The Arkansas Derby is the final major prep race that will be run and it has become the most important one of the season.
With only three weeks until the Kentucky Derby, we are without a standout favorite. The only horse that can change that is The Factor. If he wins the Arkansas Derby on Saturday, whether it's by a nose or seven lengths, he becomes the one to beat on May 7. Despite being a seemingly one-dimensional speed burner, The Factor would be the only 3-year-old to have three graded stakes wins this year. Whether you think he has distance limitations or not, he would be the morning-line favorite at Churchill Downs.
What if The Factor struggles in the Arkansas Derby? Well then, it looks like Dialed In would be the favorite and Derby 137 would probably be the most wide-open renewals since 2002 when Harlan's Holiday was sent off as the 6-1 favorite.
The Factor is brilliantly fast and unless something unforeseen happens, will have the lead into the first turn. But unlike the Rebel when he was on top by 2 1/2 lengths after a :23 1/5 first quarter, he will not have an uncontested lead this time. Dance City and Javier Castellano will make sure of that. Dance City is very quick from the gate and he will be sent. D. Wayne Lukas doesn't have much choice but to send Saratoga Red from post 13 either, and J P's Gusto adds blinkers, so they both should help ensure a quick pace. The $1 million question is, can The Factor take the heat and run on?
The Rebel was an indication that The Factor has improved his ability to relax on the lead and according to Bob Baffert, he has gotten even better at that in his two subsequent works. If he can rate on the lead and still leave something for the final eighth of a mile, he will win. I see him running very well again and he must be included in all exotic wagers, even at a short price.
However, I'm going to take a shot to beat him for the top spot with Elite Alex. I played against Elite Alex in the Southwest and Louisiana Derby. He drew outside posts and was a short price in both. This time, he draws more favorably from post 2 and will be an attractive price; maybe 8-1 or more. The addition of blinkers and the instructions that Calvin Borel not drop too far back will have him closer to the pace. Hopefully, he will not have to circle six-wide like he did in his last two starts. Let's be honest, they were not Borel's finest rides. The added distance and quick pace should only help him too. I think this is the race he finally puts it all together.
I will also use Alternation and Brethren. I thought Alternation was sitting on a big race in the Rebel. Unfortunately, he didn't get a chance to run after being scratched for his gate antics. Apparently, those problems have been resolved and he is ready to roll. This colt is built for two turns and if he gets a quick pace should be rolling at the end. He is coupled with Caleb's Posse, which isn't a bad thing, considering he ran second in the Rebel and also has win over the track.
Brethren should be more involved with the addition of blinkers and could get a nice stalking trip instead of having to run on the lead like he did Tampa Bay Derby. And don't be surprised if Dance City runs on. This is his stakes debut but he's no rabbit. He beat a pretty darn good horse in Cal Nation last month and broke his maiden at 1 1/8 miles. I think Nehro will be overbet here and will regress a bit.
Blue Grass Stakes
Anyone have a dart? I can make a serious case for all 12 horses here. On paper, there isn't much separating any of them. Who the heck knows how this race will play out. Santiva could sit just off a moderate pace and kick away late. Joes Blazing Aaron may get an easy lead and be gone. Or we could have someone come from off the pace to pick them all up.
No matter who you like, just remember this: Last year's winner (Stately Victor) won at 40-1 and the three previous years, horses at 8-1 came in. The trifectas in the last three years were $4,291, $1,399, and $3,313. What I'm saying is, take your shots in this race.
My shots are going to be with Queen'splatekitten and Crimson China. Both draw outside posts and both are dead closers. Queen'splatekitten just may be the most talented horse in this group. Go back and watch his maiden win on Woodbine's Polytrack and his allowance win on the Gulfstream turf. He has an explosive closing kick. He was privately bought for a large sum after his maiden win with the June 26 Queen's Plate in mind. He needs a decent pace, but if he gets it he will be flying late. He is 12-1 on the morning line.
Crimson China was also a private purchase after he broke his maiden on the Polytrack in England. He won a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on the Gulfstream turf in his first start of the year and was being pointed to the Spriral Stakes. He was excluded from that race because of earnings but ran a good second, also closing into a moderate pace, in the Rushaway. Getting back to nine furlongs should help him. The connections also have Spiral winner Animal Kingdom, and they think this colt is every bit as talented. he is 10-1 on the morning line.
My boxes will also include Santiva, Wilkinson, who has a good second over this track last year, and Willcox Inn. Willcox Inn ran second to Great Mills in the Grindstone Stakes last out and Great Mills came back to run huge in Keeneland's grade III Transylvania last week.
Good luck. Who do you like?