Last week saw the re-emergence of two previously well-regarded contenders and the emergence of a maiden-breaking contender. If you missed any of the action, check out last week’s installment for replays, Brisnet charts and links to recaps.
This week is our final installment prior to the Derby and Oaks. And there’s still time for the Derby picture to change! We’ll return on Oaks day, Friday May 5 but check back often as we’ll have plenty of Derby and Oaks related content.
News About the Contenders
Blood-Horse: Royal Mo, Battle of Midway Work Toward Kentucky Derby
Blood-Horse: State of Honor, Salty Get First Works at Churchill
Blood-Horse: Team Casse Celebrates Classic Empire’s Return to Form
DRF: Watchmaker: Never underestimate a champion
DRF: Road to the Derby: Arkansas Derby analysis
Blood-Horse: Gunnevera Returns to Worktab
Brisnet: Gunnevera, Always Dreaming and Gormley work on opposite coasts for Kentucky Derby
TDN: EPM Diagnosis for Mo Town
Blood-Horse: Always Dreaming Finishes Strong in Friday Breeze
Blood-Horse: McCraken Joins Other Derby Hopefuls at Churchill
Blood-Horse: Haskin’s Derby Dozen – April 11
Blood-Horse: Langford Believes Untrapped his Most Talented Horse
Blood-Horse: L and N Racing on Fast Track With Lookin At Lee
Blood-Horse: Undefeated 3-Year-Old One Liner Out Indefinitely
Blood-Horse: Sweet Loretta Back to Form in Beaumont
Brisnet: Kentucky Derby Report April 12: Irish War Cry rebounds, Blue Grass stunner puts favoritism up for grabs
Brisnet: One Liner out of Derby consideration; Girvin gets Mike Smith
Brisnet: Quick thoughts on the current Kentucky Derby Top 20
Brisnet: Stevens: ‘Royal Mo reminded me a lot of Silver Charm’
Brisnet: Irap likely to ready for Kentucky Derby at Keeneland
DRF: Always Dreaming back to work for Kentucky Derby
DRF: Road to the Derby: Blue Grass analysis
DRF: Road to the Derby: Santa Anita Derby analysis
DRF: Road to the Derby: Wood Memorial analysis
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
2017 Fantasy Stakes Replay
2017 Fantasy Stakes News & Recaps
Brisnet: Ever So Clever too smart for Fantasy rivals
DRF: Ever So Clever wins Fantasy Stakes to stamp ticket to Oaks
2017 Fantasy Stakes Preview
Grade 3 Honeybee runner-up Benner Island stands out in terms of speed and class. Last out she made a big move around the final turn, briefly led, and then just missed at this distance, outkicked by It Tiz Well, who subsequently placed third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. Her 96 BRIS speed figure is the highest in the field and, given her sharp 5-furlong workout on April 1, Benner Island looks ready to win third-up off a break. She may need this victory with its 100 points since she’s in danger of not making the Kentucky Oaks field of 14.
Also returning from the Honeybee are fifth-place finisher Ever So Clever, sixth-place finisher Chanel’s Legacy, and seventh-place finisher My Sweet Stella. Twice Grade 2-placed as a juvenile, Ever So Clever has yet to hit the board this year in two starts at Oaklawn. Two sharp 5-furlong workouts in advance of this start suggest she may be sitting on a big run for trainer Steve Asmussen. The far outside post position 12 shouldn’t be too big an obstacle given her propensity for dropping back and making one big late run.
Chanel’s Legacy finished a fading sixth in the Grade 3 Honeybee, 10 lengths back of the winner. Since then, she was placed second (through disqualification) in a 6-furlong listed stakes race at Oaklawn. The 1 1/16-miles distance appears beyond her capability to win at this level. My Sweet Stella was 13 lengths back in the Honeybee, a definite down-turn from her two previous Oaklawn starts, runner-up finishes in both the 6-furlong Dixie Belle and one-mile Martha Washington. While she did post a smoking-fast 3-furlong workout for veteran trainer D. Wayne Lukas this week, My Sweet Stella has yet to display the kind of sustained speed necessary to be competitive at this level and this distance.
Several speedy shippers do look poised to make an impact in this final opportunity to earn points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. With her third-place finish in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, Vexatious probably needs to finish either first or second in order to safely make the Kentucky Oaks starting gate. By known stamina sire Giant’s Causeway out of Grade 1 winner Dream of Summer, she is a full sister to Grade 1 winner and 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont runner-up Destin, so she is beautifully bred for route races like the Oaks. She should improve third-up here for trainer Neil Drysdale and jockey Kent Desormeaux.
Last out, Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Spooky Woods finished a distant third, 10 lengths behind her stablemate Unique Bella, in the 1 1/16-miles Grade 3 Santa Ysabel. The runner-up in that event, Abel Tasman, endured a massively wide trip to run second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks last weekend. That outstanding class form, as well as her stamina breeding, may earn this filly a spot in the Kentucky Oaks. A daughter of 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic victor Ghostzapper, Spooky Woods is a half-sister to 9-furlong Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan third-place finisher Kinsley Kisses.
Sunland Park Oaks runner-up Kell Paso turned in a gutsy performance against well-regarded Ghalia, gallantly dueling with her down the stretch before ultimately losing by a neck. She may not be bred for stamina, but she’s speedy and she’s already demonstrated a lot of heart. Also returning out of the Sunland Park Oaks is fourth-place finisher Conquest Slayer. Given that she has displayed no speed thus far, finishing a combined 24 lengths back of the winners in her last two starts, it is highly unlikely that she’ll make much of an impact here.
Conquest Bandido and Dutch Parrot ran one-two respectively in an entry-level allowance race at Oaklawn on March 16. Dutch Parrot rebounded from that defeat with a victory in an Arkansas-bred allowance race just 14 days later. This is a steep step up in class for both fillies, and neither has demonstrated the necessary speed to be competitive here.
Well-bred Torrent is making her first start since her disappointing third-place finish behind Chanel’s Legacy and My Sweet Stella in the one-mile Martha Washington. This will be her first contest beyond 8 furlongs, but two sharp 5-furlong workouts indicate she may be ready to fire big first-off a two-month break. A daughter of 10-furlong Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame, Torrent is out of Grade 2 Fantasy runner-up and 9-furlong Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Tidal Pool.
Another filly with regal stamina breeding, lightly-raced Drinks On Broadway enters off a strong maiden win at 1 1/16-miles against older horses. By 10-furlong Grade 1 Travers winner and 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont runner-up Stay Thirsty, she’s a half-sister to Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Broadway’s Alibi and a three-quarter sister to Grade 1-placed R Gypsy Gold, narrow runner-up in the 9-furlong listed Ladies Handicap. Another half-brother, Golden Lad, won the 9-furlong Grade 3 Cornhusker, while her dam’s half-brother is 9-furlong Grade 1 Florida Derby victor Dialed In. While her stamina breeding is rock-solid, Drinks On Broadway will have to demonstrate a lot more speed in order to be competitive here. A decade ago, her trainer-jockey combo of Gary Hartlage and Joe Johnson teamed up to upset the Fantasy with subsequent Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher High Heels, so don’t count out their chances here.
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
2017 Lexington Stakes Replay
2017 Lexington Stakes News & Recaps
DRF: Senior Investment by a head in Lexington Stakes
TDN: Discreetly Mine’s Senior Investment Upsets the Lexington
2017 Lexington Stakes Preview
Although Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Lexington Stakes is unlikely to produce a Kentucky Derby starter, it’s an appealing wagering event from which a future star could emerge.
Convict Pike tallied 10 points from his third-place finish in the Spiral Stakes. As of Thursday, he would still be outside the top 20 on the Kentucky Derby eligibility list with a win in the Lexington, and only 20 horses can make the gate.
The field of 10 is an intriguing mix of lightly raced newcomers and well-traveled veterans.
Although No Dozing hasn’t won since September, he’s faced some of the toughest 3-year-olds in the country and fared quite well. Most appealing is his fourth-place finish behind winner Classic Empire in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity over this surface in October. Classic Empire, entered in Saturday’s Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was crowned champion 2-year-old male. He was also second to Mo Town in the Grade 2 Remsen at 1 1/8 miles.
No Dozing’s versatility will be key in this race as he adjusts to a new jockey in Joel Rosario. From post 4 he should get a prime mid-pack, stalking spot. Considering his experience at this distance, against top class foes, this colt should be considered the main contender.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who won last year’s edition of the Lexington with Collected, ships West Coast in from Santa Anita. Like many of Baffert’s charges, the bay colt boasts an eye-catching pedigree. He is out of Caressing, winner of the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Eclipse Award winner for 2-year-old filly.
West Coast will be making just the third start of his career and a sizable jump in class after a maiden win at the $49,000 level. Facing some veterans with stakes experience isn’t the only daunting challenge for this colt. He’ll break from post 10, a tough spot for a speedy prospect who prefers to be close to the pace. He’s adding blinkers for this challenge, so look for jockey Flavien Prat to hustle his charge quickly from the break.
Another lightly raced contender who will likely have an impact on the early pace is Time to Travel. Like West Coast, this Michael Matz trainee is jumping up in class from a maiden win. The gray colt finished fourth in his debut at Gulfstream Park, a key race that produced Timeline and Giuseppe the Great. Timeline went on to win an allowance at Aqueduct by more than 13 lengths. Giuseppe the Great broke his maiden at Keeneland on April 8.
Time to Travel, in an ideal spot in post 5, shouldn’t have an issue stretching out from 7 furlongs. His sire, Hard Spun, won the Lane’s End Stakes (now the Spiral) at 9 furlongs and was runner-up in the 2007 Kentucky Derby. Time to Travel is a full brother of Hard Not to Like, winner of the Diana, Gamely and Jenny Wiley Stakes.
Trainer Mark Casse and owner/breeder Live Oak Plantation tallied two graded stakes wins last Saturday at Keeneland. They’re hoping the streak continues here with Souper Tapit.
The chestnut colt flashed super talent in his February debut at Fair Grounds when he endured a wide trip and still managed to rally for the win. His next outing was a head-scratcher as he broke last and didn’t show much in the stretch run, finishing fifth.
A change of scenery and a new jockey, Robby Albarado, could put this runner in the mix.
After success on turf and a two solid efforts on synthetic, Convict Pike returns to dirt and adds blinkers for his eighth career start. The colt appears most comfortable in a mid-pack or closing role, but the blinkers could put him in the early pace scenario. Although his previous dirt form leads to skepticism, Convict Pike’s lone “off” race was over a muddy surface. He’s one to watch on a fast track.
A first glance at trainer Nick Zito’s entry Lookin at Blessing, a Gulfstream invader, gleans many out-of-money finishes, but also many familiar names. Most recently, he was fifth behind winner Always Dreaming, who went on to win the Grade 1 Florida Derby and is considered a leading Kentucky Derby contender. He fits with this group, but he will need to find some late kick to hit the board.
Senior Investment couldn’t continue his winning ways in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and finished sixth. He came from far off the pace in his wins at Oaklawn and Fair Grounds, so look for jockey Channing Hill to have him mounting a late rally in the stretch.
Rounding out the field are: He’s Munnie, runner-up in the Turf Paradise Derby making his 13th career start; Resiliency, who will break from the rail; and Capt. Grider.
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
2017 Arkansas Derby Replay
2017 Arkansas Derby News & Recaps
TDN: Classic Empire Back to Winning Ways in Arkansas
2017 Arkansas Derby Preview
The top two horses arrived in Arkansas together for the $1 million Arkansas Derby, but that is all their paths to Oaklawn Park’s richest race and the Kentucky Derby beyond it have in common.
Classic Empire is the 2-year-old champion looking for redemption, while Malagacy looks to break a 135-year curse and become the first horse since Apollo to win the Kentucky Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old. They will start from posts 2 & 12, respectively, on Saturday.
Classic Empire won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November but has raced just once since then, finishing third in the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes in February. Further complicating his storyline, he missed training with a foot issue after the Holy Bull and refused to train in mid-March, prompting trainer Mark Casse to ship John Oxley’s colt north to Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala to prepare for his final Kentucky Derby prep. The hiccups also resulted in a detour from the Blue Grass Stakes last week at Keeneland to this spot.
“It’s well documented [that] we’ve had some bumps in the road,” trainer Mark Casse told Oaklawn media. “The good news is it doesn’t matter. It’s like a baseball game. It doesn’t matter how many runs you score in the early innings; it’s how many you score in the end. The Arkansas Derby has been in our mind a little bit for a while.”
Speaking of score, Classic Empire is currently 21st on the Kentucky Derby points list and needs at least a fourth-place finish to guarantee a spot in the starting gate, though it’s unlikely there would be no defections between now and May 6, increasing his chances of getting in even if he doesn’t hit the top four on Saturday.
Malagacy already has enough points to start in the Derby by the virtue of the 50 he earned when winning the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, but that was only his third career start, so trainer Todd Pletcher hopes to see continued progress.
“He’s trained well,” Pletcher told Oaklawn media. “In his case, coming off two sprint races, and his first route race being the Rebel, we felt like another race was very important to his preparation possibly for the Kentucky Derby. He handled the stretch-out his first time very well. Now we need more distance again and continue to prove that a mile and an eighth and beyond is within his range. We feel like it is, based on the way he handled the mile and a sixteenthth, the way he’s shown he’s very tractable, very rate-able.”
Of course, the Arkansas Derby is more than a 2-horse race, though Classic Empire and Malagacy are its only graded stakes winners.
An Arkansas Derby pace threat is Rockin Rudy, who drew the rail for trainer Doug O’Neill, trainer of Kentucky Derby winners I’ll Have Another and Nyquist as well as last week’s Blue Grass Stakes winner Irap. Rockin Rudy is stretching out and going turf to dirt with blinkers off for his stakes debut.
Untrapped and Petrov were third and fourth, respectively, behind Malagacy in the Rebel and will likely be among the top choices behind Classic Empire and Malagacy in the Arkansas Derby. Both have been consistent against stakes company since their maiden wins but never really threatened for a win.
Finishing ahead of them in the Rebel was maiden Sonneteer at odds of 112.3-to-1. He won’t be that price this time but still figures an outsider from a win perspective.
Fifth-place Silver Dust and sixth-place Lookin At Lee are the other horses in the Arkansas Derby from the Rebel, and, like everyone else from the race besides Malagacy, is still looking for his first graded stakes win.
The “X” factor from the West might not be Rockin Rudy but Conquest Mo Money, who won his first three starts at Sunland before finishing second to Hence in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby. More interesting about that running line in the Sunland Derby, however, is that fourth-place Irap came back to win the Blue Grass Stakes.
Rounding out the field are maiden winners Grandpa’s Dream and Rowdy the Warrior and maiden One Dreamy Dude.
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