By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Five weeks out from the
Kentucky Derby (G1), the prep race action is heating up in a big way. A trio of
pivotal qualifiers worth 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers will take place
on Saturday at Oaklawn Park, Gulfstream Park, and Turfway Park.
Let's explore the entries
and plan our picks:
Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park
Just how talented is the
filly #6 Secret Oath (5-2), who
looms as the morning line favorite to win the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby? There's
no way to know yet, because no one has come close to beating her in three
starts at Oaklawn this winter.
I loved Secret Oath's performance
in the Feb. 26 Honeybee S. (G3). After settling off the pace in fifth place,
Secret Oath advanced up the inside and found herself boxed in behind the
leaders. She had to wait in traffic and even steady while trying to find a way
through, but once an opening appeared along the inside, Secret Oath shot
through and powered away to win by 7 1/2 lengths.
Secret Oath's performance
was visually impressive, but it was also fast on the clock. She completed the 1
1/16-mile race in 1:44.74, nearly a second faster than #5 Un Ojo (6-1) required to win the Rebel S. (G2) later in the
afternoon. And the fact Secret Oath had to wait before unleashing her winning
bid suggests she might have run even faster with an unencumbered journey.
I'm excited to see what
Secret Oath can accomplish in the Arkansas Derby. Brisnet Speed ratings rank Secret
Oath as the fastest horse in the field, so don't be surprised if she rallies to
Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park
There are many viable
contenders to choose from in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, and narrowing them
down is difficult. #3 Simplification (3-1)
was as impressive as could be in the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream
last month, launching a sweeping outside rally to win by 3 1/2 lengths. But #7 White Abarrio (3-1) defeated
Simplification by 4 1/2 lengths in the Holy Bull S. (G3) two months ago, albeit
on a day when Simplification endured a troubled trip. And what about recent Tampa
Bay Derby (G2) hero #2 Classic Causeway (7-2),
who finished 2 3/4 lengths clear of White Abarrio when second in the Kentucky
Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill Downs last fall?
You could choose any of the
proven graded stakes winners and feel confident in your chances. But I'm going
to take an admittedly risky shot outside the box and favor #6 Charge It (7-2) instead.
I loved Charge It's maiden
victory racing one mile at Gulfstream on Feb. 12. The son of Tapit was quick
into stride from the outside post, clearing the field through fractions of
:24.24, :47.47, and 1:11.45. Considering the run-up distance for one-mile races
at Gulfstream is very short, the pace was arguably a bit quicker than it
appears at first glance.
In any case, Charge It was
full of run down the homestretch. Under a hand ride from jockey Luis Saez,
Charge It cranked out the penultimate furlong in :11.80 and the final furlong
in :12.30 to win by 8 1/2 lengths, completing the race in a snappy 1:35.55.
From a pedigree perspective,
Charge It is bred to be a star. His dam is I'll Take Charge, a daughter of
three-time Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady and a half-sister to such notable
names as Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, champion three-year-old male Will
Take Charge, Beholder Mile S. (G1) winner As Time Goes By, and Charming. The
latter just happens to be the dam of champion two-year-old filly Take Charge
Brandi and three-time Grade 1 winner Omaha Beach.
Suffice to say, Charge It is
bred to excel racing around two turns, so he's eligible to run even better
while stretching out over 1 1/8 miles in the Florida Derby. The fact trainer
Todd Pletcher has won five of the last eight editions of the Florida Derby adds
to the appeal.
Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park
I can't argue with anyone
who wants to support #7 Tiz the Bomb (2-1)
in this 1 1/8-mile Tapeta test. What's not to like? Tiz the Bomb enjoyed a
strong juvenile campaign, winning two stakes before placing second in the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), and he showed an affinity for Turfway when
battling to a neck triumph in the John Battaglia Memorial S. one month ago.
The only problem is, the
Jeff Ruby has drawn a large and competitive field, and Tiz the Bomb's 2-1
morning line odds aren't especially enticing. He's surely the horse to beat,
but I see appeal in playing one of the many other talented runners offering superior
Ultimately, I'm keen to
support #5 Tawny Port (5-1).
Conditioned by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, Tawny Port opened
his career with a pair of stretch-running victories at Turfway. After smashing
a one-mile maiden special weight by 6 1/2 lengths, Tawny Port nabbed a $50,000
allowance optional claimer over the same distance by a neck.
Tawny Port tried to translate
his Tapeta success to dirt in the Feb. 19 Risen Star S. (G2) at Fair Grounds,
and he didn't run badly by any means, passing a few horses late to finish
fifth. The only runners to beat Tawny Port were next-out Louisiana Derby (G2) 1-3
finishers Epicenter and Pioneer of Medina, Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) winner
Smile Happy, and Remsen S. (G2) runner-up Zandon.
The caliber of competition is
arguably easier in the Jeff Ruby, and returning to Turfway should trigger a
strong showing from Tawny Port. At 6-1, I'm willing to bet he can outkick Tiz
the Bomb down the homestretch.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in this week's 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.