The Arkansas Derby:
Probable Starters: Optimizer, Bodemeister, Secret Circle, Scatman, Stat, Heavy Breathing, Handsome Mike, Najjaar, Sabercat, On Fire Baby
The main event of the Racing Festival of the South is the Arkansas Derby. Over the years the Arkansas Derby has been one of the most productive preps in the nation. This years race is shaping up to be a classic. Secret Circle has won both the Southwest and Rebel Stakes, and will look to be the first horse to sweep the Oaklawn three-year old series since Lawyer Ron did it in 2006. Standing in his way is his stable mate Bodemeister, who finished second to highly regarded Creative Cause in the San Felipe, and Optimizer who nearly caught Secret Circle at the wire in the Rebel Stakes.
One wild card in the Arkansas Derby might be On Fire Baby if they choose to run the filly against the boys. She produced the fastest mile and one-sixteenth race of the Oaklawn meet, but struggled in her only start against the boys when she finished third in the Smarty Jones Stakes. Still, there is little doubting her ability. If she can run back to her last race she not only can win the Arkansas Derby, but her chances in the Kentucky Derby would be decent.
Rounding out the field will most likely be two deep closers in Najjaar and Sabercat, and two shippers from the Todd Pletcher barn: Heavy Breathing and Stat. If the pace is hot, Najjaar and Sabercat could loom large. They both made average closing efforts in the Rebel. The Pletcher duo looks a bit overwhelmed on paper, but you can never count Pletcher out. Stat has solid breeding, and has had some decent races in the past. Heavy Breathing was third in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway last time out.
The Apple Blossom:
Probable Starters: Havre De Grace, Absinthe Minded, Tiz Miz Sue, Plum Pretty, It’s Tricky
Horse of the Year Havre De Grace is back at Oaklawn, and will defend her 2011 Apple Blossom title against a field that should give her a test. Last year Havre De Grace used the Apple Blossom as a springboard to bigger and better things as she defeated Switch in the late stages of an exciting race. This year she’ll be challenged by what I believe to be a deeper field. Local mares Tiz Miz Sue and Absinthe Minded have run solid races over the local oval this meet. Tiz Miz Sue dominated in the Azeri Stakes, and Absinthe Minded was stylish in the two Stakes before that. Both local horses come into this years Apple Blossom with a chance.
The shippers for this years race will more than likely be the biggest threats to Havre De Grace. Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty is planning to ship in for trainer Bob Baffert, and It’s Tricky will ship in for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. It’s Tricky was the winner of the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes last summer, and finished second in the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic. This year she was an easy winner of the Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct.
The Oaklawn Handicap:
Probable Starters: Hymn Book, Alternation, Win Willy, Tapizar, Nehro, Color Me Blue
Alternation has been nothing short of brilliant in his two starts this meet, and will look to cap it off with a win in the Oaklawn Handicap. Trainer Donnie K Von Hemel has said all along that a lot of credit goes to the owners of Alternation as they have been patient and allowed the horse to mature, and now that strategy is paying off in a big way. There is no doubt Von Hemel has him poised to run a big one.
The competition Alternation will be facing is going to be STOUT. Hymn Book, winner of the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, looks to be the main threat. His win in the Donn was extremely impressive and many believe he could be the main older male to watch this year. Also expected to ship in is Nehro, who finished second in both the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby last year. This year he was an impressive winner in a recent allowance at Fair Grounds.
One local horse you can never count out is last years Handicap champion, Win Willy. He finished a disappointing last in the local prep for this race, but that was his first race in ten months. The local star has been known to pull off big upsets in the past over this track, and will most likely play the role of longshot again. It would be a perfect ending to his Oaklawn career if he could pull off the victory.
The Fantasy Stakes:
Probable Starters: On Fire Baby, Amie’s Dini, Wait Til Dawn, Colonial Empress
Make no mistake about it, this race begins and ends with two super fillies: Amie’s Dini and On Fire Baby. These two are head and shoulders above anything else on the grounds in this division. They both battled gamely in the Honeybee Stakes, with On Fire Baby passing Amie’s Dini in the late stages of the race. This race won’t offer you much betting wise, so just sit back and enjoy watching two very good fillies battle it out. If On Fire Baby elects to run in the Arkansas Derby, then just sit back and watch Amie’s Dini put on a show!
The Count Fleet:
Probable Starters: City Sage, Riley Tucker, Outta Tune, Our Dark Knight
At this point the Count Fleet is WIDE open. It’s hard to predict who will even enter this race, let alone win it. City Sage won the local prep for this one, so one would think he’d be a likely win candidate. Our Dark Knight ran second in the Hot Springs, and will most likely try his luck again. Outta Tune ran the fastest six furlongs of the meet the day after the Hot Springs, so he could be one to watch as well. As far as shippers are concerned, at this moment I don’t know of any who are planning the trip although I’m sure there will be some. Once I find out something, I will update this post.