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HRN Original Blog:
From Coast to Coast

Kentucky Derby 2014: Handicapping the Arkansas Derby

Tapiture Southwest2 615 X 400
Photo: Coady Photography
This year’s renewal of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby drew a field of nine. Entered are a cast of familiar faces on the Kentucky Derby trail as well as a few late-developing new faces. Tapiture, Ride On Curlin, and Strong Mandate continue their rivalry, but will one of them visit the winner’s circle or will another shipper swoop in and spoil their party? Much is on the line as this is one of the final spots in which to earn the all important points necessary to make the gate at Churchill Downs for the 2014 Kentucky Derby. On the line today is a total of 170 points; 100 to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to the 3rd place finisher, and 10 to the one that rounds out the superfecta. Without further ado, Pedigree Power’s Laurie Ross and I break down the field for the Arkansas Derby.
Danza—(Street Boss—Champagne Royale, by French Deputy) has sprint speed over miler speed in his pedigree.  His sire was a Grade 1 winning sprinter and Danza’s dam won up to 1 1/16 miles. This Pletcher colt was beaten by over seven lengths by optional claimers last time out while sprinting.  Who’s the boss?  Not him.  Pass.
Danza—“The Other Pletcher” has never been asked to race past 7 furlongs and is being thrown the wolves as his first route race is also an important Grade 1 Kentucky Derby prep. Half-brother Majestic Harbor just won the 1 ½ half G3 Tokyo City Cup, so the ability to get the classic distances is clearly there. If this were an easier spot, I’d be on board with Danza, but I think his lack of experience at this level is going to come back to bite him in the flank. Pass.
Knock Em Flat—(Flatter—Malamado, by Broken Vow) is a late-developing sort who should enjoy the extra distance. His dam is a half-sister to the tenacious stakes veteran Tar Heel Mom (by Flatter) and to the infamous Scrappy T. who sent Afleet Alex to his knees in the Preakness.  Do you remember the last time a last out maiden winner won the Arkansas Derby?  Me ‘neither. He’s an improving sort and might be there to fill out the exotics if somebody stubs a hoof.
Knock Em Flat—A change in running style and an increase in distance appears to have done this colt a world of good, but I’m still not knocked flat otherwise. This will be his first start against winners and a big class hike. Like Laurie pointed out, this colt’s dam has some classy siblings, but will that class be passed on to Knock Em Flat? As the first starter for his dam, it’s unclear which aspect of his pedigree will dominate, but based on his PPs, it looks as though he may want a bit of ground. I like that Knock Em Flat has a win at Oaklawn, but I’m not crazy about the 2 ½ week turnaround. Like Danza, I really want to like this one, but I have to pass here.
Tapiture—(Tapit—Free Spin, by Olympio) has never finished out of the money and is a legitimate graded stakes horse. He bulled his way through in the Rebel Stakes and slammed into Hoppertunity. That one beat Tapiture by only ½ length.  Tapiture has a second to last breeze and gets a jockey upgrade to Rosario.  Contender.
Tapiture—Got the worst end of the deal in the final stages of the roughly run stretch drive in the G2 Rebel. First jockey Santana was schooled in race riding tactics by Mike Smith, who aboard Hoppertunity, kept Santana and Tapiture trapped on the rail. Once he made a hole, he bumped and got bumped around as Ride On Curlin and Strong Mandate drifted out while Hoppertunity held his ground. It was a good lesson, and the fact that he didn’t quit bodes well for the full field in the Kentucky Derby. This is a colt that I have liked since his maiden race, and I still like him here. Contender.
Ride On Curlin—(Curlin—Magical Ride, by Storm Cat) has been defeated by Tapiture three times. He fought gamely in the Rebel Stakes and was beaten just a length. He also gets a jockey switch to the always proficient Jon Court, who won the Arkansas Derby in 2010 – 2011.  Still, I’m not totally convinced this son of Curlin wants to run 1 1/8 miles. His dam never won past five furlongs and Ride On Curlin’s only victories were sprinting.  His second dam Victory Ride was a sharp sprinter/miler who beat Champion Xtra Heat in the Test Stakes (G-1).  I’m going to take a pass.
Ride On Curlin—Doesn’t run a bad race, but I’m still waiting on him to have his breakthrough performance and win a graded stake. In running the same preps as Tapiture and Strong Mandate, he keeps running into the same tough rivals, which has made the Oaklawn preps quite fun to watch. The rivalry continues here, but Ride On Curlin will have to dig deep and run the race of his life if he wants to cross the wire first. Play for exotics as he has consistently filled out the bottom half of tickets.
Thundergram—(Graeme Hall—Parental Uproar, by Future Storm) is a full brother to the gam war horse Hurricane Ike. That one was best up to 1 1/16 miles.  He set a very slow pace in the Super Derby going 1 1/8 miles, but couldn’t handle the distance. Another half-brother, the gallant Drums of Thunder, was also a miler type. Thundergram has steadily improved in his last three starts. He was beaten a head in his previous start and adds blinkers.  He worked a last breeze bullet. He also has a quick late pace speed figure, so maybe he can grab a piece of it.  Exotics.
Thundergram—Has some distance challenged siblings, but sire Graeme Hall won this event in 2000 en route to a DNF in that year’s Kentucky Derby and a victory in the Jim Dandy later in the year.  He gets blinkers for the first time and has been training and racing well over this surface.  Trainer Mark Casse wins at a 14% clip with first time blinkers starters. All in all, this is another one that though nice, I’ll have to pass over.
Commissioner—(A.P. Indy—Flaming Heart, by Touch Gold) gets his third and final shot to show what he can do.  The pros:  He’s won twice at 1 1/8 miles and is by a Belmont Stakes winner out of a stakes winning dam who is by a Belmont Stakes winner. He’s also a half-brother to Laugh Track, runner up in last year’s BC Sprint.  The Pletcher trainee shouldn’t have an issue with distance.  The cons:  The late-running colt didn’t impress in his first two starts this year.  He had no excuse in the Fountain of Youth and was beaten seven lengths on the second turn in the Sunland Park Derby. A jock switch to Mike Smith may help.  May not, either.  Exotics.
Commissioner—All in all, I’m not sure what to make of this regally bred son of A.P. Indy. He ran superbly well in his first three starts but then digressed in the Fountain of Youth. He posted a good speed figure while finishing 3rd last out in the Sunland Derby, but if he couldn’t beat that group, then I’m not sure he can beat this stronger group. In my mind, I only see him getting a piece of the pie if the pace ends up being super quick and then melts. Mike Smith jumps aboard for the first time, which will be good enough reason to bet Commissioner for many…but not for me. I’ll limit his use to underneath in exotics.
Conquest Titan—(Birdstone—Miner’s Secret, by Mineshaft) has the lung power to run all day. He put forth a good effort in the Holy Bull, circling the field and conquering second place. He disappointed in the Tampa Bay Derby, but missed third place by a length with his typical late run. The extra distance should suit and he’s one of two stalkers in a race filled with speed. If he can stay within shouting distance of the field. I’m willing to give him another shot. Contender.
Conquest Titan—Has been good but far from consistent or great. He ran very well in the Holy Bull to get up for 2nd after circling the field but then followed up that performance with a very even effort to finish 4th in the Tampa Bay Derby. Like with Commissioner, I tend to believe that if he couldn’t beat that group at Tampa, then he likely won’t beat this group. I could see him running late to grab a minor placing, but that’s it. Consider for exotics, otherwise…Pass.
Bayern—(Offlee Wild—Alittlebitearly, by Thunder Gulch) has won his two races by a combined 17 ¼ lengths. Baffert won this race in 2012 with that front running freakishly fast Bodemeister. Is Bayern another Bodie? He has the pedigree to handle the distance and owns the highest late pace speed figure in the field, but he’s raced only twice, is shipping adding an extra furlong. Pass
Bayern—I must be missing something because I just don’t know what all the fuss is about with this colt. So he’s undefeated. So he won his last race by 15 lengths. He also was alone on the lead and basically allowed to waltz through 12 clips. Second dam Aquilegia was a classic distance winner on the turf, and sire Offlee Wild was also a classic distance winner, albeit on the dirt. All in all, he has a nice pedigree, but Bayern hasn’t proven anything on the track yet. For me, he’s a bit of an unknown entity, granted an unknown that has been training well. It’s hard to play against Baffert shippers, though, so ignore at your own risk if you’re like me and aren’t yet convinced.
Strong Mandate—(Tiznow—Clear Mandate, by Deputy Minister) has been right there in just about every race.  Right there on the lead, early, where he doesn’t belong.  In the Southwest, he came from off of the pace and got up for second place after a five wide move from an outside post. You couldn’t ask for a better pedigree for the Classics.  By two-time HOY Tiznow out of multiple G-1 winner Clear Mandate (whose G-1 victories were at 1 1/8 miles and 1 ¼ miles), Strong Mandate is a half to stakes winner Full Mandate (winner at 1 1/8 miles), multiple graded stakes winner Newfoundland, and stakes placed The Mighty Tiger.  I really think this horse has potential. Unlocking it is the key. Contender.
Strong Mandate—A Grade 1 winner at 2, Strong Mandate hasn’t quite lived up to the potential at 3 that he showed at age 2. That’s not to say that he has run poorly, because he hasn’t. He just hasn’t had an answer for Tapiture or Hoppertunity. He could improve 3rd off the layoff, but I didn’t like how he backed out of it when things got tough in the final stages of the Rebel, especially since the opening fractions were fairly soft. I have to disagree with Laurie here. I’ve never been on this one’s bandwagon, nor do I intend to start now. I like him best to fill out the exotics, and that’s it.
Laurie: Like all of the Kentucky Derby preps this year, the Arkansas Derby sets up with plenty of early speed.  Basically, everybody except Commissioner and Conquest Titan is a pace setter/presser. The race history is no help either. Every other edition of the Arkansas Derby is won by a pace setter. Last year, Overanalyze came from off of the pace to win for Todd Pletcher. So, if we follow the current trend, the horse sitting first or second should win this year, right?  If only it were so easy to predict. 
Bayern could be a freak, but with only two races under his girth, he may be a short horse down the lane. Tapiture had a rough race in his last start. Progress or regress? That is the question. Can Strong Mandate live up to his pedigree and potential?  His trainer Lukas is very sneaky and wins when least expected. If you’re looking for a couple of live longshots to throw into your superfectas, take a closer look at the late-developers, Knock Em Flat and Thundergram.
Ashley: This close to the Kentucky Derby, I like known entities. All these colts that are showing up in a stakes race for the first time interest me, but not enough so for me to give them a serious shot. Maybe later on down the road, one or more of the new faces in the Arkansas Derby will turn out to be a nice graded stakes winner, but that’s then, and I’m looking at now. Laurie makes a good point in that there are a lot of pace setters/pressers in this field, but both the Southwest and the Rebel, the local preps for this spot, were won by colts on the front end of things. I like how the top finishers in those races have been coming along, so I’m not going to get fancy with my selections today other than to throw in a long shot in the 4th spot.
Laurie: Strong Mandate, Tapiture, Conquest Titan, Thundergram
Ashley: Tapiture, Ride On Curlin, Conquest Titan, Danza 


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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby 2014: Handicapping the Arkansas Derby...

Knock Em Flat is cross entered. I think he might like the added real estate if he goes.
Hey, jimmy! I think Court will be good for ROC as well. I will be pleased if he finishes in the money, and ecstatic should he win. ;)
Let everyone hear me say it now, ROC is winning this race ! ! ! Thanks in part to Jon Court who will ride him right. jlp . jlp
Bayern wins by 10.....second Ride on curlin.....Third....Knock em flat...easy brezzy

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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, and it was her love of reading and horses that led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few short 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 get to personally meet and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.


Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Ashley created her own blog Wired with Ashley Paige. The idea to venture into the world of blogging came to her when she realized that she had much to say about horse racing and no one to say it to at the time. Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation blogging as The Florida Filly. Using that moniker, she mainly covered 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 as a whole. A move north to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the new From Coast to Coast blog for HRN, which is simply a revamped version of The Florida Filly. Don't let the new look and name change fool you, though. Ashley still brings to the table the same great coverage as From Coast to Coast as she did for The Florida Filly. 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.

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