as he is, you have to start to wonder if the added furlongs are beginning to catch up with him. Still, there’s something to be said about a five-for-six runner that is perfect in two local starts and has answered every question that Baffert has asked of him. Versatile sort can either be right on the pace or just off it; he figures to make his move off the far turn and try and kick clear late, and that’s a style that’s gotten him his picture taken in every start but one; clearly the one they all have to beat.

#6 Isn’t He Clever: Under-the-radar son of Derby winner Smarty Jones looked like a winner in the GIII Sunland Derby when he burst clear in midstretch but was reeled in late, though he gets some bonus points as that heat was at today’s 9F’s. And while he didn’t win, it was a real breakthrough run as he made a middle move into a hot pace, opened up and was run down nearing the line by deep closer Daddy Nose Best. Blinkers come off today to get him to relax a bit more, and that’s not a bad thing, as it will leave him with some stretch stamina, so if Albarado can time that burst a bit better, he’ll be a real handful in the lane; gets the call to pull the mild surprise.

#7 Optimizer: Lukas colt gave Secret Circle a big scare in the lane in the Rebel when he rallied wide and came flying to just miss in what was by far his best effort on the main track. The question is, where did that run come from? He was 27-1 for a reason that day, as his prior four main track runs were modest at best, so was his last an aberration or a sign of things to come? The good news is that he figures to get another solid pace to rally into; on paper the extra half-furlong should only help; and when D. Wayne gets them going good, they usually stay that way. So, if you believe in his last, then you’re getting a good price on a horse who just might be set to run a lifetime best for the best Triple Crown trainer in the sport’s history; won’t fault anyone looking this way.

#8 Atigun: McPeek runner adds Lasix off an 11th-place finish in the Rebel, and up to this point he’s never run a race remotely close enough to compete with this type. That last run did come off a layoff and he does own a local win, but the positives stop there for a colt that seems extremely outgunned; longshot.

#9 Sabercat: Well regarded 2yo ran a stinker when eighth in the Rebel in his 3yo bow, so you wonder if that resounding win last year in the GIII Delta Jackpot was a bit fluky due to the hot early pace. Still, the Rebel was his first start in four months, so he has to move forward and be much tighter today, right? And if you still believe, then you’re going to get a big number on a colt that has shown the ability to settle early and pass horses in the stretch, which seems like the blueprint for success today; not impossible at an overlaid price.

#10 Raconteur: The second from Pletcher steps way up after a slow win in the one-turn Private Terms at Laurel and got no help from the draw, either, so needless to say, he’s got his work cut out for him. Son of A.P. Indy was seventh over a tricky track in Aqueduct’s GIII Gotham, and this field is much deeper than that one, so even Pletcher fans will have a hard time playing this dude; tough to tout.

#11 Bodemeister: The ML favorite gives Baffert a strong 1-2 punch as this lightly raced son of Belmont winner Empire Maker has showed immense talent in just three career starts. Exits a fast second in Santa Anita’s GII San Felipe to hotshot Creative Cause, though that runner did regress in last week’s GI Santa Anita Derby, so take that for what it’s worth. Owns a ton of speed but blinkers come off today, so he could settle a bit early on, which in theory is good but in reality might have him extremely wide into the first turn from this poor draw. Up to this point, his two two-turn races are simply better than what the rest have done, but with an equipment change and poor post, not to mention a running style that might not play out too well today, you’re allowed to try and beat this potential star at an extremely underlaid price; playing against.

Selections:

#6 Isn’t He Clever

#7 Optimizer

#9 Sabercat

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