And Down the Stretch They Come...

Who will make the graded earnings cut and who won't?

It's a question that is enough to drive us mad. Luckily, the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby will be run on Saturday and they will help sort everything out for us. Well, almost. We still have the Lexington Stakes next weekend, which will offer one more spot to the winner, but for the most part, we'll know who will be qualified for the Derby field of 20 by 6 p.m. EST on Saturday.

One thing is almost certain however: It looks like it will take at least $200,000 to make the starting gate on May 1. That is an unprecedented number.

But for the next day and a half, let's just focus on picking the winner of the two remaining major prep races.

Blue Grass

It's a wide-open race where five of the nine entered have at least one start on grass. The two morning-line favorites, Pleasant Prince and Odysseus, have not raced on synthetics this year. Both of them need at least a third-place finish to have any hopes of qualifying for the Derby. It will be no easy task.

As regular readers of this blog know, I've had Odysseus No. 1 on both of my top 10 lists. If I were to make a new list before Saturday, I can honestly say he would not be No. 1 anymore. That spot belongs to Eskendereya, whose romp over Schoolyard Dreams (who Odysseus beat only by a nose) in the Wood forced me to realize who is king of the hill going into the Derby.

I still like Odysseus and I hope he runs third or better in the Blue Grass (a fourth still might get him in too). But I am not crazy about this spot for him because of the Polytrack angle. Horses making their first start on synthetics, especially in grade I races where the other starters have experience over it (and turf), are usually up against it. I hope Osysseus overcomes this, but he is not my top pick here. I will use him on the bottom of exotic tickets.

I like two horses here: Interactif and Paddy O'Prado. I've like Interactif since last year. He has run two good races this season and his San Felipe runner-up was flattered even more when Sidney's Candy romped in the Santa Anita Derby. Interactif has lacked that killer instinct nearing the wire in his last three races, but he almost never runs a bad race. I love that Rafael Bejarano stays on him and I think he is crying out for longer distances. I expect him to be right there at the end.

Paddy O'Prado is getting good at the right time. It spoke volumes about how Dale Romans felt about him when he threw him into a pair of graded stakes as a maiden. He won the last one in the Palm Beach on turf, which was at the Blue Grass distance. This is his first start on Poly, but did you see his two works over the surface? He loves it. Like Interactif, I think he will be fairly close to the pace, which has been a good thing through four days of the Keeneland meet. I doubt Paddy O'Prado will go off at his morning-line odds of 10-1, but if he does I will be a happy man.

Make Music for Me is the other horse I like for a piece. The California shipper has faced many of the best 3-year-olds out there and held his own in each race. He was a grade I and grade II runner-up as a juvenile, and was beaten only a half-length by Noble's Promise in the CashCall. And he comes out of a good turf win where he ran his final quarter in under :24. Mike Smith has won the Blue Grass twice.

If forced to make a win bet I would probably go with Interactif right now. But I will wait to see the tote board and if Paddy O'Prado is anywhere near 8 or 10-1 he will get at least some of my win money. I'll use those two on top in exotics that will also include Odysseus, Make Music for Me, and maybe Pleasant Prince. I'll take stand against Aikenite, First Dude, Codoy, and Stately Victor.

Arkansas Derby

Not much analysis here. I like Noble's Promise big. The horse has done little wrong since he broke his maiden in September. He ran winning races his last three times out, only to see his nemesis Lookin At Lucky nip him in each one. Without Lookin At Lucky here, I think Noble's Promise towers over this field. He already showed he can beat Dublin, and while Super Saver is eligible to improve in his second off a layoff, I don't see him wiring the field at nine furlongs.

I'm not worried about Noble's Promise stretching out to an added distance. McPeek knows he can get nine furlongs and is even confident about 10 (and maybe 12 too, as evidenced by his nomination to the Epsom Derby). The key for Noble's Promise is a patient ride from Albarado. If he gets that, he should win. I'll hope for 2-1.

I really have no opinions on exotics here, though I would have to believe Super Saver will finish in the top three, which he needs for a berth into the Derby.

Good luck to everyone this weekend. Let me know who you like. Next week, I'll have a final top 10 and we'll talk graded earnings.

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