Brian’s Derby Preps: The Arkansas Derby

Brian Nadeau is back this year to offer insight and analysis on this year’s road to the Kentucky Derby. A handicapper at Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB, he’ll analyze every official Derby points race and the three Triple Crown races, back at Brooklyn Backstretch for the sixth year.

Oaklawn Park: The $1 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)

#1 Rockin Rudy (12-1): California invader will likely be rolling on the lead here after dueling through hot splits going down the hillside turf course at Santa Anita in his last two and, if nothing else, maybe we need to give the West Coasters a bit more respect after Irap won the GII Blue Grass (as a maiden) last week for this owner-trainer team. O’Neill has shown in the past he spots them well, and this son of Midshipman has definitely shown talent in his three starts, plus he’s bred for the extra ground and turn he’ll get here, but wiring this group as the inside speed seems like a tall order; expecting a stop and pop.

Trainer Mark Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux with Classic Empire (Photo by Zoe Metz/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup)

#2 Classic Empire (8-5): The reigning 2-year-old champion has not had a thing go right this year at 3, as not only did he bomb at 1-2 in Gulfstream Park’s GII Holy Bull in February, which has been his only start thus far, but he’s refused to train on occasion and is now squarely behind the eight-ball as Casse looks to take what seems like Plan M to get him to the Derby. If you’re a fan of this son of Pioneerof the Nile, you’re banking on his juvenile form, which saw him win every race he finished and dominate a solid group in fast time in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at SA, but in the world of Thoroughbred racing, that seems like a decade or so ago when you look at what has happened since. And that’s before we mention that his trainer is now up to 0-for-36 with 3yos in graded stakes races on the dirt, dating back to April 2014, and don’t forget that we’re in the gambling business here, so do you really want to take 8-5 on a colt who might not feel like being a race horse any more, for a trainer who is closer to Joe DiMaggio’s streak than he is far; tossing completely until he shows it.

#3 Silver Dust (20-1): Tricky read has shown a lot of talent in his four starts but also hasn’t bridged the gap to stakes company this year, as he’s middled in both local preps, the GIII Southwest when fourth and GII Rebel when fifth last time, so obviously he needs to hurry in here. The good news is that he did improve in the Rebel, with a bit of trouble too, and Morse is confident enough in this son of Tapit to forge on, plus the addition of blinkers today should give him more focus too, which was lacking in the stretch last time. The other positive is that he’s going to be completely overlooked, yet was only beaten 3 1/4 lengths by fellow rival Malagacy last time, and that dude drew poorly today and could get caught up in the expected hot pace, while this guy will save all the ground and be motoring late; sticking with him one last time.

#4 Petrov (12-1): Workmanlike runner ran well when second and fourth, respectively, in the Southwest and Rebel, but has yet to make a serious dent in the lane, which is a bit of a concern as he stretches out again today. Son of Flatter is going to have a nice year for Moquett and will pick up a lot of checks, too, but like the last two times, you get the feeling that when the real running starts,he’s going to come up a bit empty in the lane; underneath only.

#5 Grandpa’s Dream (30-1): Huge longshot was all-out to post a head win in a local MSW last time after dueling on the lead, but he’s going to have to run a lot faster to make the front here. Son of Shackleford woke up in a big way in that win for Hartman, and it was by far the best he’s ever run, and while these 3yos can improve open lengths overnight, it’s much more likely that he regresses than moves forward in this solid GI; know him early.

#6 Lookin At Lee (15-1): The first of two from Asmussen is a deep, deep closer who has failed to make a serious late dent in either the Southwest, when third, or Rebel, when sixth, and is basically the same relatively slow horse he was at 2, when he rallied for a non-threatening second behind ‘Empire in the GI Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and fourth in the Juvenile. Long-striding Lookin At Lucky colt will appreciate the added ground he gets and will like the expected honest pace, too, but it still won’t be enough for him to bridge the gap to the same group that has repeatedly beaten him here this winter; minor award appears his ceiling.

#7 Sonneteer (15-1): Fellow deep closer was second at a huge price in the Rebel and showed a nice turn of foot late, while tackling winners for the first time, too, so it’s pretty apparent he’s going in the right direction quickly for Desormeaux. Homebred son of Midnight Lute lends credence to the argument that the Californians are better than we are giving them credit for, and he’s looking to be the second straight maiden to win a big Triple Crown prep, but while that last was a big step forward, making him duplicate or better it seems like the prudent approach; mixed signals here.

#8 Rowdy the Warrior (30-1): Ginormous longshot was beaten a furlong when ninthin the Southwest and then didn’t do a lot of running in a 3rd-place finish in a local optional-claimer last month, so to think he can threaten here is highly implausible. Son of Warrior’s Reward is another who wants to come from the clouds, and Von Hemel has been known to pop at a big price, too, but it won’t be with this stretch runner; easy toss.

#9 Untrapped (6-1): The second from Asmussen is by far the more accomplished and respected, as he was a solid second in Fair Grounds’ GII Risen Star two-back, then was a good third in the Rebel, and, like ‘Dust, the blinkers will go on today in the hopes of getting a bit more speed and stretch focus. Well-bred son of Trappe Shot was already tactical enough to get first run on the closers, and now with the hood going on, he should be that much closer, which will put him just off the speed and in a potentially envious spot off the far turn. On paper, he’s got to run faster than ever to win, but with Malagacy drawing the parking lot and ‘Empire leading the Oscar charge for his portrayal of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, those in this colt’s corner have a lot to get excited about, at a very nice price too; won’t fault anyone looking this way.

#10 One Dreamy Dude (50-1): Expected triple-digit longshot has yet to win in six starts for Van Berg, while running painfully slow in the process, so while a son of First Dude figures to like the added ground, this is purely a “get home safely” kind of assignment; next.

#11 Conquest Mo Money (15-1): Sunland invader stepped up and ran a solid second in their local GIII Derby last time and, with his speed and this wide draw, he figures to be sent early and try to negate the ground loss into the first turn. Dad Uncle Mo has made quite an impact in a short period of time on the Triple Crown trail, and it’s clear that Hernandez is bringing a colt that can run, but this post and the fact that he’s yet to start away from home may be his ultimate undoing; making him prove it.

Malagacy and Javier Castellano. Oaklawn Park photo

#12 Malagacy (2-1): The Rebel hero continued a magical winter for Pletcher, who has shipped and won several graded stakes with his Gulfstream-based 3yos, but the waters get a lot deeper today, especially since he drew widest and worst of all. Son of Shackleford is speedy enough to potentially negate the draw, but with ‘Money expected to go to his inside, there’s still a good chance this colt is wide entering the first turn, and while the Rebel was impressive, it wasn’t particularly fast, which gives the impression that a few behind him, most notably ‘Dust and Untrapped, have a bigger right to move forward today. Still, it’s tough to fault a local GII winner, who did it comfortably, too, and tossing anything from this barn is done at your own peril as well, but just maybe the post and race flow will help one of the others turn the tables; taking a deep breath and trying to beat on top.




#3 Silver Dust

#12 Malagacy

#9 Untrapped

#4 Petrov

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