Ky. Derby Trail: Fallen Arches

So, at this late date, are there any proven horses left who did not make the third and final Future Wager field despite looking like legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders.

In one instance the answer is yes yes yes. As anyone can tell from our persistence with Astrology and Elite Alex, both of whom are in the field, we are always looking for a forgotten, maligned, or overlooked horse who has shown enough potential that he just might be laying in wait, ready to rip everyone’s Future Wager tickets to shreds.

The question in this case is: can a horse whose name sounds like a seal barking sneak past the Derby gods, who frown upon placing nonsensical, hard-on-the-tongue names up there with the likes of Citation, Majestic Prince, Assault, and Alysheba. On a rare occasion you’ll get a Lil E. Tee or even a seven-syllable exotic name like Fusaichi Pegasus. But if Archarcharch wins this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) it means the Derby gods finally have developed a sense of humor or they just don’t give a darn anymore after seeing “Presented by Yum! Brands” added to the name of their sacred event.

If Archarcharch had been in this final pool, he would have been extremely enticing at a monster price. Heck, he was 50-1 in the second pool after winning the Southwest Stakes (gr. III), so imagine what he would have been after finishing third, beaten 6 1/2 lengths, in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II). We’ll never know, as he was cut from the 23-horse field to make way for seven new entries, as well as one horse whose trainer stated the very day the list was announced that his horse “is not going to the Kentucky Derby.” So, good luck getting any money bet on that horse.

The point of all this is not to knock the selection committee, just to say, don’t be shocked if Archarcharch runs a huge race in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and again on the first Saturday in May. Here are the reasons why:

1—Despite being bred for stamina (He is by Arch, out of a Woodman mare, and his female family has names like Nureyev, Buckpasser, and Forli), he managed to win the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds in a sprightly 1:10 3/5 in only his second career start and while still a maiden, earning an excellent 88 Beyer figure.

2—He emerged from the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes with a minor injury, but bounced back to win the Southwest Stakes at 14-1. Unlike the Smarty Jones, when he got keyed up early and battled head and head on the lead before tiring, he relaxed beautifully off the pace. As they turned for home in the 11-horse field, there were six horses across the track, with him smack in the middle. Then in the blink of an eye he was three lengths clear of the field, while still on his left lead. That is the kind of quick acceleration you want to see in a Derby horse.

Jockey Jon Court hit him several times right-handed, but he still was stuck on his left lead. Court then stopped hitting him for several strides and when he reached back and gave him another right-handed whip inside the sixteenth pole, Archarcharch finally switched leads, threw his ears straight up, and drifted noticeably to the inside, causing J P’s Gusto to steady, but it was only a few yards from the wire and the race was already decided. We loved the way he was striding out and covering ground after switching leads. This was a big step forward for him. His Beyer, which had plummeted to a 63 in the Smarty Jones, jumped back to an 88.

3—The Rebel Stakes was the race that knocked him out of the Future Wager field, but it actually was an excellent effort considering all he went through. He had the misfortune of breaking from the rail directly inside Alternation, who flipped out in the gate, fell over on his back, and was thrashing about on the ground.

“That horse got turned upside down and was kicking Archarch all over his legs,” trainer Jinks Fires said. “My horse got some scratches and some hair knocked off and was a little sore for a few days after the race. The vet at the gate backed him out and took a look at him and said he was alright. If I had been down there I probably would have scratched him, but I’m glad the vet made the right decision.

“He said when they backed him out he was shaking all over. That got him all stirred up coming out of the gate and he wasn’t able to relax the way he did the race before. I was happy to see him run as well as he did. After the race we hosed his legs every day and he worked great on Tuesday. I got him five furlongs in 1:00 1/5, galloping out six furlongs in 1:13 and change.”

Fires said they’ve turned down two offers for the horse – one after the Southwest and another after the Rebel. “We turned down a lot of money for him; that’s how good we think he is,” Fires said.

4—In the Rebel, he ducked to the inside at the start. Then, down the backstretch, sitting right behind The Factor’s strong pace, he suddenly veered to his left and almost hit the rail. After turning into the stretch, he nearly scraped the rail and Court had to hit him left-handed. He kept digging in even after The Factor began opening up, and fought back when passed by the rallying Caleb’s Posse to be beaten a neck for second.

5--In the Brisnet speed figures, despite his travails in the Rebel, he established a new career high early pace figure, new career high middle pace figure, and new career high overall speed figure. His closing pace figure was higher than in his Southwest victory. So it looks as though there is still more improvement expected.

6—Perhaps the Derby gods are accepting the horse’s name because they have big things planned for veteran rider Jon Court, who certainly has paid his dues and arguably has had more bad luck just getting a mount in the Derby than any rider in the country. The 50-year-old Court has ridden over 3,000 winners, but has never had a mount in the Derby, coming close on several occasions. He also happens to be Jinks Fires’ son-in-law, so there is a good story in the making.

Although there will be the skeptics who say he has no shot in the Derby, he still is an intriguing longshot with a number of compelling angles. Part of the fun of the Derby trail is trying to come up with these kinds of horses who are on an upward cycle and might be ready to raise their game to a new level. Archarcharch to us looks like one of them.

Looking ahead

Sunday’s Florida Derby looks to be the toughest prep yet by far. Entries won’t be drawn until Thursday, but although this will be an extremely difficult task, we can’t wait to see how one of our early favorites, Bowman’s Causeway, fares against these horses. Although he’s probably not fast enough on numbers to threaten the top choices, we still believe with the right trip and a contentious pace he could run a much better race than people think. We’ll see.

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