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Saturday Stakes Action: Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Edition

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A big day of racing as the final two major prep races for the 2011 Kentucky Derby take place at Oaklawn Park (Arkansas Derby) and Keeneland (Blue Grass Stakes).  I've got a preview of the Arkansas Derby over at the mothership, SBNation.com. 

Obviously, the key questions in the Arkansas Derby are 1) will The Factor get more pace pressure in this race, and 2) if left alone, can he take them all the way as he did in the Rebel?  There appears to be more early speed in this race than we saw in the Rebel, but I'm not sure it's of high enough quality to really bother The Factor in the early going.  Maybe it will, but I can see him shrugging off a couple of early challengers and running the half in something like 46+.  The bigger question for me is whether he can keep running these fields into the ground race after race.

If The Factor can't hold on in the stretch it could a wide-open race in the final furlong as there are a ton of horses that love to run from off-the-pace in deep stretch.  I'll probably take a stab with Sway Away in this spot or maybe Elite Alex.

Over at Keeneland, the Blue Grass Stakes will run for the fifth time on the Polytrack surface and ever since this race switched from dirt to synthetic it's become an extremely difficult race to handicap.  Part of that is the inclusion of horses that have never run on Poly before, making it very hard to read their form.  The other side is the over-betting of horses that have run well on dirt.  We want to believe that good races on the dirt tell us something as to how a horse will run on Poly, but that just doesn't seem to be the case.  It's not that horses that run on dirt can't win on Poly, they can and they do.  It's more to the point that their dirt form yields few clues as to whether they'll succeed on the surface.  The value appears to be with turf and synthetic grinders, horses that don't require a big turn of foot in order to win races.

I liked the looks of King Congie in the Blue Grass after he scratched out of the Spiral a few weeks ago.  He's never tried Polytrack but he's run solid races over the turf in his last three starts (all victories).  Crimson China is another that seems particularly suited to run well at Keeneland based on his success at Turfway and in England last fall.

Santiva has run okay at Keeneland in the past but I don't know if Polytrack is his preferred or best surface; he seems to be a couple notches better on dirt.

Once today's prep races are completed I'll have a more structured Kentucky Derby contenders post since the probably starters will be much more defined in terms of graded earnings.  We'll also have a good amount of data to compare across all the preps that have occurred this spring.

Some thoughts on yesterday's Grade 1 races:

  • Switch got the jump on Havre de Grace at the top of the stretch but that wasn't enough to prevent the 1/2 favorite from making up significant ground in the final furlongs to win her first Grade 1 stakes race.

    Switch ran the final 3/16ths in a brisk 29.69 seconds and was really finding a nice stride inside the final half-furlong; another excellent performance from a filly that keeps churning them out one after another.
  • The field of the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile allows Get Stormy to set early factions of 49.31 and 1:14.01 for the half and six, and then watches as he rolls off to win by almost three lengths under the wire.  Get Stormy went off at odds of 4/1, third choice on the board.