As we pass the eighth pole in the race towards the 2014 Kentucky Derby we have one last weekend of major preps upon us. A field of eight will take center stage at Oaklawn Park for the grade 1 Arkansas Derby, and a full gate of fourteen will duke it out at Keeneland in the grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes. There is a lot to discuss so let’s delve right in. Here are some thoughts on the pace scenarios, contenders, and pretenders…
The Arkansas Derby
I found handicapping this affair to be a bit tricky, but I believe I narrowed it down to the two most likely scenarios. Here is how I see it…
Pace Scenario – There are quite a few horses that like to race up front signed on in here. Danza is stretching out from a sprint and should be forwardly place. Ride On Curlin, Bayern, Strong Mandate, and Tapiture all like to race close up as well. I anticipate the pace to be contested and possibly hot. I have a feeling Bayern, who is the speed of the speed, may just try to take it to them early and run them off their feet. If he does try that, though, I am not positive he can get the distance. I am leaning towards this being won from off the pace, but I respect Bayern’s speed.
Pretenders – I am taking a stand against the horses coming out of the Rebel as I have distance concerns with all of them. I was really disappointed in Strong Mandate’s performance, especially. Maybe I am a bitter bettor, because he was my top choice, but I thought given the circumstances he should have been finishing better than he did that afternoon. Tapiture worries me a bit as he is a pretty tough customer who runs his eyeballs out every time, but I think the extra sixteenth of a mile does him in today. The other ones I am against are Danza and Thundergram, as I believe they are outclassed.
Contenders – There are two ways I envision this race happening. One is being Bayern just absolutely blowing the doors off the field. You must respect Baffert when he ships into Arkansas. While I am not completely sold on this scenario, to ignore it as a possibility would be detrimental. When I first looked at this race my gut reaction was that this would be won from off the pace. I wasn’t that crazy about the closers at first glance, but after further inspection I do think they may improve today. Commissioner is coming into this third off the layoff, second time in blinkers, and gets the services of Mike Smith. If anyone can give him a nice ride late it is definitely Mike Smith. The other one I think has a shot is a horse I haven’t been too high on lately, Conquest Titan. I wasn’t that impressed with his runs so far this year, but he has a few things going for him here. He goes out third off the layoff, with a pace scenario in his favor, and he should love the added ground. I also like the jock switch to Calvin Borel. No offense to Shaun Bridgemohan, but I think a change to shake things up was in order.
1. Commissioner 2. Bayern 3. Conquest Titan
The Blue Grass Stakes
This was a tough field to navigate through. A full field of fourteen and I have concerns about quite a few of them. It is bombs away for me. Here is how I see it…
Pace Scenario – I expect the pace to be contested and hot as there is a ton of frontrunners signed on in here. As a result of this, I feel everyone who is racing towards the front is compromised, including your highly touted morning line favorite Bobby’s Kitten. I envision the winner coming from off the pace today.
Pretenders – With a full field of fourteen, in an effort to be brief I am going to state the horses I am against with the concerns I have in parentheses next to their name. Horses that are complete tosses for me are: Pablo Del Monte(distance/pace), Coltimus Prime (pace/class?), Casiguapo (pace/class), and So Lonesome (form/class).
Horses that I am against on the win end, but think may hit the board: Harry’s Holiday (distance/pace), Big Bazinga (class), Coastline (distance), and Vinceremos (synthetics/class?).
Horses I am taking a stand against, but respect and will be afraid of: Bobby’s Kitten (pace/distance), Medal Count (post/quick turn around?), and Gala Award (post).
Let me explain myself a little better on these choices as these guys will be taking money at the windows. Bobby’s Kitten is super talented, but I think the distance and pace scenario are will hinder his chances. He also has never raced on synthetics, and while I am not overly concerned about that, you never know till they try. Medal Count is coming in off a nice win last week in the Transylvania stakes, but I am concerned about him coming back on short rest. He got a dream trip that day, but he breaks wide today and that is a concern. Same goes for Gala Award, his post position ruled him out for me.
Contenders – I am going to take some shots with big prices in here. My top selection is Dance With Fate. He is 12/1 on the morning line, but I don’t think we will get that at post time. He is coming in off of a layoff and has fired fresh in the past. He is proven on synthetics and the distance is well within his scope. The pace should benefit his running style and I believe he has a big shot to take this down. My next choice is Extrasexyhippzster. I really liked his win in the Miracle Wood at Laurel and he had an excuse for his poor performance last out in the Gotham. He was bumped at the start that day and never looked comfortable after that. I know he has distance questions and he has never raced on synthetics before, but at 15/1 on the morning line he is worth the risk. And lastly, I am taking a stab with Asserting Bear second off the layoff. I know this selection is kind of a reach, but maybe he can work out a nice inside trip and come through at a huge price.
1. Dance With Fate 2. Extrasexyhippzster 3. Asserting Bear