#11 Bodemeister (VA) – When I saw this horse break his maiden at Santa Anita, my initial reaction was he had a chance to be a classic horse. Then in just his third lifetime start he almost defeated a seasoned horse in Creative Cause, who is a Kentucky Derby favorite in the eyes of a lot of people. That race made my affection for the horse grow even larger, and I truly believe this horse could be a freak. They are taking off the blinkers for this race, and that is a move I love. I felt like Bodemeister had a little trouble relaxing in his last race, so hopefully the no blinkers factor will help with that. This horse has all the tools, and I believe he is sitting on a huge race. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we had a new Kentucky Derby favorite Saturday afternoon…that’s how high I am on Bodemesiter.
#7 Optimizer (KY) – I’ve taken a beating from all my friends and even a family member of two for backing this horse all year, but FINALLY Optimizer came through for me with a late charge for second in the Rebel. From day one I have had faith that this was the horse that would take D Wayne Lukas back to the Kentucky Derby. His pedigree screams long distance, and even though he’s by a turf champion sire, his dam’s side has dirt pedigree written all over it. The time has come for this horse to shine. Mentally he’s still a little wacky, but the distances only get longer from here on out, and this colt should relish in it. I’m looking for him to sit a little closer to the lead than he did in the Rebel, but he still won’t be near the pace. When they turn for home, this is the horse the leaders will have to hold off.
#5 Secret Circle (KY) – Words cannot express my love and admiration for this horse. His wins in both the Southwest and Rebel Stakes where awesome to watch. He’s shown us heart both times he raced at Oaklawn, and he comes into this race with a chance to do something that only the elite horses have accomplished…winning the “Oaklawn Crown.” But, as many of you know, you can’t bet with your heart in this game. The harsh fact is I believe Secret Circle is at the end of the road distance wise. He struggled to get home in the Rebel at a mile and one-sixteenth, and Saturday’s Arkansas Derby is at a mile and one-eighth. I think the extra distance will make the difference. Secret Circle is a very classy horse, but I don’t believe he is a Kentucky Derby horse. I sure hope he proves me wrong.
#6 Isn’t He Clever (KY) – The son of Oaklawn legend Smarty Jones comes to Arkansas looking to do exactly what his daddy did; win the Arkansas Derby. Even though he’ll more than likely be double-digit odds, there is a lot to like about this horse. He’ll run without blinkers for the first time, which should really help him. Isn’t He Clever has shown a lot of speed out of the gate, and as a result has gotten tired towards the end of races. In the Sunland Derby he led almost the entire race, but was nipped at the wire by Daddy Nose Best. Maybe removing the blinkers will help the horse calm down a little, and save some energy for the finish. You also have to like the jockey change to Robby Albarado. Robby was able to win this race in 2007 with Curlin, and will also help in getting him relaxed. This horse could loom dangerous if he can stalk and pounce late…BEWARE!
#9 Sabercat (KY) – I’m calling his dull effort in the Rebel as a throw out race. It was his first race in nearly six months, and I think he needed that one to get himself rounded back in form. I expect a much better performance for him in this spot, but is he talented enough to win the whole thing? Probably not, but he’s a definite exotic play. The good news for Sabercat….he doesn’t have to do much in this race to advance on to the Kentucky Derby. He has plenty of graded stakes cash to qualify.
#2 Stat (KY) – Stat comes in from the Todd Pletcher barn off a six length allowance win at Gulfstream Park in his last start. This is one I’ve had my on ever since he broke his maiden at Belmont Park last summer. From there he went to Saratoga where he finished second to Union Rags in the Saratoga Special Stakes. He’s had a few minor injuries since then, but his last race was a big one, and it has me excited about his potential again. I think Pletcher sends in a dangerous one here, and I love that Johnny Velazquez is coming in to ride. He was bred to win big races, and he should be able to run as long as you need him to go. If you like long shots, this is your horse!
#3 Najjaar (KY) – I’ve got a feeling this horse could be the one that jumps up and bites everyone on Saturday. Najjaar is a DEEP closer that has won twice at Oaklawn this year, and he finished a fast closing sixth in the Rebel. More distance is what this horse needs, and he’ll get that on Saturday. He’ll also need a fast pace, which is something he may or may not get. When you come from so far out of it you are at the mercy of the pace. He’ll need horses like Isn’t He Clever, Bodemeister, and Secret Circle to battle it out on the front end of things. If that happens, I can see this guy jumping in at the quarter pole and flying past them all.
#1 Cozzetti (KY) – Even though Cozzetti ships in for the highly regarded Dale Romans I still can’t see him making much of an impact in this race. Romans believes the horse is sitting on a big one, but I’m going to make him prove it to me first before my money is backing him.
#4 Jake Mo (KY) – It may be stupid of me to throw out a horse that has run so well in the two preps leading up to this race, but I’ve never thought of him as being a Grade 1 type horse so I’m not going to change now. He’s going to give you on honest effort on Saturday, but I don’t think he’ll be good enough to crack the top four.
#8 Atigun (KY) – He ran poorly in the Rebel last time out, but had a bit of an excuse as he was coming off a foot injury that had set him back a bit. I expect an improved effort from him on Saturday, but I believe he is a cut below some of the top horses in this race.
#10 Raconteur (KY) – This horse has been a little slow to develop, but snatched up a solid ungraded stakes win at Laurel last time out. However, his connections are just taking a chance here as he looks to be out-classed against this group. A race like the Northern Spur on the under card would have been a much better fit for him.