Oaklawn Park: The GI, $1 million Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)
#1 Improbable (8-5): The favorite was run down late by fellow rival Long Range Toddy in his return in the slower (by only .07) split division of the local prep, the GII Rebel last month, and will be expected to take a significant leap forward today and give Baffert an imposing hand in next month’s Kentucky Derby. Son of City Zip was run down late last time, which was in stark contrast to his three runs at 2, where he pulled away with ease in the lane, so that’s a little disconcerting here and something you never see from this barn’s 3-year-olds, though you can make the argument that he moved too early after enduring a wide trip. It’s also a little odd to see the blinkers go on today as well, since it didn’t exactly look like he was waiting on ‘Toddy last time, so while he’s going to be favored, and his best wins this, there are some mixed signals too, at underlaid odds; second-best.
#2 Six Shooter (30-1): Versatile longshot has run well going short and long in his last three, while never threatening the winner here, so he looks every bit of this ML price. If there’s a positive for this son of Trappe Shot, it’s that the pace looks honest, and it’s good to see Holthus run, but that fourth in the local GIII Southwest won’t be scaring any of the big guns today; midpack finish seems his ceiling.
#3 Omaha Beach (2-1): Streaking son of War Front built on an overdue maiden romp two back at Santa Anita and annexed the Rebel here last time, after stalking the early pace and holding off the late run of the then-undefeated 2-year-old champion Game Winner. Tactical colt settled early that day before engaging on the far turn and looks poised for a similar trip today for Mandella, who has kept his charge busy with two awesome bullet drills at SA leading up to this. The waters do get deeper here, and Game Winner was a disappointing second last week in the GI Santa Anita Derby, but the race flow and natural ability of this dude says there’s no regression coming today; hat trick time.
#4 Tikhvin Flew (30-1): The first of four from Asmussen will also likely be the longest shot of the quartet, as nothing this son of Street Sense has done in his three career starts has hinted he could get a minor award here, let alone threaten for more; easy toss.
#5 Laughing Fox (20-1): Asmussen’s second is another who will be a big number, as he was a distant seventh behind Omaha Beach in the Rebel when he got the acid test off a fast optional-claiming win here in February. If you’re in a forgiving mood, the race flow should suit his closing style, and he has shown he can run a fast figure, but this just looks like too much of a reach; not seeing it.
#6 Gray Attempt (8-1): Speedster wired the local 6-furlong Gazebo last month and figures to be winging early for Fires, who stretches this son of Graydar back out after he was last of 11 in the Southwest. It’s worth noting he did wire the Smarty Jones here going two turns in January, and he does have talent, but this has pop-and-stop written all over it; pace player, nothing more.
#7 Galilean (10-1): Cal-bred stepped out into open waters and was a good third behind ‘Toddy and Improbable last time, while beaten only 2 1/2 lengths, so he showed that he can play with the big boys on the national scene after beating up on his fellow state-breds out west. Hollendorfer takes the blinkers off this tactical son of Uncle Mo, which could result in a dream trip after he was a bit too keyed up last time, when he pressed the issue three-wide before tiring late. On paper he’s behind a few of these, but a more patient ride, coupled with the equipment change, could help bridge the gap, not to mention that he could be that much tighter after that initial run against the heavyweights last time; price players have their hero.
#8 Country House (12-1): Tricky read made a lot of friends when a closing second in the GII Risen Star at Fair Grounds two back, then lost a lot of them when a well-beaten fourth in their GII Louisiana Derby last time, so you get the impression that he’s a little second-tier. It’s good to see Mott keep the faith, though, and this is a much tougher assignment today, so there’s some confidence in this corner, too, though up to this point none of his runs would beat the leading contenders today; minor award appears his ceiling.
#9 One Flew South (50-1): Ginormous longshot was fifth in a slow version of the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park last time, and while O’Neill merits respect, this son of Giant’s Causeway has just a Polytrack MSW win to his credit, which means he’s got no chance here; get home safely.
#10 Jersey Agenda (30-1): The third from Asmussen chased then tired badly when a troubled fifth to ‘Beach in the Rebel and is another that looks way overmatched in this spot, especially since dad Jersey Town was best as a one-turn miler; yet another pace casualty.
#11 Long Range Toddy (5-1): Upset Rebel winner got a clever ride last time and ran down Improbable, so you have to take this son of Take Charge Indy seriously, especially since he’s one of the few in here that has been gaining late in his races. Asmussen’s best hope by far also far exceeded his lifetime best last time, so you’re allowed to wonder if a bounce is in the cards today, as he entered with solid but unspectacular local stakes form prior to that breakthrough win last time. The post also hurts here, but he does have the right running style to make a late dent, and one that may allow him to sneak over before the clubhouse turn without losing too much ground, and the price will be right too, as a lot of people might think this that last was a fluke; can’t fault anyone landing here.
#3 Omaha Beach
#11 Long Range Toddy