Oaklawn Park: The Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles
#1 Carve: Local two-time route winner tries again after he was sixth, beaten nine lengths, when breaking from the rail in the local prep, the GII Rebel in March, and will need to hurry to factor today. If you’re looking for positives, it is nice to see Asmussen wheel this son of First Samurai right back after a modest run, and if you watch the replay, he did make a decent little middle move before flattening out, but this is asking a lot; likely needs softer to threaten.#2 War Academy: The first of two from Baffert might very well go favored off a rousing and highly publicized optional claiming win at Santa Anita in what was his two-turn debut, and he’s one of many in here seeking some Derby points. So the real question is, where do you stand? If you like this son of Giant’s Causeway, you’re saying this isn’t that tough a field and he’s as fast as anyone, while if you’re against him, you’re saying sure, he ran fast last time, but he beat only three rivals and the waters get much deeper, all at an underlaid price. There’s no doubt he’s getting good at the right time and drew perfectly as well, so you better respect him from close range; huge chance.
#3 Divine Ambition: Potential pace player (he’s also cross-entered in the Blue Grass) gave up a two-length lead late in the minor Rushaway over the Turfway Park Polytrack in March and could project as the inside speed if he goes here. Son of Divine Park’s lone two-turn run on dirt was a dismal and well-beaten sixth in the GIII Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in February behind fellow rival Falling Sky, who won’t even be among the favorites today, so that means this colt is in too tough; pop and stop seems likely.
#4 Falling Sky: Aforementioned Davis winner wired them that day at Tampa, then made the front before tiring to finish third behind the undefeated GI Wood Memorial winner Verrazano in the GII Tampa Bay Derby there in March and figures to be part of the pace picture today. Son of Lion Heart has done little wrong in two starts for Terranova this year and should trip out very nicely from close range, but when push comes to shove, you have to believe he’ll be the one blinking; minor award may be his ceiling.
#5 Den Legacy: The second from Baffert is the type of horse everyone wants in his barn, as he just goes out there and runs his race every time, be it on turf, dirt or synthetic. The problem is, he usually finds one or two better, as he has in all three graded stakes dirt runs this year, including when he was third, beaten two lengths to fellow rival Oxbow in the Rebel. Tactical son of Medaglia D’Oro should sit the right up-close stalking trip, and he drew well but needs to find a new gear through the lane to annex one of these big ones and he hasn’t made the breakthrough yet; keying underneath, if at all.
#6 Heaven’s Runway: Speedy longshot was a well-beaten third in the local GIII Southwest in February but might be able to make the front today, as he’s shown to be faster than both Divine Ambition and Falling Sky early. Son of the pure sprinter Run Away And Hide has given up ground in the stretch in every race on dirt, has yet to win over that surface or past 6 ½ furlongs and looks like nothing more than a pace casualty; here’s hoping he gets home safely.
#7 Texas Bling: The most experienced member of the field has started 13 times, and while he’ll get overlooked here, his three two-turn races on dry land on the dirt have been pretty sharp, including his fourth in the Rebel, where he was beaten five lengths. Son of Too Much Bling has shown a lot of versatility of late, and he figures to be sitting midpack while looking to launch a run off the far turn at a distance that might hit him right between the eyes. On paper he’s got to bridge a five-length gap to fellow rival Oxbow, but with that runner marooned outside and already looking good in terms of Derby points, there’s a chance he’s not fully cranked, which means this colt is a mighty live longshot; bombs away at a big, big number.
#8 Frac Daddy: Highly touted 2yo has been a major disappointment in a pair of starts this year for McPeek and now wheels right back after being beaten 18 lengths in Gulfstream Park’s GI Florida Derby two weeks ago, so this seems like a mighty ambitious move. If you look at his pair of Churchill Downs two-turn races to end his juvenile season, including a fine second, beaten a neck in the GII Jockey Club, he fits here, but that seems like three decades ago in light of those two terrible GP runs; not seeing it.
#9 Overanalyze: Son of Dixie Union won Aqueduct’s GII Remsen in November but disappointed in his 3yo bow when he was a meek fifth in the GIII Gotham there over the inner track and will look to pick up some much needed Derby points today. Pletcher trainee could be given a pass for that run, as he caught the undefeated Vyjack, who was a fine third in the GI Wood, but there was very little other quality in the race, so you wonder if he’s as good as that win last year suggests. Quite capable of moving forward today, and we know there’s not much in here, but off that modest return, he’s tough to love at false odds from a wide draw; making him prove it.
#10 Oxbow: Snake-bitten Lukas runner can’t seem to find an inside post, as for the third consecutive race he drew the 10-hole, while is likely to produce another wide trip like he endured when fourth in Fair Grounds’ GII Risen Star in February and second in the Rebel. Of course, he’s also shown he’ll deal with whatever gets sent his way, as he was beaten a half-length and neck in those two contests while showing strong middle moves in both. The Coach’s old buddy Stevens rides today (insert your best ‘What year is it?’ joke here), and he’s likely getting on the best horse, but this draw just did him no favors, once again. Son of Awesome Again has a brilliant three-furlong move in him if it’s timed just right, and Stevens might be the one to do it, but once again he’s taking all the worst of it while eyeing a bigger prize in three weeks as well; second-best, maybe just for today.
#7 Texas Bling
#2 War Academy