Friday, April 9, 2010

Timing key in Arkansas Derby

Jay Privman,
Daily Racing Form

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Patience. Simple, virtuous patience. It's the operative word for the trainers of the three top choices in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday here at Oaklawn Park. Whether it's Ken McPeek, who trains Noble's Promise, or Todd Pletcher, who sends out Super Saver, or D. Wayne Lukas, who has Dublin, all are hoping their riders time their moves a little more judiciously than last time in this critical final prep for the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

Noble's Promise hit the front at midstretch of last month's Rebel Stakes, then got nailed in the final strides by Lookin At Lucky. Super Saver rocketed to the lead with an aggressive ride in the Tampa Bay Derby, and it cost him late when he tired in the final strides to finish third. Dublin made a bold, premature move down the backstretch in the Rebel, then had little left for the stretch run, finishing third.

For any of those colts to advance to the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby, they must first prove they can get the 1 1/8 miles of the Arkansas Derby. And they're not going to get there by being in a hurry.

The Arkansas Derby, which drew a field of nine, joins the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes as the key 3-year-old Derby preps on Saturday. Both races will be seen live on NBC, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern time. HRTV will have on-site coverage all day at Oaklawn Park, whose closing-day card Saturday begins at 12:05 p.m. Central. The Arkansas Derby is the ninth race on the 12-race card. Conditions are forecast by the National Weather Service to be ideal, with a high temperature of 75 degrees and zero chance of rain.

Of the three top choices in the Arkansas Derby, Noble's Promise is the only one whose rider gets a chance to make amends. Robby Albarado rode Noble's Promise for the first time in the Rebel, and is back aboard Saturday. It's not the competition that is McPeek's first concern.

"I'm more concerned with how Robby rides him," McPeek said. "We need to save some juice for the last quarter-mile."

Noble's Promise was making his first start in nearly three months in the Rebel. He was one of the nation's leading 2-year-olds last year, when he won the Breeders' Futurity, was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and second in the CashCall Futurity.

"He got his little vacation, and came back really, really well," McPeek said.

Like Noble's Promise, Super Saver has had just one start this year, and figures to move forward off of it. Though beaten only a half-length in the Tampa Bay Derby, he was an afterthought because of the razor-slim margin between the first two finishers, Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams.

Calvin Borel, who rode Super Saver to victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall at Churchill Downs, is reunited with Super Saver. Ramon Dominguez rode him last time, when Borel was tied up riding Rachel Alexandra the same day at Fair Grounds.

"He has natural speed," Pletcher said. "I'd like to see him find his own way, not put on the lead or taken back. The key is letting the horse find his own rhythm, not rushing him. Now that he's had a race under his belt, and a couple of good breezes, he's back to where he was last fall."

Dublin is reunited with Terry Thompson, who rode him to a second-place finish behind Conveyance in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 20 in his first start of the year. Corey Nakatani was aboard in the Rebel, in which Dublin moved up to vie for the lead down the backstretch, only to wind up four paths wide on the far turn.

"The trip compromised any chance he had of winning," said Lukas, a four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby. "In my 30 years of doing this, you use preps to move forward at each notch. That trip did not allow him to move forward. Fortunately he has enough graded earnings. I think he's talented. He's a drop-dead, knee-buckling, good-looking colt."

Lukas also is sending out Northern Giant, who looks like a live longshot in this race. He defeated maidens here on Feb. 4, and subsequently was third in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds and second in the Lane's End at Turfway.

Nakatani got the boot from Dublin, but wound up with a mount in the race when Pulsion shipped in for trainer Patrick Biancone. Two months ago, Biancone lamented that Pulsion's talent was being eclipsed by his immaturity. Biancone was far more bullish here on Thursday morning.

"I think he has a shot," Biancone said. "He's really coming around."

Line of David will be on or near the lead. He comes off a pair of front-running wins on turf at Santa Anita since adding blinkers. He is seeking to give California-based 3-year-olds a sweep of the local graded stakes, following Conveyance in the Southwest and Lookin At Lucky in the Rebel.

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