Oaklawn Park: The Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 100-50-20-10)
#1 The Truth Or Else (15-1): McPeek charge took a step back last time when fourth behind today’s imposing favorite American Pharoah in the local GII Rebel after a fine second in his seasonal debut in the GIII Southwest here in February, so what you get today is anyone’s guess. Son of sprinter Yes It’s True has been stretching his pedigree already, so getting nine furlongs seems like a mighty tall order, though this post and the fact that the blinkers go on both work in his favor. If he can get back to the Southwest run, he’s an exotics player from off the pace, but the regression he showed last time makes you wonder if the Southwest was more the exception than the rule; underneath, if at all.
#2 Mr. Z (10-1): The first of two for owner Zayat has danced a lot of dances for Lukas this year and you wonder if it’s catching up to him, as he was last of nine in Fair Grounds’ GII Louisiana Derby two weeks ago after hitting the board in his last four stakes tries. Malibu Moon colt puts the blinkers back on, so fans can point to that as a reason he didn’t fire last time, plus he was third in both the Smarty Jones and GIII Southwest over the track prior to the La. Derby flop, so he’s getting back to a surface he’s had success over. Fans of his Hall of Fame trainer will get their guy at a big price, and he’s been known to blow up the tote in some spots like this before, but it’s tough to think this colt does much more than pop and stop based on his last; know him early, not sure about late.
#3 Bridget’s Big Luvy (20-1): Laurel invader enters off a sharp wire job in the Private Terms when he cleared early and never looked back in the mud, though he did set pedestrian fractions that day, so making the point with today’s heavy favorite entered won’t be easy. Though while the mud and clear lead may have helped last time, that was also his first start in blinkers and around two turns for Englehart, and it’s safe to say this is what this son of Tiznow wanted to do all along. Of course, he’s got to prove it again, in a GI, over a new track while meeting the potential Kentucky Derby favorite, so with a muddled pace scenario that may hinder his chances, he’s tough to love; willing to make him prove it.
#4 Madefromlucky (6-1): Logical exotics candidate had the “someone had to be second” label to him when he completed the exacta behind ‘Pharoah in the Rebel in what was his stakes debut, so while there’s plenty of room for improvement, it’s tough to think that he can make up the 6 1/4 lengths he was beaten that day. Lookin At Lucky colt is bred to relish the extra half-furlong he gets today and should trip out nicely just off the favorite, while getting first run on probably second-choice Far Right off the turn, which gives him a big edge tactically speaking. On the face of it, he’s far, far behind the chalk, but in terms of race flow he seemingly gets all the best of it for Pletcher, who has picked his spots nicely with this colt and once again has him in line to pick up a big check; second best again.
#5 Bold Conquest (20-1): Stretch-runner had no chance when third in the Rebel as they walked on the lead in the slop, which really diluted his late run for Asmussen, so he would relish a hot and contested pace today. On paper the splits don’t look supersonic, but they should be much quicker than the plow horse fractions he got last time, which means he’ll be winding up off the far turn against a few that could be wobbling from the effects of the pace. Son of Curlin is another who should like the added ground he gets, and he’s paired up figures in his two starts this year, which is often a sign a breakthrough is coming, but until he shows it in the afternoon, he’s nothing more than a fringe exotics player; limiting to the bottom of the exotics.
#6 American Pharoah (1-2): Aforementioned heavy chalk returned from a minor injury to absolutely demolish the Rebel after walking on the lead early and then cruising home late for Baffert, who has had these Oaklawn stakes over a barrel the last several years. Pioneerof the Nile homebred picked up where left off for Zayat after a pair of wire-to-wire GI wins last year and seemingly has few, if any, chinks in his armor and deserves to be every bit of 1-5 in a race that lacks any star power whatsoever. If you want to nitpick, then you can say that he’s never passed a horse in his life in three dirt starts, but with nothing but cheap speed to his inside, he’s probably making the engine again today, and with slow stalker/closers behind him, it’s tough to think it matters how fast he has to run to get there. It’s also scary to think that the Rebel was his first start since September, off a minor foot injury, too, so if he won that in a canter by 6 1/4, what’s he going to do today with a tightener behind him, against a field that is filled with many of the same protagonists that he just drilled last time? $2.40 would be an overlay.
#7 Far Right (9-2): The most logical usurper to ‘Pharoah’s throne looked good closing stoutly from the back to win both the Smarty Jones and Southwest and enters this fresh by design, as he skipped the Rebel to point for today’s showcase. Stretch-running son of Notional got all the best of it in those two starts; however, as he got fast and contested splits and was able to rally up the fence while others were spun wide, which surely aided his cause. Moquett has done a nice job picking his spots, and this horse should like the distance today; he would benefit if a few of these try to tackle the chalk early, as that would only hurt their chances late, but when you spot them all open lengths and need a clear run to get to them, it’s not a great recipe for success; trying to get him out of the chalky exacta.
#8 Win the Space (30-1): Lightly raced maiden from California will have his work cut out for him, as no one is going to be impressed by his pair of third-place finishes in those Santa Anita sprints for Papaprodromou. At least as a son of Pulpit he’s eligible to move up going two turns, and the blinkers off will help him settle a bit more, but from a wide draw against some proven stakes performers, he’s out of his element here. This barn has upset the apple cart before, and, let’s be honest, this is as weak a GI as you’ll ever find aside from the big dog, but this isn’t exactly the right spot to break through; easy toss.
#6 American Pharoah
#7 Far Right
#5 Bold Conquest