One Allowance Race, Two Derby Prep Winners?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Could an ordinary allowance race wind up producing the winners of two Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races this week? It might seem unlikely, but this is horse racing, and stranger things have happened.

With less than two months remaining until the Run for the Roses, the prep race action is really heating up around the world. The Japanese and European routes to the Derby will wrap up with Wednesday's Japan Dirt Derby (local G1) at Oi Racecourse and Sunday's Ballysax (G3) at Dundalk in Ireland. But we'll focus our attention on the stateside action, starting with Wednesday's Indiana Derby (G3) at Indiana Grand and Saturday's Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland.

Strangely enough, an allowance optional claiming race held on June 13 at Churchill Downs could have an outsized impact on both the Indiana Derby and the Blue Grass. Just four horses contested the 1 1/16-mile race, but the quality of the field was high, and the fractional times suggest the race was stakes-caliber in nature.

The winner of the allowance event was Art Collector, an improving son of Bernardini who has crossed the wire first in his last three starts on dirt. The rapidly-improving colt is 2-for-2 this season, decisively defeating stakes performers Toledo, Wrecking Crew, and Acre in a 7-furlong allowance sprint at Churchill before stretching out in distance for the June 13 allowance race.

And wow, did Art Collector ever relish the chance to run long! After carving out steady but not particularly imposing fractions of :24.59, :48.43, and 1:12.46, Art Collector unleashed a freakish burst of speed, rocketing the fourth quarter in :23.07 and the final sixteenth in :05.82 to dominate by 6 1/2 lengths. His final time of 1:41.35 missed the track record by just 0.31 and produced an eye-catching 100 Beyer speed figure.

One can argue that Art Collector received an ideal setup, escaping with a fairly easy lead in a small field. That's true, but we see horses carve out similar fractions and falter all the time. In contrast, it's highly uncommon for horses to sprint home in :28.89 in a dirt route, and Art Collector looked fantastic while doing so, running straight and true while merely hand-ridden by jockey Brian Hernandez.

Of course, Art Collector's fantastic finishing speed made it impossible for late runners to have any chance at victory; assigned the race a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 4 on their 1-to-100 scale, indicating a pace flow highly disadvantageous to late runners. For this reason, I'm also intrigued by the distant runner-up Shared Sense.

A Godolphin homebred trained by Brad Cox, Shared Sense trailed the field for six furlongs, but produced a determined rally down the stretch to finish second over Arkansas Derby (G1) third-place finisher Finnick the Fierce and three-time graded stakes performer Necker Island. Even in defeat, Shared Sense earned a career-best 89 Beyer.

Shared Sense has been repeatedly compromised by unfavorable conditions this season. If you toss out his defeats in the War Chant Stakes on turf and the Smarty Jones Stakes over a speed-favoring muddy track, the form of this stoutly-bred colt looks solid. Three starts back he produced a determined rally to win a 1-mile allowance race at Oaklawn, and as a juvenile he competed admirably against a bevy of future stakes performers.

All this leads us back to the upcoming Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races. Shared Sense and Necker Island are entered to compete in the Indiana Derby, while Art Collector and Finnick the Fierce are among the probable starters for the Blue Grass Stakes (entries will be confirmed on Wednesday),

Both races will be tough events with large fields, but I'm optimistic Art Collector and Shared Sense are well-spotted to secure their first stakes triumphs. Shared Sense should relish the opportunity to stretch out over 1 1/8 miles in the Indiana Derby, a race that figures to unfold at a favorable tempo thanks to the presence of tried-and-true front-runner Juggernaut plus the prominent speed horses Earner, Extraordinary, and No Getting Over Me. Shared Sense fits perfectly in terms of Beyer speed figures and should have every chance to produce the winning rally.

Art Collector will likely face a tougher task in the Blue Grass, but there's no reason to think his speed and finishing power can't win the day. The Blue Grass hasn't come up as tough as it might have, since many of the nation's established 3-year-old stars are on the sidelines or targeting other races. The potential field is also lacking in serious pace players, with Florida Derby (G1) runner-up Shivaree looming as the only horse likely to challenge Art Collector for early supremacy.

In a field without mush speed, Art Collector should be able to work out a comfortable trip setting or stalking the pace regardless of where he draws in the starting gate. Based on the fantastic impression he made at Churchill Downs last month, I believe the sky is the limit for Art Collector, an obviously gifted colt poised to develop into a serious Kentucky Derby contender.

So there you have it—I plan on playing Shared Sense in the Indiana Derby and Art Collector in the Blue Grass. Who do you like in this week's Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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