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The wild and crazy road to the Kentucky Derby comes to an end on Saturday with the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, and a full field of twelve horses will likely keep the craziness going. Speaking of crazy… how fitting is it that the favorite for this final Kentucky Derby prep race is Classic Empire?! After his disappointing third place effort in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, it seems like he’s been a handful to say the least, but perhaps he is coming around at just the right time, having had three solid workouts in a row. He will break from post two for trainer Mark Casse.
While Classic Empire drew well, the Rebel Stakes winner, Malagacy, did not. He will break from the far outside in post twelve. That’s not an ideal spot to be no matter what race you are in, but especially not for a speed horse that may or may not want to run this far. The colt will be trainer Todd Pletcher’s only shot to win the race with the early-week defection of One Liner.
Steve Asmussen will have a pair of runners in the race in the Rebel third-place finisher Untrapped and the Southwest third-place finisher Lookin At Lee. Both horses have progressed nicely in the weeks leading up to the race and could give Steve Asmussen back-to-back Arkansas Derby wins; Creator won this race last year for the Hall of Fame Trainer.
The Arkansas Derby will go off as race 11 on the 12-race program, which is also closing day at Oaklawn Park.
#2 Classic Empire – What will he do this time? Racing’s “bad boy” is back for one last try at establishing himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite. He’s been a wild one to say the least. After bucking the jockey off at Saratoga in the Hopeful Stakes last summer, he rebounded to win the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile while bringing home 2-year-old Horse of the Year honors. All looked well heading into his 3-year-old season until a poor third-place effort in the Grade 3 Holy Bull threw a monkey wrench into his path to Kentucky. He had a minor foot problem that he’s since overcome, but the horse has refused to work in the mornings several times, which kept delaying his next race. He’s finally put together three solid weeks of training, which makes me think he might be ready for this race. If he can handle the paddock and infield at Oaklawn, he’s going to be in great shape, and there’s no doubt that he’s the most talented horse in the race. We’ll see if this crazy horse can behave and get this Kentucky Derby picture back on track.
#9 Untrapped – He and his stablemate Lookin At Lee are so similar, it’s scary. Both horses run “grind it out” races that aren’t visually impressive, but they pick up decent checks for their connections. Last time out in the Rebel, Untrapped impressed me a little bit more than his stablemate, which gives me hope that he could be more than just a hit-the-board type. I also like that he’s run well at two different tracks this year, and his consistency is admirable, something with which the rest of this year’s crop has struggled. Going longer could really suit him well, and if Classic Empire doesn’t show up with his best effort, Untrapped becomes a logical win candidate.
#12 Malagacy – There’s very little doubt in my mind that this horse is a sprinter, but he’s very classy, and that class got him to the wire first in the Rebel Stakes. Now he has to go even longer in this spot, which has me worried, but once again, I think that class could get him there. However, this outside draw will do him no favors at all; he’ll have to travel even longer than expected. I love this horse and believe that he is super talented, but going this far scares me. Play him on your multi-race tickets just in case I’m wrong about him needing to go shorter.
#4 Petrov – Over the last three years, trainer Ron Moquett has done an excellent job with horses running in this series, and Petrov is no exception. He was second in the Smarty Jones, second in the Southwest, and fourth in the Rebel Stakes, a race in which he was less than a nose away from second. I’m expecting more of the same kind of effort from him today. I don’t know if he’s good enough to actually win, but he’ll give it another big effort.
#7 Sonneteer – It’s hard to know what to make of this maiden who somehow finished second in the Rebel Stakes last time out. I don’t believe he’s any threat to win this race, but it’s becoming very clear that he likes to run with the other horses in the race, no matter what competition he’s facing. That gives him a big shot to hit the board here, which is why I suggest putting him underneath on all of your tickets.
#6 Lookin At Lee – This is the type of horse I hate: every time he enters a race, we know that his ceiling is hitting the board. He’s the ultimate grinder and will likely do something similar to his previous races in this spot. It would be great for my fantasy team if he could do something more than that, but I doubt he will.
#11 Conquest Mo Money – This is a very interesting horse who was great at Sunland Park this season and finished second in the Sunland Park Derby. The horse that beat him in that race, Hence, is one that I like. There isn’t much chance of him competing with Classic Empire if Classic Empire is on his “A Game,” but if he’s not, it opens up a ton of possibilities. Past Classic Empire, there are no world-beaters in this race, so why not take a big swing?
#1 Rockin Rudy – How can you doubt Doug O’Neill after his stunning win in the Bluegrass Stakes last week with Irap? This horse doesn’t have much in his past performances to make you think that he can win, but if you want to bet him because of O’Neill, I wouldn’t blame you.
#3 Silver Dust – He seems like a horse that has a lot of talent but just can’t put it all together. He’s been headstrong in the mornings leading up to this race, so that may not be the best sign. He’s an interesting horse if you want to play a price, but I’ll pass for now.
#5 Grandpa’s Dream – This recent maiden special weight winner looks to take a swing against the big dogs today. Don’t blame them for trying it, but he hasn’t shown enough to warrant much betting interest.
#8 Rowdy the Warrior – This grind-it-out type could like going 1 1/8 miles, but he hasn’t shown the turn of foot needed to win against this type of competition. He would need a complete pace meltdown.
#10 One Dreamy Dude – He’s still a maiden and hasn’t been close to winning recently. He’s a curious entry to being with, and this wide post won’t help matters.
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