It’s the last chance for 3-year-olds to earn Kentucky Derby points
We’re back for another busy Saturday in the Thoroughbred world. There are graded stakes at Keeneland and Oaklawn Park, with the biggie being the Arkansas Derby, the last significant prep before the Kentucky Derby, which is on May 4. That's only three weeks away, believe it or not.
Here's the lineup of races we will attack today:
The weather forecast is an issue in both Lexington and Hot Springs: There has been rain there in recent days, and at press time on Saturday morning, it was pouring at Oaklawn and threatening at Keeneland. The rain is evidently supposed to end this morning, and skies today are expected to be mostly dry, if not particularly sunny. We really don't know what the weather will do -- we predict horses, not isobars -- but we'll say a novena and plan for fast dirt. Since the Jenny Wiley is the only turf racing in our lineup, we’ll address the condition of the Keeneland turf course in the discussion of that race.
We’ll do this in the usual format, which is a detailed analysis of the Arkansas Derby, and then a shorter look at the other stakes around the country. Let’s go.
Grade 1 Arkansas Derby
The headliners here are 1-Improbable, and 3-Omaha Beach, who ran in separate divisions of the Rebel at Oaklawn a month ago. They are 8/5 and 2-1, respectively. Also entered is 11-Long Range Toddy, who nosed Improbable in the first division of the Rebel, and who's 5-1.
There is plenty of early speed entered in this race, and there are a couple of horses entered who figure to need the early lead. 6-Gray Attempt, who's a fast horse and who's 8-1 here, is a good example: this is a speedy, talented colt, who's won 4 of his 6 starts, but in every one of his wins, he's had the lead after the first quarter mile. The two times he did not get the early lead, he finished last and next-to-last, so he figures to need the lead, and he'll be going for it. No-hope long shot 10-Jersey Agenda, who has no chance to win, also figures to be an early pace presence. Add this all up, and we see a hot early pace that will set the race up for a horse coming from behind, possibly far behind.
We like 1-Improbable here, and we like him very much. This horse has done nothing wrong, and though he did lose the Rebel to Long Range Toddy, any handicapper with an ounce of brains realized that Improbable ran the better race that day: he was four wide all the way around the track, while Long Range Toddy skimmed the rail, only coming off it to make a late run down the stretch. We don't do ground-loss calculations -- we leave that to the Ragozin Sheet wackos -- but Improbable probably ran something like 50 feet farther than Long Range Toddy, and lost to him by about four inches.
With Improbable breaking from the rail today, he figures to get a much cleaner trip, and he also gets blinkers, which should prevent him from easing up after he gets the lead, which he did in the Rebel and which probably cost him the win in that race. Add all of this up, and we think it means that the rest of the field is running for second money.
We think that Omaha Beach is a very good colt, and we love his trainer, Richard Mandella, but we think he is a cut below Improbable in terms of ability. So at the risk of being a chalk-eating weasel, we'll pick the two favorites to complete the exacta, with 8-Country House, a late-running plodder from the Bill Mott barn, to fill out the trifecta. But this race, we think, is all about Improbable, and we are going to keep things simple by betting him to win: there is value in every winner, and we think that after today Improbable will be the Kentucky Derby favorite. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 11, $50 to win on 1-Improbable.
Now we’ll turn to the rest of the day’s action.
The Ben Ali at Keeneland has eleven older horses running nine furlongs on dirt. We like 6-Solomini here: this 4-year-old colt has always had ability, and his form seems to be on an upswing. We think he stalks what looks to be a fairly weak pace, and takes over coming for home. We'll bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Keeneland, Race 7, $15 to win on 6-Solomini.
The Grade 2 Lexington is Race 9 at Keeneland. It’s a mile and a sixteenth for 3-year-olds, and it’s the Last Chance Saloon for horses trying to get into the Kentucky Derby: horses get into the Run for the Roses via a points system, and after today, there are no more points races left. There are two horses in here who might be able to earn enough points in the Lexington to punch a ticket to Churchill Downs: 3-Sueno, who’s 25th on the Derby list with 28 points, and 4-Anothertwistafate, who’s 30th with 23 points. A win here would get either of them into the Derby; a second-place finish would put either right on the bubbliest of bubbles.
We like 4-Anothertwistafate. He ran second in his last start, the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park, and that was a good effort. Moreover, his last two races earned equivalent Beyer Speed Figures of 94, and when a rapidly-developing horse pairs up figs this way, it can be a very powerful indication that he is improving rapidly (the sheet wackos call this a "paired top"). We will bet Anothertwistafate to win, and we will play him with Sueno in the exacta. The bets: Keeneland, Race 9, $20 to win on 4-Anothertwistafate; $5 exacta box, 3 (Sueno) with 4 (Anothertwistafate).
The Jenny Wiley is a Grade 1 for older females at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. It goes off as Race 10 on the Keenland program; post time is 6:12 pm. At press time Saturday morning, the condition of the Keeneland turf course was "good," but more rain was expected. We are handicapping this race for the grass to have some give in it: it won't be firm, but it won't be yielding -- it will be somewhere in the middle.
If there's a graded stakes race on turf somewhere, Chad Brown's probably got a runner in it, and that's the case here, as Brown saddles the three favorites: 2-Rushing Fall (6/5), 4-Rymska (5/2), and 8-Onthemoonagain (7/2). Rushing Fall is a deserving favorite here, with 6 wins in 7 starts, all on grass; moreover, she's shown the ability to win on turf courses with give in them, which is what she will likely get today. She also has amazing versatility: she has won on the lead, and won coming from far behind. She's hard to get past here. Brown's other runners look a cut below, and the five horses entered by other trainers look a cut below that. We will bet Rushing Fall to win. The bet: Keeneland Race 10, $25 to win on 2-Rushing Fall.
The Oaklawn Handicap is a good betting race; there are nine runners who appear to be evenly matched. We like 7-Quip: this 4-year-old was a Kentucky Derby contender last year; after a disastrous Preakness, when he ran last in the slop at 9/2, he was done for the year. But he returned to the races last month with a good third in the Hal's Hope at Gulfstream, earning a good speed figure int the process, and we think he's capable of improving on that today. He also has tactical early speed, which will be an asset in this race. We will bet him to win at 4-1, but we will note that this is strictly a fast-track play only: if the track comes up wet, forget this guy. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 9, $20 to win on 7-Quip.
That's all for today. Let's hope that the weather gods smile on Kentucky and Arkansas today. Good luck at the windows.