Last weekend was action-packed, with three Kentucky Derby points races and four Kentucky Oaks points races. As always, we have replays, Brisnet charts and links to recaps at last week’s post.
In an unusual turn of events, we enter the final weekend of points races with a plethora of talented contenders as opposed to one or two. One of the many talented contenders headlines the Arkansas Derby, the outcome of which is likely to decide which horse will become the Kentucky Derby morning line favorite.
You can tune into Fox Sports 1 from 4:30 – 5:30 pm ET to catch stakes racing at Keeneland, including the Lexington as well as the Jenny Wiley, a race for older fillies and mares on the turf.
News About the Contenders
Blood-Horse: Prospect Park Off Kentucky Derby Trail
Blood-Horse: Steve Haskin’s Derby Dozen – April 7, 2015
Brisnet: Prospect Park, Daredevil ruled out of Kentucky Derby
Brisnet: War Story works half-mile at Churchill
Brisnet: The Truth Or Else breezes half-mile for Arkansas Derby
Brisnet: American Pharoah fires bullet in preparation for Arkansas Derby
DRF: Whoâ€™s Hot, Whoâ€™s Not for April 8
DRF: Kentucky Derby pedigree profiles: Far Right
DRF: Hovdey: Firing Line measures up nicely to the big horse
DRF: Frosted fans breathe easier
DRF: Road to the Derby analysis: Blue Grass Stakes
DRF: Danzig Moon eyes Kentucky Derby, Queenâ€™s Plate
Blood-Horse: Firing Line Breezes at Santa Anita
Brisnet: Upstart spikes fever, misses scheduled work
DRF: Pletcher works three Derby contenders at Palm Beach Downs
DRF: Upstart work cancelled
DRF: Derby bound International Star breezes at Churchill Downs Trackside
Blood-Horse: Arkansas Derby Race Sequence
DRF: Morning line favorite for the Derby?
DRF: Three of a kind at Derby for Baffert and Zayat
DRF: Kentucky Oaks probable Shook Up heads Sunday worktab at Churchill
DRF: Upstart Update
Keeneland, Saturday April 11, post time: 5:18 ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
Two of the seven entrants in Saturdayâ€™s Grade 3, $250,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland could add to their current Kentucky Derby points tally and possibly themselves a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The 1 1/16-miles race offers 10 points to the winner, four for second, two for third and one for fourth.
Divining Rod, who will break from the rail, has 10 points and Tiznow R J, who starts from post four, has seven. None of the other contenders have points, and as the current cut-off point for Derby entry is 22 points, following the defection of several runners this week, itâ€™s possible, though perhaps unlikely, that the Lexington winner will end up qualifying for the big race, particularly if there any more horses drop out â€¦which is unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence in the weeks and days leading up to the Derby.
The race might not have much impact on the Derby, but itâ€™s interesting from a pace standpoint. Thereâ€™s a lot of early speed signed on with Divining Rod, Henry Jones and possibly Fame and Power if he sticks to the tactics that got him to the winnerâ€™s circle in his last start.
Henry Jones, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, is the only entrant who has more than one win to his credit. The bay colt opened his 3-year-old season with a victory in an optional claiming race at Oaklawn. He reunites with jockey Paco Lopez, who was aboard when he was a solid third at this distance over this surface in an allowance in October. Although he doesnâ€™t boast the stakes experience of some of his competitors, heâ€™s proven best on dirt. The drawback for Henry Jones could be the distance, as both of his wins were in sprints.
Although he hasnâ€™t won since his debut at Laurel in November, Divining Rod has fared well against strong competition at the stakes level. He lost the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis by a neck to Ocean Knight and followed that up with a third behind Carpe Diem and Amiâ€™s Flatter in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. Carpe Diem won the Blue Grass Stakes in his next start and is considered a top contender for the Kentucky Derby; Amiâ€™s Flatter is a top Queenâ€™s Plate hopeful.
As it is for Henry Jones, the concern for Divining Rod is the distance. Heâ€™s lost the lead in both of his stakes tries, both at this distance.
Fame and Power, trained by Bob Baffert, is an interesting California invader. In his 2015 debut, he tried a new dimension that proved successful. Instead of coming from off the pace, he stepped into a pacesetterâ€™s role and never relinquished his lead in the maiden-breaking win at Santa Anita. Heâ€™s fired two bullet works for this race and will have a new jockey aboard in Irad Ortiz Jr.
Fame and Power is shipping out of California for the first time and heâ€™s making the steep jump from a maiden win to stakes company.
Tiznow R J hasnâ€™t had much luck on the Kentucky Derby trail, but he finds a softer spot here, and that should help his cause. He couldnâ€™t match International Star and War Story at Fair Grounds and was beaten 17 lengths when fourth behind Firing Line in the Sunland Derby.
Tiznow R Jâ€™s lone win, a romp in a maiden race at Fair Grounds, was gate to wire. It will be interesting to see how jockey Robby Albarado approaches the race; with the likely early speed, this bay colt could get the perfect stalking trip.
Comfort will make his first start for new trainer Todd Pletcher and his second start on dirt. After decent efforts on turf, this bay colt found his stride when switched to dirt at Fair Grounds, riding the rail and rallying from off the pace for a sharp win. His previous races indicate that heâ€™s one who should like the distance on dirt; a definite for exotics and maybe even a chance at the win slot with Javier Castellano in the irons.
Quimet, eighth in the Florida Derby, adds blinkers and a new jockey, Jose Lezcano. The chestnut gelding showed promise when switched to dirt to start the year, notching a victory and finishing second to Arkansas Derby entrant Madefromlucky in a 1 1/8-miles allowance at Gulfstream. The class relief is a major plus for this Nick Zito trainee.
Donworth, trained by H. Graham Motion, will attempt to jump from his debut win on March 14 to a graded stakes win. Jockey Joel Rosario is back aboard.
2015 Lexington Replay
2015 Lexington News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Divining Rod Convincing in Coolmore Lexington
Brisnet: Divining Rod draws off in Lexington
DRF: Coolmore Lexington – initial thoughts
DRF: Lexington winner Divining Rod won’t be Derby-bound
Keeneland: Quotes from the Lexington
Oaklawn Park, Saturday April 11, post time: 7:18 pm ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
This year marks the sixth since the Arkansas Derby became a Grade 1 race, and its final six editions as a Grade 2 were more meaningful than anything has been since.
Those half-dozen years, 2004 to 2009, featured eventual 3-year-old championship males Smarty Jones (the 2004 Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner), Afleet Alex (the 2005 Preakness-Belmont winner), and Curlin (the 2007 Preakness-Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic winner and back-to-back Horse of the Year).
The Grade 1 version from 2010 to 2014 has been short on that kind of star power. Sure, Bodemeister finished second in both the 2012 Derby and Preakness, and Danza was third in last yearâ€™s Derby, but for the most part, the Arkansas Derby has lacked â€œthe big horseâ€ since getting promoted (though last yearâ€™s field did include eventual Classic winner Bayern).
That could change this year when 2014 champion 2-year-old male American Pharoah returns for his second start as a 3-year-old after scoring a sensational 6 1/4-length victory in his seasonal bow in the Rebel Stakes on March 14 at Oaklawn.
American Pharoah is the 1-2 morning line favorite for the $1 million 1 1/8-miles race, and a win would likely make him the favorite three weeks later in the $2 million 1 1/4-miles Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
And whether youâ€™re for or against American Pharoah on the First Saturday in May, his race on the second Saturday in April will provide important clues regarding the answers to some of the questions regarding this brilliant, albeit lightly raced, colt:
Can he stay a route of ground? The Arkansas Derby will be his longest race to date, and things are a lot different at 1 1/8 miles than at 1 1/16 miles.
Does he need the lead? His only loss came in his career debut when he was unable to make the lead. He finished fifth that day and has been on the lead for every step in three subsequent starts.
Is he prepared? Weâ€™ll know more about this between the Arkansas and Kentucky Derbys, but the fact is that Saturdayâ€™s race is only his second start in 6 1/2 months. He doesnâ€™t have to win to qualify for the Derby, but thereâ€™s little margin for error if heâ€™s to get the prep he needs to contend in Louisville.
In addition to those personal challenges, American Pharoah also faces seven other equine challengers in the Arkansas Derby, including Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes winner Far Right, who skipped the Rebel to point for this spot. Far Rightâ€™s connections intend to use this race as a Kentucky Derby prep, and while his 23 points is likely enough to get him to the gate at Churchill Downs, a fourth-place (or better) finish would certainly give peace of mind..
Another familiar face in this group is Mr. Z, whose owner Zayat Stables also owns American Pharoah. Mr. Z has raced 11 times and was third behind Far Right in the aforementioned Smarty Jones and Southwest before shipping to Fair Grounds and running last of nine in the Louisiana Derby two weeks ago
The first three horses behind American Pharoah in the Rebel also return for this: Madefromluckyucky, Bold Conquest, and The Truth or Else. All are looking for their first stakes win.
Private Terms Stakes winner Bridgetâ€™s Big Luvy ships in for trainer Jeremiah Englehart, and maiden Win the Space does the same for George Papaprodromou to round out the field.
2015 Arkansas Derby Replay
2015 Arkansas Derby Recaps & News
America’s Best Racing: Superstar Performance by American Pharoah in Arkansas
Blood-Horse: American Pharoah Impressive in Arkansas Derby
Brisnet: American Pharoah’s a class apart in Arkansas Derby
DRF: American Pharoah dominates Arkansas Derby
DRF: Quick take – Arkansas Derby
DRF: Analysis of Arkansas Derby
DRF: What about those who chased American Pharoah?
TwinSpires Blog: American Pharoah answers key question in Arkansas Derby
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