There are just three weeks until the first Saturday of May, and for two dozen promising three-year-olds it is the final dress rehearsal for the big dance.
Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park and the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland for most entered is a last chance opportunity to grab enough graded earnings to make it into the starting gate for the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby.
For a few others like Secret Circle and Hansen who both have enough graded earnings, it is just a final tune up, and the connections are just hoping for a solid performance to springboard them to Louisville in three weeks.
The Arkansas Derby drew a field of eleven including a pair sent out by hall of fame trainer Bob Baffert. Bodemeister (9/5 on the morning line) and Secret Circle (5/2) likely are going to go off as the top two betting choices in the race.
When Baffert sends runners to Hot Springs, it basically has been like a license to print money. The trainer has won with 11 of his last 15 starters at Oaklawn Park including four of five at this meeting.
There are several in the race that appear to have a shot of pulling off the upset including the lightly raced Stat from the Todd Pletcher barn, Sunland Derby (G3) runner up Isn’t He Clever, Delta Jackpot (G3) winner Sabercat, and Private Terms winner Raconteur.
A baker’s dozen will line up at Keeneland in the Blue Grass, with 2011 juvenile champion Hansen installed as the 6/5 morning line favorite.
The Mike Maker trainee discovered some new found respect after showing a new dimension in the Gotham (G2) at Aqueduct where for the first time he was not on the lead.
The colt has won four of his five career starts and trounced his competition in his first two starts over polytrack by better than a combined 25 lengths.
Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom made his final prep on polytrack in the Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park.
The two final key Derby preps will be televised live during a one hour telecast on CNBC staring at 6:00 ET.
Michael Dempsey provides his selections for Aqueduct and Keeneland each racing day. Mike’s Best Plays Report is available each weekend, with his strongest plays and selections including the top stakes races.
Check out Michael Dempsey’s Derby Watch Elite Eight at Fox Sports each Wednesday.
Let’s head out to Oaklawn Park for Saturday’s featured race of the day:
Oaklawn Park Race 11 The Arkansas Derby (G1) Post time 5:45 CT
- Stat 10/1
- Secret Circle 5/2
- Bodemeister 9/5
- Isn’t He Clever 6/1
Stat is making his three-year-old stakes debut as well as his first start around two turns here for the Todd Pletcher barn and this colt appears to still have plenty of upside potential as he makes his third start of the year. Pletcher thought enough of this guy to start him in the Saratoga Special (G2) last summer in his second career start. He was no match for Union Rags in a runner up finish, that runner going on to win the Champagne (G1) and Fountain of Youth (G2) and is a major Derby contender. Our top pick broke poorly in his three-year-old debut as the chalk and made a mild late run to finish fourth. Last out he drew off to win by 6 ¼ lengths going a one turn mile at Gulfstream Park. The $400,000 purchase is a half to stakes placed Charlotte’s Di ($182,396) and out of a mare that did her best running sprinting. The 10/1 morning line looks fair enough as the Bob Baffert duo figure to get most of the attention in the betting.
Secret Circle may have the edge on his stablemate Bodemesiter as he has a couple of trips over the Oaklawn Park main track. He won the faster division of the Southwest (G3) and then came back to Hot Springs to win the Rebel (G2), holding off the fast closing Optimizer. Baffert has won with four of his five starters at the meeting and going back five years the hall of fame barn is now 11 for 15. I don’t think this guy is cut out for 1 ¼ miles on the first Saturday of May but looks more than capable of winning here.
Bodemeister ran huge breaking his maiden in his second career start earning a 101 Beyer Speed Figure and came right back with a game second to Creative Cause in the San Felipe (G2) earning another triple digit Beyer and we have not seen too many of those along the Derby Trail this year. Creative Cause came back to finish third in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) while fifth place finisher Rousing Sermon returned to finish third in the Louisiana Derby (G2) in his next outing. Baffert is going to take the blinkers off today, likely to try to harness his early zip. The colt needs a big performance here or he will not make the cut to get into the starting gate on the first Saturday of May.
Arkansas Derby Picks
WIN: Stat to win at 6/1 or better.
EXACTA: 2,5 / 2,5,6,11
TRIFECTA: 2,5 / 2,5,6,11 / 2,4,5,6,9,11