Derby Top Ten


It looks better and better each time I watch it, this Arkansas Derby. No, I don’t think it’ll produce the Kentucky Derby winner, but I expect several horses coming out of Saturday’s million-dollar race to make some noise down the road.

Line Of David took advantage of the surface’s speed-favoring tendencies. Half of the 12 races Saturday at Oaklawn Park were won by horses that led early or were right there with the early leader. Still, any horse that can run through those splits – 46.26 for the half-mile and 1:10.75 for three-quarters – and win going nine furlongs is obviously a horse of quality. Unbeaten now with blinkers, he left the gate like a popped champagne cork and seemed determined to have the lead. In other words, he didn’t seem very willing to be rated.

For the numbers folks, I gave the race a 101, which, after Eskendereya’s easy victories in the Fountain of Youth and Wood, puts it right up there, for me, with the best preps of the year. I don’t expect the Kentucky Derby to reward Line Of David’s foot-to-the-floor style, not at that distance at that track and especially not with the other speed that’s expected. But he could be the early leader in Kentucky.

But Super Saver, who ran second, and Dublin, who finished third, gave performances that suggest they’re moving forward and could be ready for big efforts on May 1. Super Saver never has won without the early lead, but he seemed content to follow Line Of David and then challenge in the stretch. He never got by the leader, not even galloping out, but he ran the final three-furlongs in 38.02, which is solid. And Dublin, who raced wider in the turn and made up a little more ground, ran the final three-eighths even faster.

Uh Oh Bango didn’t flash his usual speed, but he rallied determinedly despite racing wide. He finished about two back in only his second start of the year. And Noble’s Promise, the favorite, had an unfortunate journey on his way to finishing fifth. He broke out and bumped with Northern Giant, then he dropped back to last. Noble’s Promise advanced around the first turn, only to be checked, and then he still tried to rally, but his tank was empty in deep stretch. He deserves a spot where he can win, and that won’t be at 10 furlongs in the Kentucky Derby.

As for the Blue Grass at Keeneland, I no longer consider it much of a prep for the Triple Crown. The last three Blue Grass winners – General Quarters, Monba and Dominican – have finished 10th, 20th and 11th in the Derby. In Keeneland’s last three Polytrack years, 13 horses have used the Blue Grass to prepare for the Derby. Their average finish: 12th. Yes, the Blue Grass money is significant because of the earnings-in-graded-stakes process that limits the Derby field to 20, but the Blue Grass itself isn’t.

This year should alert Churchill officials to the need to revise the criterion for limiting the field. The Derby starting gate will probably be crowded with several dubious types, such as Dean’s Kitten, the Lane’s End winner who was beaten 33 lengths in his only race on dirt, and Homeboykris, who hasn’t won this year and who was beaten nearly 10 lengths in his only race beyond a mile.

With Mine That Bird’s 50-1 shocker last year, some people seem to think you only have to get into the gate to have a chance to win this most famous of America’s races. It’s as if they think the Derby’s a lottery; all you need is a ticket. But what kind of chance will Dean’s Kitten and Homeboykris have on May 1? About as much chance as a marshmallow at a Boy Scout campfire. But they could impede a contender. And that’s the problem.

Anyway, as good as the Arkansas Derby was, they’re all still chasing the big horse, who more conspicuously than ever is leading the way on the road to the Triple Crown:

1. Eskendereya – The clear leader, but does he have the versatility and athleticism to deal with the pace and traffic of the Derby?

2. Lookin At Lucky – His troubled trip in the Santa Anita Derby did nothing to diminish his reputation or status.

3. Endorsement – The Sunland winner appears to be peaking at the right moment, but the lightly raced colt will face a huge challenge at Churchill.

4. Sidney’s Candy – The Santa Anita horses have done well moving to dirt, but he won’t be allowed to lope on an easy lead at Churchill.

5. Awesome Act – He showed his talent in the Gotham, and his Wood was probably better than it appeared.

6. Super Saver – After his race Saturday, he should be ready for a good effort.

7. Dublin – D. Wayne Lukas has him ready for a top effort on Derby Day.

8. Ice Box – He’s just the sort that runs late and picks up a piece of the Derby purse.

9. Rule – He’s another who could have a pace problem in Kentucky, but he runs the turns well, and the Derby is usually won in the second turn.

10. Line Of David – He could be quickest among a quick group, but how far can he go?

Also eligible: Conveyance, Uh Oh Bango, Mission Impazible, Noble’s Promise, Setsuko, Jackson Bend, Pleasant Prince, Drosselmeyer, Discreetly Mine, American Lion, Stately Victor.

by Gary West


Today’s Hot Plays