by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Oaklawn Park: The GI, $1 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 100-40-20-10)
#1 Discreetness (20-1): Deep closer didn’t make any headway behind many of these when seventh in both of the two local graded stakes, the GIII Southwest in February and GII Rebel in March, so it’s tough to think he can make a late dent here, even with a bit more ground to work with. Son of Discreet Cat did win the Smarty Jones from close range here in January for Fires, so it’s not like he needs to drop out the back, but against better competition in his last two, he’s shown he just can’t keep up early. The pace doesn’t look too hot, so while he did draw well, it looks like he needs a lot softer to threaten; can’t see it.
#2 Cutacorner (50-1): Huge longshot was a spot behind Discreetness when eighth in the Rebel, and if that colt next door isn’t a threat here, that doesn’t bode well for this son of Even the Score’s chances. Van Berg has quieted in the last few months after a white-hot start to the meet and, judging by the ninth-place run in the Southwest, it’s pretty obvious that this colt isn’t going to get the barn untracked any time soon. Stretch-runner drew well and will save some ground but won’t be passing many, if any, in the lane; easy toss.
#3 Creator (10-1): Improving runner is the first of three sons of Tapit in here and he did well to close from way back to be third in the Rebel behind today’s heavy favorite Cupid. Asmussen charge has come to hand at the meet, and don’t sleep on the fact that the Rebel was his first start against winners after a rousing local MSW win two back, so to be a good third speaks volumes of his talent and just how far he’s come. Of course, getting close to the big horse and passing him are two entirely different things, especially when the pace doesn’t look as hot today as it was last time, so unless he finds some more early speed or they go ballistic up front, he seems destined to be a supporting actor once again; underneath only.
#4 Suddenbreakingnews (5-1): Tricky read looked good winning the Southwest for fun two back, then couldn’t follow it up when a modest fifth in the Rebel, though he did have a lot of trouble while trying to rally from far back. And while that style worked for this son of Mineshaft in the Southwest, we have seen time and again this spring that when you have to pass the entire field, it’s just asking for trouble (just ask Mo Tom), so he’s a dicey proposition at best. Von Hemel has done a nice job bringing him through the ranks and he’ll no doubt be passing horses in the lane, but with a slower pace than he needs, it’s tough to envision anything more than a minor award; playing against in all the slots.
#5 American Pioneer (8-1): Lightly raced newcomer would be a huge underlay at 8-1 off a local MSW win last time, in what was just his second start of his career, as this is a seismic step up in class. Well-bred son of Awesome Again gets the acid test and is thrown right into the fire by Catalano, and while there’s obviously a lot of talent here, this is a mighty ambitious ask for a horse that was an unraced maiden in mid-January. Tactical sort should trip out nicely just off the lead, which is where you want to be, but it’s tough to think that he makes any real waves against some of these seasoned sophomores when the real running begins; way too much, way too soon.
#6 Unbridled Outlaw (10-1): Speedy son of Unbridled’s Song has been on or just off the lead in his last two starts for Romans and could be your pacesetter here, especially since there’s not a ton of zip to his inside. Intriguing runner improved in a big way when he was second in an optional claimer here last month, in what was his seasonal debut, and with his trainer coming off a big weekend at Keeneland, where Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine ran 1-3 in the GI Blue Grass, there’s a lot of karma in this corner, too. On the face of it, this is a big ask off just one prep, but this colt showed last year when third in Churchill’s GIII Iroquois that he has a lot of potential, so if he gets things his way up front, he may last longer than a lot of people think; exotics potential.
#7 Dazzling Gem (12-1): Up-and-comer won the first two starts of his career over the track, then was a fine third in his stakes debut in Fair Grounds’ GII Louisiana Derby last month, so you know that he’s long on talent for Cox, who is one big horse away from becoming a well-known name on the national scene. Tactical son of Misremembered can be placed anywhere and should be right off the early pace, which will put him in the right spot off the far turn in a race that looks like it will be won up close. His figures on paper are a little light, but we’ve seen that that really isn’t a big deal, as it seems like the majority of these graded stakes preps are being won in slow time, so if he improves just a bit. he has a right to be in the mix; would be no surprise to see him run well.
#8 Whitmore (9-2): Heavy-hitter got run down in the Southwest then got repelled in the Rebel, but he was a good second in both, so you have to think he’s one of the ones people will look to if they are trying to upset the big horse next door. Stretch-runner has lost his speed since going two turns with blinkers on, and that’s not the recipe for success in here, with what looks like a slow pace in the offing, so this son of Pleasantly Perfect might need to be closer early to have a good chance late. Moquett has done a nice job spotting him where he can succeed, and it’s clear he belongs, but the gut says he’s more likely to regress than move forward, while a few others are the other way around; mixed signals here.
#9 Luna de Loco (30-1): Calumet homebred won a slow optional claimer over the track in March and is clearly the lesser of the two Asmussen trainees entered. Tactical sort should be close early and he’s got enough talent to hang around for a while, especially with the slow pace shaping up, but on paper he’s done nothing to suggest he can be there at the end. Respect this barn and these connections, but he ran 13th in the Southwest and is facing tons better here, so it’s tough to think he’s a contender; not in the mix.
#10 Cupid (2-1): The deserving and imposing favorite showed a lot of brilliance in winning the Rebel, as he broke slow, sped to the lead, got looked in the eye by the seasoned Whitmore and then shrugged him off and kept on going in a real breakthrough run for Baffert. Versatile son of Tapit can seemingly be put anywhere, but without much speed entered, off that convincing win last time, you have to think he’s pressing ‘Outlaw early, if not going about his business up front by himself. Lightly raced runner has a world of potential and ran fast in winning the Rebel, while giving the impression that he hasn’t come close to reaching his potential, so unless someone freaks, it’s tough to think he does anything but drub this field; heads to Louisville as the main usurper to Nyquist’s throne.
#11 Gray Sky (30-1): Lukas bomber didn’t run all that poorly in the Rebel, when he made a minor middle move and then flattened out to be sixth, though just six lengths behind Cupid. Son of Tapit is bred to be a nice horse, and time and again we’ve seen the Coach toss them in over their head only to see them outrun their odds, so don’t just draw a line through this runner and think he’s not a fringe player. Seasoned runner has the right running style to get position off this wide draw, and at a huge price, don’t be surprised if he spices up your exotics down below; thinking he outruns his odds.
#12 Gettysburg (6-1): Pletcher invader was a solid second to Baffert’s Collected in a Sunland stakes but takes all the worst of it with this wide draw. Pioneerof the Nile colt has some speed, so he’s going to be sent early to get position, which may result in a wide, chasing trip, and that’s not going to bode well for his chances. His lone foray into the graded stakes ranks was a forgettable fifth to stablemate Destin in the GIII Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in February, and while he’s obviously a better horse now than he was then, it’s tough to think he’s more than a minor player here; siding against.
#6 Unbridled Outlaw