Last chance to make Derby field

Last chance to make Derby field

April 13, 2019 7:01 AM
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Who’s going to make it to the Kentucky Derby?

We’ll have a better idea this weekend.

This Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the $200,000 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland are the final races offering qualifying points for the 2019 Derby. Several key participants must earn enough points to keep their Derby dreams alive.

The Arkansas Derby offers points to the first four finishers as follows: 100-40-20-10. Improbable, trained by Bob Baffert, has been among the Kentucky Derby favorites all winter, but goes into the Arkansas Derby with just 25 qualifying points. With Japan-based Master Fencer accepting an international invitation to run in the Derby, Arkansas Derby participant Omaha Beach is “on the bubble” in the final qualifying spot with 37.5 points.

Improbable likely needs a top-three finish to secure his spot, while Omaha Beach must likely finish in the top four or risk falling out of a qualifying spot.

Country House (30 points) and Galilean (7.5 points) could make the final cut if either or both finish 1-2 in the Arkansas Derby. The connections of both would like to run in the Kentucky Derby.

Anothertwistafate, runner-up in the Sunland Park Derby, has 30 points and appears to be the lone runner in the Lexington Stakes who could put himself in the Kentucky Derby picture with a win. The Lexington offers a point distribution of 20-8-4-2 for the first four finishers, so anything less than a victory by Anothertwistafate may not be enough to get to the big dance.

I look for Improbable to run a huge race in the Arkansas Derby and Anothertwistafate to get the points he needs in the Lexington Stakes to also qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

SA Derby, Wood key

“The track is deep and slow, but it is safe.”

Those were the words spoken by trainer Bob Baffert after Roadster and Game Winner finished 1-2 in last Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby.

Roadster was ridden by Mike Smith, and the Hall of Fame jockey got Roadster to settle early behind horses while taking dirt in his face. Smith then sat chilly going into the far turn as Nolo Contesto, Instagrand, and Game Winner dueled for command.

The tactics paid off, as Smith angled Roadster to the outside for the stretch run and they quickly pounced on the leaders and wore down stablemate Game Winner to win by a half-length. Roadster earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 98 for his win.

Roadster got some much needed seasoning in this victory, while Game Winner, wheeling back in just three weeks after a nose defeat in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, galloped out well and should be sitting on his best race in the Kentucky Derby.

The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct was one of the roughest Derby prep races in recent memory. Joevia tried to cross and clear early from his extreme outside post, but instead severely impeded several rivals (his jockey Nik Juarez was subsequently handed a 15-day suspension).

Tacitus was bumped hard at the start and had his heels clipped from behind in the rough run into the first turn. He recovered to settle into a good stalking position before putting in a nice rally to run down Tax, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 97 in the process.

The first three finishers in the Wood Memorial — Tacitus, Tax, and Haikal — are all likely to run back in the Kentucky Derby, and the ability to overcome adversity is a huge asset for Tacitus as he gets ready for the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs.

Vekoma was an easy winner of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland last Saturday, but he also got a perfect pace-pressing trip over a track that strongly favored early speed. Vekoma’s winner Beyer Speed figure of 97 stacks up well with the wins by Roadster and Tacitus, but given the optimum conditions he may not have as much upside as the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial winners.

No Whips Friday

In a one-day experiment, jockeys will not carry whips in any of the races on the Friday card at Santa Anita.

The Jockeys’ Guild published a letter last Friday informing the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), Santa Anita management, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California of the plan.

According to the letter, jockeys are “not required to carry a riding crop” under CHRB rules, and the purpose of the experiment is for the Guild to speak to jockeys throughout the day to gather information on “how horses respond to passing other horses, how they react going through openings, and comments on any other situation that may develop during the running of a race”.

The CHRB is currently in the 45-day public comment period for proposed new restrictions that designate the use of whips or riding crops for safety purposes only. At the end of the 45-day period, the CHRB will vote on whether to adopt the new riding crop policies or amend the proposal and subject the changes to a further public comment period.

What all sides need to realize is that horseplayers are betting real money, owners are racing for real purses, and the jockeys are putting their lives on the line during this “experiment”. Let’s hope all horses and riders get around the track safely on Friday and that no horseplayer has a winning wager compromised because his jockey can’t encourage his mount to the wire.

What happens to the handle this Friday when compared to the same date last year may tell officials much about the horseplayer’s opinion of this “experiment.”

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita, Friday Race 5 — Mind for Mischief (No. 9). Likely favorite Honeyfromthesouth is very suspect getting the six-furlong trip. Mind for Mischief adds Lasix and figures to get first run from the outside. 

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