Welcome to the last Kentucky Derby dance Saturday! While the Arkansas Derby itself seems to be coming up lighter than in recent years, there are some BIG names running at the "Spa of the South" tomorrow. Astrology, third place finisher in last year's Preakness Stakes, is the 9-5 morning line favorite in race 7 conditioned allowance. The first of the three graded stakes on the card, $250,000 Count Fleet, drew a short field of six highlighted by the Gulfstream invader Apriority and Santa Anita invader Izzy Rules to face a top local sprinter in Hamazing Destiny.
The Northern Spur for 3 year-olds at one mile features one from Baffert's deep bench in Drill, the odds-on morning line favorite. Race 10 really brings out the black type with names like Nehro, Win Willy, Hymn Book, Alternation and Ron The Greek. If ever there was a year that catapults the Oaklawn Handicap back to Grade I status, this would be that year. Be mindful that Alternation could steal this one on the front-end as the lone speed, especially with how fast the one mile oval was playing today. A $6,250 claiming race finished in an astonishing 1:09.80 with a sub :45 half mile!
And alas, we arrive to the 76th running of the Arkansas Derby. I am really going out on a limb here to say I am confidently tossing both Baffert horses - Secret Circle and Bodemeister. (What am I thinking after he saddled Plum Pretty to a stroll down Central Avenue in yesterday's Apple Blossom?!) I have a hunch that this race will go the way of the Florida and Louisiana Derbies with a long-shot pulling the upset, the only problem is that I don't know which one.
There are plenty of deep closers in this field with talent, but I've got to think that Baffert won't let his two charges push each other early. If Stat and/or Isn't He Clever can force the pace, I like Najjaar (Borel strikes again?) and Sabercat to threaten the exacta. And could another colt from A.P. Indy's last waning crop win one for the gipper? You are hearing about this horse nowhere, but Raconteur got clobbered at the start of the Gotham at Aqueduct and may be able to step forward in this 9 furlong event, having won at this distance in breaking his maiden and having tactical speed. I would be the first to congratulate Cot Campbell if he could get one more shot at Derby glory before he takes a more passive role at Dogwood Stable.
Should be an interesting day with about 70,000 of my good friends at the friendly confines of Oaklawn Park. I've got to mention that I think the chalk rules at Keenland, with Hansen and Dullahan looking awfully tough. Best of luck with all your plays on this great day of racing!