A field of 12 will line up at the gate for the 81st running of the Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby this Saturday. The Kentucky Derby aspirants will go 1 1/8 miles over the Oaklawn Park oval. 100 Derby points will be awarded to the winner, virtually assuring that colt a spot in the starting gate. The second-place runner will earn 40 points while third gets 20 and fourth gets 10. Post time for the centerpiece race of the Oaklawn meeting (and the 11th of the day) is 7:18 p.m. EST. Remember to review this column before finalizing your picks in FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game!
The track oddsmaker made the Arkansas Derby seem like a two-horse race between Juvenile champ #2 CLASSIC EMPIRE (8-5, morning-line favorite) and undefeated Rebel Stakes winner #12 MALAGACY (2-1), but I think the competition runs far deeper than that.
#6 LOOKIN AT LEE (15-1) should be able to benefit from a potentially rapid early pace. From the rail out, #1 ROCKIN RUDY, CLASSIC EMPIRE, #4 PETROV, #11 CONQUEST MO MONEY and MALAGACY all have some semblance of early speed in their past performance lines. LOOKIN AT LEE, who will get Luis Contreras aboard for the first time, is a stone-cold closer. With speed drawn throughout the field, it seems unlikely the frontrunners won’t be softened up late. LOOKIN AT LEE ran an improved figure in the Rebel compared to the Southwest, and despite the tradeoff in finishing position (sixth in the Rebel, third in the Southwest), he should be ready to fire a peak effort in his third start of the year. His work from Apr. 2 is also encouraging.
#3 SILVER DUST (20-1) maintains Corey Lanerie after a very rough trip in the Rebel Stakes. He was off last and steadied early but finished decently for fifth, just ahead of LOOKIN AT LEE. SILVER DUST will probably run a bit closer initially with the addition of blinkers and a sharp tune-up work under his belt, but his lack of natural early speed will likely resign him to a mid-pack trip; an ideal spot on Saturday.
CONQUEST MO MONEY (15-1) intrigues in his first start outside Sunland Park. He was a non-threatening second in the Sunland Derby to Hence, who’s training up to the Kentucky Derby. However, CONQUEST MO MONEY was caught five-wide into the first turn then was forced to make an early move around the far turn. He was unlucky at the post draw again, but based on Irap’s win in last week’s Blue Grass Stakes after an unsuccessful run at Sunland, CONQUEST MO MONEY merits a long look.
CLASSIC EMPIRE (Julien Leparoux) and MALAGACY (Javier Castellano) are too dangerous to toss out of exotics and multi-race wagers, but their “obvious” credentials are counteracted by other unfortunate details.
CLASSIC EMPIRE had nothing in the Holy Bull, his first start at three, then came up with a minor injury. In the process of training up to this race, he refused to work out one morning. He is a risky proposition at 8-5. As for MALAGACY, his pedigree appears to preclude him from going this far, and his wide draw will not help him establish good early position.
The play: $1 exacta box 3,6,11, $2 win 3,6,11 ($12)
DFJ analysis: Hall-of-Famer Mike Smith has a slew of good mounts on Saturday led by Oaklawn Handicap favorite Midnight Storm (1-2). He is in all four stakes races at Oaklawn on Arkansas Derby day.
If you want volume, consider Ricardo Santana Jr., who’s gunning for yet another Oaklawn rider title. He’s listed in all 12 races on Saturday.
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