California Chrome’s win in the Santa Anita Derby last weekend solidified John Perotti’s spot at the top of our Derby charity league standings; Adam Wiener, one of only two players with Wicked Strong in his stable, made a strong late run to move into second place. This weekend offers 340 points to both horses and humans. As always, Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now offers his analysis. Good luck and safe trips to all!
Oaklawn Park: The Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles
#1 Danza: The first of two from Pletcher certainly has his work cut out for him, as he picks a mighty ambitious spot to make his graded stakes debut, especially since he’s run just once this year. Son of Street Boss was a flat third in a Gulfstream Park optional claimer last month, in what was his first start since a fast closing third in the GII Saratoga Special in August, so you have to think he’ll move forward today. Tactical sort should be close early and did draw well, but this just seems like it’s asking way too much, too soon; tabbing for down the road.
#2 Knock Em Flat: Von Hemel speedster is also cross-entered in the Northern Spur on the undercard and would be a much better fit there, as he just broke his maiden in the slop over the track and would be looking up at most of these on the class scale. Son of Flatter has certainly come to hand in his last two and at the very least would be a pace presence here, but like his buddy next door, this is one heck of a spot to introduce yourself at the graded stakes party; pop and stop seems likely. [The DRF’s Mary Rampellini reported yesterday that Knock Em Flat will run in the Northern Spur.]
#3 Tapiture: Heavy hitter took the worst of it in the local prep, the GII Rebel, when he was sandwiched off the turn and was a hard luck second, but he showed in his local GIII Southwest romp that he’s a major player in the division. Tapit colt figures to trip out beautifully just off the speed and rates as one of the few horses here who has shown he can pass runners in the stretch, which will come in handy late. Asmussen charge has done little wrong to date, makes the third start of his form cycle and seemingly gets all the best of it in terms of race flow; looms the one to deny.
#4 Ride On Curlin: Tricky read was third in a roughly run Rebel after dueling on the inside of fellow rival Strong Mandate, and to his credit, he didn’t let that runner past him before losing the war late. Beautifully bred son of Curlin stepped way up last time, so you wonder if a bounce is coming or if it was simply a case of relishing the moisture in the track, though either way he seems destined to regress, especially since the pace figures a lot hotter today. The most experienced member of the field would be a nice story for a relatively unknown Gowan barn, but others rank higher; midpack finish seems likely.
#5 Thundergram: The longest shot on the board adds blinkers for Casse after just missing in the slop in an optional claimer over the track last month and looks way out of his element today. If you’re looking for positives, then dad Graeme Hall did win this race a few years back for Pletcher, but that’s about all that’s going for a colt who is every bit of 50-1 in this razor sharp GI; easy toss.
#6 Commissioner: Pletcher’s second runner has much better credentials than his stablemate but is another who must bridge the gap to the GI ranks after disappointing in two stakes starts this year. A.P. Indy homebred looked good winning his seasonal debut in a salty GP optional claimer in January, then bombed in their GII Fountain of Youth a month later, but did wake up a bit when third with blinkers on in the GIII Sunland Derby last time, so it’s possible he’s going good again. Of course, he had the “someone had to be third” look to him last time, which doesn’t exactly prove a ringing endorsement for his chances today. On paper he should sit the right kind of trip in a race loaded with speed, and Pletcher did upset this race last year with Overanalyze, but winning and running in the money are completely different; using underneath, if at all.
#7 Conquest Titan: Casse’s more accomplished entrant heads to Arkansas after running a closing second in the GII Holy Bull at GP and fourth in the GII Tampa Bay Derby and rates a longshot look if for no other reason than the race flow today. Well-bred son of Birdstone should relish the added distance and will certainly love all the speed he gets to fire at, in what will be his third start of the year. On the face of it, he’s not good enough or fast enough, but if they go crazy early and stumble home late, he might be the one to pick up a bunch of pieces; worth a look at a big price.
#8 Bayern: The wildcard goes for a Baffert barn that has made a habit of invading—and winning—these OP stakes, and there’s little doubt this son of Offlee Wild could add to the haul, as he’s won his two starts at Santa Anita by a combined 18 1/4 lengths. Of course, he makes his graded stakes debut today, missed the GII San Felipe at SA last month with a foot bruise and could get caught up in the expected hot pace, so the hurdles are hardly insignificant. Huge talent drew off by 15 in his lone two-turn start and drew the perfect attack post today, which should have him in the clear and pressing the early splits, and you have to think it’s all systems go today, as Baffert wouldn’t ship unless this dude was 100%, which means the rest better have their running shoes on; look out.
#9 Strong Mandate: GI winning 2-year-old has disappointed in both sophomore starts, running a distant second to Tapiture in the Southwest and a meek fourth in the Rebel after pressing the issue from the outside. Blueblooded son of Tiznow should benefit from Saez getting aboard today, as Rosario gave him two very questionable rides this year, but he also wasn’t winning regardless, so where he stands with a group like this is a real question mark. Tactical sort should love the extra half furlong he gets to work with today, but this draw is an issue, as he might be hung four- or five-wide into the first turn, unless they take back and hope he can make a run late, something he’s never been asked to do. If you still believe, you’ll get a great price on a horse who has improved his figures in both starts this year and goes for the Hall of Famer Lukas, but it’s tough to think he can hit the line first after what he’s shown in his two starts this year; best to make him prove it.
#9 Strong Mandate