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Road to Kentucky Derby 136 - vol. 11

Twenty-three days until the Run for the Roses and only a precious few opportunities for horses to polish up the resume.  This week's Road to the Derby will take a quick look at last week's preps, a long look at this week's races, and a new top 10 list.

Last Week's Preps

I touched a little bit on last weekend's preps earlier but here are a few more thoughts:

Eskendereya's performance in the Wood Memorial stamps him as the likely and deserving favorite heading into the Derby as he's really the only colt to run what we could call "big" races this spring.  The only concern, and it's a concern noted by many others, is that this colt may have to deal with a lot more trip issues in the Derby than he's faced in his last two efforts.  I think that's a legitimate concern, but it's a concern that almost every horse in the Derby will have to deal with, as well. 

Lookin At Lucky's troubled run in the Santa Anita Derby is a complete throw out and shouldn't diminish this colt's chances in the Derby.  If you're looking to find fault with this colt is could be this: Lookin At Lucky seems to get into trouble in a lot of his races.  In fact, three of the last four races have seen him experience a ton of traffic and trip troubles.  On the positive side, you can't say that this colt isn't battle tested.  If any of the contenders has the experience to deal with the trouble that they could experience in the Derby, it should be Lookin At Lucky.

The Santa Anita Derby winner, Sidney's Candy, continued to do what he's done all spring and that is control the race from the time the starting gate opens. 

American Lion's win in the Illinois Derby was as so-so performance in my view and essentially puts his name into an already crowded pace mix with Rule, Conveyance, Discreetly Mine, and Sidney's Candy.  He got an easy lead on a track that tends to be very kind to front runners and rolled home after receiving nary a challenge from the rest of the field.  

This Week's Preps

Grade 1 Arkansas Derby
Oaklawn Park
1 1/8 Miles
Purse: $1,000,000
Post time: 4:47 Central

With 1-Super Saver (9/5), 6-New Madrid (20/1), and Line of David (15/1) in this race, there should be plenty of pace on the front end.  If that occurs, then 2-Dublin (7/2) might finally be able to break out and roll home for a score.  The Lukas colt has had trouble in his last two but should take to the extra 1/16th of a mile.

I was a little taken back by the 9/5 ML odds on Super Saver considering the depth of this field and his somewhat dull effort in the Tampa Bay Derby last time out.  That race looks a lot more suspect when you consider the sub-par race that Schoolyard Dreams came back with in the Wood Memorial last Saturday.  I don't know that I would touch this colt at anything less than 7/2. 

One of these days 3-Noble's Promise (3/1) is going to get it done.  He lost by a head to Lucky in the Rebel, by ¾ of a length to Lucky in the Cash Call Futurity, and by ½ length to Vale of York (IRE) and Lucky in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.  He's never run a bad race in his life but he's also come up just short in all of his big races.  At the same time, Noble's Promise is already in the Derby field and can really use this as a true prep race, much like Lucky in the Santa Anita Derby. 

The price play in the Arkansas Derby should be Uh Oh Bango (15/1), a Kory Owens trainee that had some trouble at the break in the Rebel and will be looking to bounce back with a big effort.  With a quick early pace, Uh Oh Bango may find himself sitting third or fourth behind the leaders as they move into the far turn, which would give him every chance to finally get it done. 


Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes

Keeneland
1 1/8 Miles
Purse: $750,000
Post time: 4:30 Central

If the Blue Grass turns into a chaotic mess and a huge long shot comes home as the winner, don't say you weren't warned.  Despite the notion of unpredictable and chaotic results there is a certain predictability of these long shot winners.  Out of the thirty stakes races over the Polytrack in Keeneland spring meets, only three winning horses did not have a prior start over a synthetic or grass surface.  Those three are Little Belle (2008 Ashland), Keep Laughing (2008 Lafayette), and Eternal Star (2009 Commonwealth).  Twenty-one of the thirty  stakes winners had a previous win over a synthetic or grass surface.

As talented as he is, 1-Odysseus (7/2) might be the worse bet on the Keeneland card this Saturday for the mere fact that he's never attempted a race over grass or synthetic in his short career.  That may not seem like a big deal, but at Keeneland, it most certainly is.  Going back to the Keeneland Spring Preview I wrote a couple of weeks ago, graded races on the Polytrack have produced some of the longest odds winners since the track converted to Polytrack.  Beware the short-priced "dirt only" horse.

Odysseus fits the profile of a horse that could potentially struggle at short odds in this race.  Throw in the fact that the Tampa Bay Derby looks pretty soft in hindsight, and this horse is, to me, a clear bet against.  Additionally, with the lack of a true front running pacesetter in this race I think it's probable that Odysseus will find himself leading this race early on.  A "dirt only" horse running in the longest race of his career on the front end at Keeneland?  Sounds like a dicey proposition to me.  (Personally, I hope he gets the earnings he needs because I believe he's talented enough for the Derby.)

So, if Odysseus is an unlikely winner, which of these nine horses makes sense from a betting perspective?  Given the nature of the track and the profile of winning horses during the last three spring meets, it seems critical to find a colt that has shown some type of ability over the synthetic or turf. 

8-Aikenite (4/1) has never beaten winners but he did run very well in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity during last fall's Keeneland meet, finishing second to Noble's Promise.  His dirt efforts have been fairly uninspiring this spring but he could be a horse that really takes to the Keeneland Polytrack. 

9-Interactif (4/1) didn't get a great set-up in the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita last time out and might find himself in a similar situation in the Blue Grass.   However, he obviously takes to synthetic and turf courses better than he does dirt; that alone makes him a serious contender in the Blue Grass.  He has good tactical speed which Bejarano is going to have to use given his wide post position. Throw in a red hot trainer and you have a prime Blue Grass contender.

Don't sleep on 7-Paddy O'Prado (10/1), a true blue turf horse that just won the Grade 2 Palm Beach at Gulfstream on March 6th.  Nothing would drive the old school handicapping establishment crazy more than seeing a Grade 2 turf horse win a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby.

Top 10 Contenders

This week's Top 10 stays relatively the same as I've kept Lookin At Lucky at #1 and moved Eskendereya into the #2 spot despite the drastic differences in their results last Saturday.  Lookin At Lucky gets the nod on top primarily due to his entire body of work and the fact that this colt has a decided experience edge on Eskendereya.  Regardless of the order of the top 2, I think they are clearly the best of the class.

Noble's Promise, Dublin, and Endorsement are all colts with tons of talent and potential but lack the polish of the top two.  Awesome Act drops a couple of spots after a very flat race in the Wood.  He didn't get any help from the pace but I thought he should have done better.

Rank

Last

Horse

Notes

1

1

Lookin At Lucky

Despite the tough trip at SA he's still the best.

2

3

Eskendereya

Wood proves he's for real.

3

2

Noble's Promise

A chance to get away from Lucky in Arksansas.

4

5

Dublin

Needs to finally run big in the Arkansas Derby.

5

6

Endorsement

He's inexperienced, but talented.

6

4

Awesome Act

Eh, that Wood was pretty flat.  Can do better.

7

9

Rule

Think he's the best of the speed types.

8

8

Odysseus

If he comes up short at KEE he'll be low on earnings.

9

10

Ice Box

Zito will have him ready for the Derby.

10

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Sidney's Candy

Can't deny that this colt knows how to win.