Staff Picks: 2012 Arkansas Derby

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 4th: Secret Circle, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint during the 2011 Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on November 4, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Secret Circle, Bodemeister and Isn't He Clever are in Hot Springs, Arkansas ready to battle it out in the $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby (post time 5:45pm Central; TV: CNBC). Here at And Down The Stretch They Come, the boys are back to tackle the race in this week's edition of staff picks. Below you'll find analysis and selections from TFTribe, JP Fanshawe and Jared Christopher for Saturday's big race at Oaklawn Park.

TFTRIBE:

This is a strange race. I see the my top 4 horses all wanting to make the lead with Stat, Secret Circle, Bodemeister, and Isn't He Clever all being speed horses. I don't see a lot of stalking talent in the field so I fully expect these four to really battle. Bodemeister is the new kid on the block, so I expect Mike Smith to push him to the lead and try to run away with it. I either see Bodemeister or Secret Circle take the win.

If the pace falls apart, which it might with the four best horses all wanting the lead, I see Optimizer having a chance to eat up a ton of ground down the stretch.

As a huge value, Jake Mo likes to come off the lead. I liked the way he closed the gap in the Southwest G3. But without a major pace crack up, he's not going to get there.

I'm pressed for time this week, so my top four finishers:

5- Secret Circle: How Bodemeister is the M/L favorite is beyond me. This colt has succeeded no matter where Baffert has put him. I think he's a really classy colt that has a real shot to win the Derby. He shouldn't have an issue with the distance, and we know he likes the surface at Oaklawn. Plus Baffert is 3 for 3 at Oaklawn. Heck, he won the same race twice in the Southwest!

7-Optimizer: With the top four horses in the field battling it out at the front, I expect an opportunity for this colt to make up a ton of ground. I see him overtaking the lesser horses that were on the lead, but not having quite enough legs to get all the way to Secret Circle at the line.

11-Bodemeister: I don't see what all of the hype is about, he's a really nice colt with a solid place in the San Felipe, but that's all he's done. Maybe the Blinker Off will help him focus and he'll be amazing, but I doubt it. But he really needs this win to get into the Derby, so I fully expect him to push the pace a bit. I think he's really game for the distance, but just as he lost to Creative Cause, I think he'll lose out to Secret Circle. I think he'll get caught at the line by Optimizer after he tires from setting the pace the entire way.

2-Stat: Should have a nice line on him at post time. I think he'll become a very nice stakes horse in the near future, but just doesn't have the experience to hold off the top three. Honestly, this spot could be interchanged with Jake Mo, who should be charging to the line at this point.

What I'm betting:

I'll take the good price on Jake Mo and bet him across provided he goes off at greater than his M/L of 30/1. I'll bet an Exacta as well: 1 over 7/2. There won't be any value in Bodemeister here.

JP FANSHAWE:

The winner of the Arkansas Derby hasn't produced a Derby Winner since Smarty Jones in 2004, and really hasn't contributed a Roses contender from its winner circle since Curlin in 2007, but that may change this year as Bob Baffert invades Hot Springs with the top two choices on the morning line in Bodemeister and Secret Circle. The question I have about this race is one of pace. At first glance, the BRIS running style designations suggest an honest tempo. But I have this feeling that the presence of Baffert's two, both of whom seem to prefer running on the front end, coupled with Stat and Isn't He Clever, both of whom have excelled when within a length at the second call, might mean a quicker pace than expected, and hence, a surprise is in the offing. Let's take a look.


1-Cozetti: What I Like: Colt enters off five straight races at 1 1/16 miles, and seemed to take to the switch from turf to dirt in the Tampa Bay Derby, finishing a decent third. Romans' numbers are average when shipping and running in graded stakes, but his sample size is also large. Horse has highest average winning distance on both sides of his pedigree in this field. Three solid works, two of them sharp. What Worries Me: Seems like I am typing this a lot lately, but he doesn't fit on speed par, which is BRIS speed figure of 107. Colt has never run within 13 of that. Nowhere in my numbers, and middling in class. Fast pace wouldn't suit, as he has seen it twice and finished 8th beaten 7, and 4th beaten 1.

2-Stat: What I Like: Sort on under-the-radar runner for Pletcher, don't you think? He exhibits an angle I love, that being he finds himself in a stakes off a crushing effort in a lower level. And not just a stakes, a Grade 1 following his 6 1/4 length win in an OC75kn1x. Look a little further back and one sees this horse was a well-beaten second in his second start ever to none other than Union Rags. Pletcher is 24 percent when shipping, and 21 percent in graded stakes and Velazquez stays aboard. Horse has never been longer than 1.75 to 1 and offers great value here. Fifth in BRIS speed figure average, third in early, fourth in middle, and third in late pace. What Worries Me: Nine points shy of par. As I mentioned above, may want to run at the front with horses that will burn him out, since he won't be the speed of the speed. On running his second route, however he did draw off in his last and may want more distance. Only above average pace he's seen was the Saratoga Special, where he held second most of the way and watched Union Rags widen.

3-Najjaar: What I Like: Well, I went against Borel last weekend and look where that got me. No sooner do I write that a guy is in a slump, and boom, he turns it on. Horse has three starts over the track and has won two of them, but was only able to net sixth when facing invaders in the Rebel. Back-to-back sharp works lead him in. Last two races went faster than par, and he won that 47k Allowance. Horse has knack for improving position. In fact, he has never not improved from second call to finish. In just his last three he's gone 12th to 6th, 9th to 1st, and 7th to 1st. Four and 3/4 back in Rebel, but note might be meaningful: "widest drive, belated. "Perhaps another 1/16 may help him. What Worries Me: Rebel had a pace that I think may be reprised here, and colt was no match for Secret Circle, who isn't the best front runner in this race. Colt is 16 points shy of par. Trainer Peltz is just 8 percent in graded stakes. Nowhere in any of the six metrics.

4-Jake Mo: What I Like: Colt has plenty of stakes experience: he hasn't run outside of the stakes level since breaking his maiden by 9 1/4 in his second start. He may be rounding into form since coming to Oaklawn three back, placing and rounding out the superfecta in the other two. Last work was rated as sharp. He has shown he can improve position, but upon closer examination, notice that when he has seen hotter paces, his placing has improved even as his beaten lengths have increased. Fourth in dollars, and fourth in late pace. What Worries Me: Trainer Milligan is o-for-14 in graded stakes and hits the board in them just 14 percent of the time. Horse doesn't fit on par (but then, who does, lately?), falling 14 points short.

5-Secret Circle: What I Like: Bob Baffert has shown a great talent when invading at Hot Springs. This one was one of two that took one half of the Southwest Stakes at this track, and then colt returned a month later to win the Rebel, also at this track. Clearly, Secret Circle, and Baffert are well-suited to the track. Three sharp works since the Rebel, and when one looks at this one's training in overview, it spells Kentucky Derby: gradual lengthening in race distance, longer works sprinkled in, and almost all of them "handily." Highest in speed figure average, tops in earnings per start, early and middle pace, and second in late pace. Has only once run under 102, and that in his last where he was still good enough to win. Hard to believe he is a second choice. What Worries Me: A speed duel with his stable mate. He has seen hot paces before and has prevailed, but the added distance could compromise him if he is pressed into a duel.

6-Isn't He Clever: What I Like: The only horse in this field not trained by Baffert to have run over a 100 BRIS speed figure. Colt has plenty of stakes class, and has only finished worse than second once. Has raced and placed at the distance. A bullet work leads him in, and he picks up Albarado. Third in SFA and dollars, fifth in both early and late pace. What Worries Me: Fifth in early pace and yet seems to like the front. That doesn't bode well when you aren't the speed of the speed. Has never won a race when not leading or within a half-length of the leader at the second call. I don't think he will get those conditions in this one as the 2, the 5, and the 11 will be up front with him. Trainer Dominguez is o-for-9 in graded stakes.

7-Optimizer: What I Like: Plenty of back class, as he's run in four Grade 2 races, and this one will mark his third Grade 1. He was a solid second in the Rebel last out at this track and if the pace does indeed go fast, as it did in the Rebel, he becomes more logical to hit the board. In fact, he was six wide in the Rebel and his note was "full of run." Another 1/16 could do the trick. Three works lead him in, each of them decent, but against limited company. Fifth in earnings per start. What Worries Me: I just have a lot of trouble backing a Lukas horse in stakes these days. He is hitting just 2 percent in his last 154 starts. 11 points shy of par.

8-Atigun: What I Like: Has two starts and a win over the track. Two sharp works, and the last was a breezing bullet. Horse hung and faded in the Rebel, but gets first-time Lasix from trainer McPeek, who is 23 percent with that angle. What Worries Me: McPeek is just 9 percent in graded stakes. Horse doesn't fit on par, and despite his Sustainer designation from BRIS, doesn't appear to favor warm pace, finishing 11th and 5th in the two races where calls were above par. Nowhere in the numbers.

9-Sabercat: What I Like: Last three races have all been stakes efforts, and although the Rebel disappointed, three wins before that effort shouldn't be forgotten. Colt may have needed a race to shake off the rust. Three works since the Rebel, but none of them exceptional. Nakatani is hot at Oaklawn, winning 29 percent of his mounts there. Asmussen is 21 percent 2nd off the layoff, and 16 percent in graded stakes. Colt moved from 10th to 1st when getting a :45 half two races back. Second in earnings per start. What Worries Me: Nowhere in the speed metrics. Best speed figure is 17 points off par.

10-Raconteur: What I Like: The horse's name. Another Pletcher runner that is a bit under-the-radar, but won his last, a non-graded stakes. He has two middling works since then. Pletcher is 28 percent with winners of their last race. Colt has been at the distance three times, hitting the board each time. What Worries Me: Best speed figure is 12 points worse than par. Nowhere in the numbers, and I'm distrustful of horses winning stakes with poor race ratings at lower level tracks, like Laurel, and then shipping in for Grade 1 Derby preps.

11-Bodemeister: What I Like: Baffert is 35 percent going blinkers off, 31 percent shipping in. Colt's last two efforts were 100+ BRIS speed figs, and he has three works leading him in, two of which were rated sharp and all handily, as horse continues to work his way out in distance. You figure he has got to be somewhat special since he is the namesake of Baffert's son. Mike Smith gets the mount as Bejarano elects to stay aboard the 5. What Worries Me: Lightly raced, especially when compared with some of the stakes company veterans inhabiting this field. Horse invades from California, so it's always a question as to whether he will take to the track. Has never seen a par pace, let alone a faster one. Plenty of first-time things for him to overcome.
Bodemeister has never been third at any call in his career and I think will try to bully all from the front. In his favor is

that Secret Circle is his stable mate, and Baffert wouldn't compromise both of his horses by allowing a speed duel would he? That might be beyond his control, as I think Isn't He Clever and Stat will go to the front as well. Then it becomes an issue of class. If the horses are classy enough, the speed of the speed will prevail...and in this field, I think that is Secret Circle. If indeed the speed brings down all four of them, I look to the horse with the best closing figure that doesn't appear in early and middle metrics. And that horse is Optimizer.

Top Selection: Secret Circle Alternates: Optimizer, Jake Mo Scared Of: Bodemeister, Stat

Good Luck!!!!

JARED L. CHRISTOPHER:

The Bob Baffert tandem entry, Secret Circle and Bodemeister are all the rage in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. Be careful here. Baffert is still figuring out his raw, but talented new horse. The Zayat Stables’ owned Bodemeister will run without blinkers for the first time on Saturday. While he seems to have limitless potential, there are other horses with potential that has already been realized in the form of major graded stakes wins. Secret Circle, on the other hand, is one of those other horses. My fear: can he go the distance?

Others to consider:

Isn’t He Clever – his Beyer speed figures have steadily improved as his distances have increased. Word is that in his latest works he has shown an interest in stretching out and 1 1/8 mile trip will provide that. Has finished in the money in 6 of his 7 lifetime starts. Consistency is his middle name. Look for him to be in the mix around the 1/8 pole.

Stat – trainer Todd Pletcher has two Arkansas Derby wins under his belt. Stat could be Pletcher’s Stay Thirsty of 2012. The high-profile trainer is known for getting his horses to peak at the right time of year and the back-stretch has been whispering this horses name as one to watch. He hasn’t been particularly impressive in his wins but he has hit the board in 3 of his 4 starts.

Cozzetti – Could find himself pinned in on the rail for the first half of the race. The colt has proven he has staying power, providing closing speed in his third place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby last month. The Dale Romans trained colt appears to be improving every week. Just in time for the big 1 million dollar purse!

The Long Shot:

Optimizer - D. Wayne Lukas is very close to this colt. He has sung his praises ever since his rousing maiden special win at Saratoga last October. The horse loves to close and appears desperate to keep running. If the early pace is fast, this one could provide the shock and awe factor with a big close at the wire.

The picks:

Bodemeister to win in an exacta played with a Cozzetii/Isn’t He Clever back end.

For grins, I’ll throw a chunk of my winnings from Lone Star Park’s opening day on the Hall-of-Famer Lukas and his favorite colt, Optimizer to win.

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