HRN Original Blog:
From Coast to Coast

Handicapping the 2017 Arkansas Derby

Classic Empire_Breeders' Futurity 2016_615x400
Photo: Keeneland

The Grade 1 Arkansas Derby is the final Oaklawn Park prep prior to the Kentucky Derby. Recently, the top 3 finishers in Arkansas have done well in Kentucky. Most recently, 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won the Arkansas Derby before winning the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs, and 2014 Arkansas Derby winner Danza ran third in Kentucky. In 2012, Bodemeister translated a win at Oaklawn into a runner-up performance at Churchill Downs.

While the Arkansas to Kentucky trend may or may not continue this year, there is a large field set to contend for the win at Oaklawn this year. Many return the prior two Oaklawn preps, including the Top 6 finishers in the Rebel. Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and I try to decide which version of Classic Empire will show up and whether or not Rebel winner Malagacy can overcome his outside post position. Plus, is there another Irap in this field? Stay tuned…

Bet the Kentucky Derby with NYRA Bets!



Rockin Rudy—(Midshipman - Ruthie the Rocket, by Confide) Has a sprinter/miler pedigree. The switch back to dirt shouldn’t bother him, and his half siblings are winners over most surfaces. The O’Neill trainee drew the rail and may gun to the lead, although he sat three lengths back and made a strong run in his last breeze. Game colt, but don’t think he wants to go this far and his speed figures are the lowest in the field. Pass.

Rockin Rudy—debuted a winner on dirt but has raced on the lawn in his last two. His speed figures (I use Equibase’s) have improved with each start, meaning his dirt figure is the lowest of the lot. He won that race by 11 ½-lengths, though, so he probably did not need to exert all that much effort towards the end. I’m not entirely sure what to make of him other than he will likely be part of the pace and could take others with him. Pass.

Classic Empire—(Pioneerof the Nile - Sambuca Classica, by Cat Thief) Hasn’t raced since his first taste of defeat in the Holy Bull. Speaking of De Feet, our 2YO Champ had to overcome a foot abscess, which could explain his poor showing. Then there was the fiasco of refusing to breeze. More physical problems? Lately, the Champ has been breezing strongly, but which Classic Empire will show up? I expect that he’s only at 90%. He has the talent and pedigree. Is it enough? Anybody’s guess. Read his pedigree profile. Will consider him a contender based on his 2YO talent.


Classic Empire—Like Laurie indicated, our resident head case is looking to improve upon his seasonal debut in which he was a non-threatening third in the Holy Bull behind Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry and Fountain of Youth winner Gunnevera. He exited that race with a foot abscess, and then twice refused to train at Palm Meadows. To add insult to injury, he had to be treated for an apparent back ailment. After being moved to Winding Oaks Farm he returned to a regular work pattern and is by all reports a happy horse heading into this race. By all reasoning, Classic Empire should be the one to beat, but all his antics over the past two months have me a bit nervous. Nevertheless, I’ve been a fan of Classic Empire since his debut, and I’m giving him another chance here. One to beat if on point.

Silver Dust—(Tapit - Filarel'Oro, by Hard Spun)faced a wall of horses at the top of the stretch in the Rebel. Once he got clear, the son of Tapit flattened out to finish fifth. The pretty gray colt has the pedigree to handle classic distances, but he’s been disappointing in both starts this year. Silver Dust was pushed in his last work to earn a bullet for 5F. Pass.


Silver Dust—has improved his speed figures with each start but has not managed to hit the board in Oaklawn. Although to be fair, he was only beaten 3 ¼-lengths for it all while finishing 5th in the Rebel last out. His last work was a 5 furlong bullet move, but with so many from the Rebel and Southwest returning plus the addition of Classic Empire, I cannot see him improving upon his Rebel finish. Pass.

Petrov—(Flatter - Saracina, by Bertrando) had a good trip in the Rebel and was in a blanket photo for “best of the rest” behind Malagacy. Petrov has the pedigree to handle 9F and possibly 10F. He tries hard, and perhaps one of these days he’ll get the victory. Contender.


Petrov—likes Oaklawn but does not appear to like to win. In 5 career starts, he’s finished 2nd twice, with a debut victory and then, as Laurie said, his “best of rest” 4th in the Rebel. If he continues to run to “form,” I see him filling out the exotics but not winning. Play underneath.

Grandpa’s Dream—(Shackleford - Haylie Brae, by Bernardini) woke up to win his maiden last time out. He has one of the best lineages in the field. His dam is a half sister to three stakes winners, including Dwyer Stakes (G3) winner Speightster. Grandpa's Dream’s second dam is an unraced full sister to Champion Dance Smartly and top sire Smart Strike. Canadian Champ Filly Dancethroughthedawn, Queens Plate hero Scatter the Gold and G1 Stakes winner Moreno are part of this family. That being said, Grandpa’s Dream has a good/bad race cycle going. Is he gonna wake up or snooze in the Arkansas Derby? If he stays close to the pace, Grandpa could be a live longshot.


Grandpa’s Dream—blows hot and cold. When he shows up, he’s pretty good, but when he’s off, he’s really off. Like Laurie said, he has a darn good pedigree, but I just do not trust that pedigree to carry him against the rest of the talent in this field. Pass.

Lookin At Lee—(Lookin At Lucky - Langara Lass, by Langfuhr) has been forced into the role of a deep closer while Ricardo Santana, Jr. was aboard. He gets a jock switch to Contreras, which could help. I think this colt is better than the rides he’s received. 1 1/8 miles should be within his scope. If so, perhaps he can hit the board. Exotics.


Lookin At Lee—Laurie, I see your point regarding Santana, Jr.’s rides aboard this one, but at the same time, he’s had some nice finishes coming from way off the pace. I do wonder what he could do while closer to the pace against the group, but he’s still not one of my preferred colts. Pass.

Sonneteer—(Midnight Lute - Ours, by Half Ours) is still a maiden, but placed in the Rebel in his last start. Sonneteer’s dam is a half sister to Dublin, who was 3rd in the 2010 Arkansas Derby. Second dam Classy Mirage is G1 placed at 9F.  Shades of Irap? Contender.


Sonneteer—has had to face some nice colts throughout his career while remaining a maiden. Some that he’s finished behind while picking up a check? Robert B. Lewis winner and Santa Anita Derby 3rd place finisher Royal Mo; California Derby winner So Conflated; Santa Anita Derby 4th, 6th, and 7th place finishers Reach the World, Kimbear, and Term of Art. If he runs back to his Rebel finish, he could surprise again. I’m not sure whether or not to trust it, but he has only finished off the board 3 times in 9 starts. Maybe, if only to protect your wager.

Rowdy the Warrior—(Warrior's Reward - Lovely Sag, by Gentlemen (ARG)) finished so far back in the Southwest that Vic Stouffer needed a telescope to see him. Rowdy didn’t come close to the winner of an optional claimer last time out. Pass.


Rowdy the Warrior—Okay, to be fair, he wasn’t that far back in the Southwest, Laurie, but he definitely wasn’t a threat. Same thing in that optional claimer. He definitely cannot contend with this group, however. Pass.

Untrapped—(Trappe Shot - Exit Three, by Giant's Causeway) has the pedigree to handle 9F, but has a strong case of seconditis. He’s had every chance to win, but can’t get it done. Jock switch to Mike Smith means Untrapped will either go to the lead or hang behind the field. I’m voting for the former. Contender.


Untrapped—might not have won since breaking his maiden in his second start, but he’s been pretty darn consistent. Consistent to the tune of posting 3 straight 99 Equibase speed figures. He finally improved that 99 to a 103 in the Rebel and is definitely one to keep an eye on to at least hit the board. Could win, but will more likely fill out the minor placings.

One Dreamy Dude—(First Dude - Dreamy Dream, by Whitney Tower) is still a maiden and has sleepwalked through his last three races. Pass.

One Dreamy Dude—nope, nope, and nope. Not if you paid me.

Conquest Mo Money—(Uncle Mo - Stirring, by Seeking the Gold) saw his unbeaten streak halted in the Sunland Derby over a very deep track. His late pace speed figures rival those of Rockin Rudy and One Dreamy Dude. This colt has the pedigree to handle 10F, but he has to step it up to be competitive here. Pass.


Conquest Mo Money—could be the value play of the day. His speed figures need to improve, and maybe he’s been a big fish in a little pond; but he’s also never been worse than 2nd while improving with nearly every start. He could surprise and is worth a play at 15-1.

Malagacy—(Shackleford - Classiest Gem, by Dehere) brings his unbeaten record back to Oaklawn. Shack’s son is vulnerable here. His speed figures have declined in each start, along with his winning margin. His pedigree says 9F is within his range – with a perfect trip, but he’ll have to overcome an outside trip and inside speed. Contender.


Malagacy—His Equibase speed figures went up then down, but all 3 have been triple digit numbers. No one else in the field except Classic Empire can boast 3 triple digit figures, let alone 3 consecutive triple digit numbers. Like Laurie said, he does have to overcome the outside post with inside speed, but this son of Shackleford is obviously talented. Contender.

Track bias:  Only two of the last six Arkansas Derby heroes wired the field. The rest pressed the pace (4th or better) and two were closers.  Two local horses have captured the Arkansas Derby; Archarcharch in 2011 and Creator last year. Only four of the last ten winners won their previous start and American Pharoah was the first Rebel rouser, er, winner to capture his next start since Curlin in 2007.  Shippers from Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds and even Aqueduct have won most editions of the Arkansas Derby. 


Final Thoughts:

Laurie: Sonneteer is a big colt whose speed figures have improved in each start. Sure, he’s a maiden, but he owns one of the highest late-pace speed figures in the field and in a race filled with speed, won’t be in a hurry early, plus he’s 15-1 morning line. Classic Empire needs to hit the board to fulfill his Kentucky Derby dream. If he’s back to himself, Classic Empire could demolish this field, but do you want to take low odds on a wildcard?

Ashley: Many of these are back for more after facing each other in their last one or two races. Sonneteer does show shades of Irap and Laoban, and Conquest Mo Money is an intriguing new comer. If the 2-year old version of Classic Empire shows up, he will be hard to beat, but he’s been such a head case lately that’s it hard to say for certain which version will show up.





#7 Sonneteer (15-1)

#2 Classic Empire (8-5)

#2 Classic Empire (8-5)

#12 Malagacy (2-1)

#12 Malagacy (2-1)

#9 Untrapped (6-1)

#9 Untrapped (6-1)

#11 Conquest Mo Money (15-1)



comments powered by Disqus

Related Pages

Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

Best of the Blogs

Top Stories