04/17/2011 10:14AM

Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Recap

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If you had a sense of déjà vu late Saturday afternoon, you weren’t alone. For the second straight week, a highly ranked, highly respected, and heavily bet 3-year-old flopped in what was to be his final prep for the Kentucky Derby. Last week it was Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial. On Saturday, it was The Factor in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

Off strong victories in his prior three starts in which he became the only Kentucky Derby candidate this year to record three straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, The Factor backed up after tracking a strong early pace to finish a soundly beaten seventh. Like Uncle Mo in the Wood, this was The Factor’s first attempt at as far as 1 1-8 miles, and like Uncle Mo, distance might have had something to do with The Factor’s failure.

Right after the Arkansas Derby, The Factor was said to have displaced his palate, which certainly could not have helped. But even in view of that, I think the trip The Factor wound up with also played a big role in his loss. Unlike the way he controlled an uncontested pace last time out in the Rebel Stakes – which was his first start around two turns, and in which he crushed the subsequent winner of the Arkansas Derby, Archarcharch – The Factor was denied the early lead Saturday. He actually wound up in a nice spot, sitting some three to four lengths off the fast early fractions (22.54 and 46.53). However, The Factor always seemed out of his element in that position, and never really looked like a winner, even when he made a mild bid for the lead on the far turn.

Maybe the displaced palate explains all of that. But, at least at this early stage of his career, The Factor looks to me like he’s a need-the-lead type going two turns. And those types rarely succeed in the Kentucky Derby.

As for Archarcharch, he ran a solid race to upset at 25-1. He did benefit from the fast pace, but in his defense, he will in all likelihood get a similar pace to run at in the Derby. Archarcharch also benefitted from the wire coming up when it did, because the fast-closing Nehro was getting to him late. Nehro’s effort proved his surprising, and narrowly beaten, second in the Louisiana Derby was not a fluke, that he is much improved, and I find him an intriguing prospect for Louisville.

Still, one has to ask how strong this Arkansas Derby could have been with Dance City finishing third, beaten less than two lengths for all the money. I don’t want to take anything away from Dance City’s game performance, because he was the one forcing the fast pace. After that trip, Dance City deserves credit for finishing seven lengths ahead of The Factor and J P’s Gusto, who carved out those quick early fractions. But Dance City came into the Arkansas Derby off two blue collar overnight wins, and was 29-1 in what was his stakes debut. Being lightly raced, Dance City had a right to improve. But even allowing him reasonable improvement, you have to wonder how good this race really was for him to get as close as he did after the trip he had.

Let’s turn to Saturday’s Blue Grass at Keeneland, the once-pivotal Kentucky Derby prep that was moved to a synthetic surface in 2007. After that surface change, the Blue Grass gradually evolved from a prime source of premier Derby starters to a race for a horse already comfortably in the Derby on earnings looking for a final tune up on a forgiving surface.

It doesn’t seem likely that this year’s Blue Grass will have much, if any, impact on the Derby. Santiva, the colt who this year was hoping to use the Blue Grass as a “tune up,” instead had a troubled trip and finished ninth in what had to be a setback to whatever Derby chances he had beforehand. What we wound up with was Brilliant Speed (a turf specialist), Twinspired, and King Congie (another turf specialist), finishing one-two-three, separated by a nose and a head.

Right here, it is important to note the dirt records of these three, since, after all, dirt is the surface on which the Kentucky Derby is run. Brilliant Speed has made two dirt starts, and was beaten 19 1-4 and 21 lengths. In his one dirt start, Twinspired was beaten almost 12 lengths. And in his two prior dirt starts, King Congie was beaten 20 1-2 and 11 lengths. The optimistic view would be these three are just better horses now than they were when they tried dirt. More likely, this Blue Grass outcome is just another of the many examples of how unrelated synthetic track racing is to dirt racing.

Finally, this is being posted before the Beyer Figure for the Arkansas Derby is in (I’ll take a stab and predict it will be somewhere between 93 and 95). But we do have the Beyers for the other final major preps for the 2011 Kentucky Derby (although a couple of lesser potential preps remain, most notably Saturday’s Lexington).  Allowing that the Beyer gang reserves the right to make last minute tweaks, here are those Beyers:

Louisiana Derby – 94

Spiral – 93

Sunland Derby – 89

Florida Derby – 93

Wood Memorial – 94

Santa Anita Derby – 95

Blue Grass – 89

Some could look at that list and see a wide open Kentucky Derby. Others could look at that list and see profound mediocrity. And still others could see both.

UPDATE - The preliminary winning Beyer for the Arkansas Derby is 98.

ADDITONAL UPDATE - The Beyer folks bumped the Blue Grass fig up to 93, and moved the Santa Anita Derby number up to 97.

Mike Relva More than 1 year ago
Hello Mike: You were great on Blinkers Off,wish you were still there. Question(s) What do you think about Dialed In? Also,haven't heard for over a year anything regarding M. Jazz. Is he retired,injured? Thanks Mike Relva
denny putnam More than 1 year ago
I liked Archarcharch's race in the Arkansas derby. I'm going to use him and Toby's corner in the derby.
Buffalo Joe More than 1 year ago
Archtastic Unfortunetly not, due to the fact I have a grandson named Alex, who is the apple of my eye, that one was key to htting the tri, but I spread much further in the supers due to the 10 cent play, but neglected Sway Away. All I got out of the race was a small win place on Archx3, and that was due to the connections, as I was not very familiar with the horse. But I was very impressed with the effort he put forth and should he stay on track I will use him as a key horse along with Dialed In in the Derby.
Sue More than 1 year ago
Edb: I love Gourmet Dinner (yes, the horse too). He ran a solid (but sadly, bit too aggressive) campaign and was sent back to the farm for some rest after the Fountain of Youth. But he will be back. Larry: No worries, Mate! Dance City is out of a Pleasant Colony (Derby winner, also winner of the Preakness, Wood Memorial and Woodward Stakes) mare. Pleasant Colony sired BC Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect, and Colonial Affair (winner of the Belmont Stakes, JCGC and Whitney Hcp), so there is plenty of stamina on the dam’s side to compliment that early turn of foot City Zip runners often inherit. I just viewed Dance City’s 1/21/11 win at Gulfstream in the slop. Was very impressive, so the commanding win on an off track makes me even more giddy (and wanting to give that silly goose Sway Away…#@! Ok…I’m over it now). City Zip runners do well on the grass, too. So he just could be the total package (i.e., if he was a man, I’d marry him)…lol. Back to Derby focus, I played one lone future last year on Super Saver (35-1). My entire peer circle laughed at me for months, but I knew come Derby Day, CD would probably be an off track (and it was). Super Saver’s romp in the CD slop at 2 spoke volumes to me. My only regret was, I forgot to play the future exacta bet. I had it straight (with Ice Box, and have my Oaks Day text msgs to prove it). It paid over $1000. I didn’t forget this year (have a future exacta box with Dialed In, The Factor, Uncle Mo and All Others, which would include: Arch Arch Arch, Nehro, and Toby’s Corner). The following REMAINING likely/bubble contenders have DIRT wins at CD: Anthony’s Cross (and with Borel on board to boot), Brethren, Dialed In, Santiva, Shackleford and obviously, Uncle Mo in the BC Juvenile. Arch Arch Arch ran 2nd at CD as a 2yo. Unfortunately, there were no off track CD starts to gauge in the futures this year. Also from CD/BCJ: JP’s Gusto (6th), Jaycito (7th), Stay Thirsty (5th). I’ve always believed that CD is pretty much a love/hate track for runners, due to the high sand content. And it is easier to run on wet sand than dry, right? But some horses just hate the surface (Skip Away was one…I believe his best finish was 8th at CD, yet he won just under $10 million lifetime). So my point is, include the entrants on your Derby tickets with no quality CD dirt form, especially the turf and synthetic specialists, at your own peril. These are 3yo who already have the challenge of never having gone 10f, then have to deal with a > 100k screaming crowd and a 20 horse cavalry charge. But have fun! This is all good for me. Give me a puzzle to solve, the harder the better, with my secret recipe mint julep waiting, and I’m on board.
Mike More than 1 year ago
To all the Dance City fans: Did you guys happen to look at the graded earnings list?? DC sits like 30th with $100,000 in earnings. Last time I checked that will never get you in the starting gate derby day! Maybe in a 3yr old undercard race on derby day. Yes he ran a nice 3rd but he's definitely not derby bound without another $143,000 added to his earnings.
turbo999 More than 1 year ago
Mike - I was so impressed by DC after watching the Ark. replay 10 times that I posted before realizing that was his first stakes effort. Of course you're correct in saying there's no way he'll make the starting gate 5/7, but 5 weeks between starts should be just about perfect - I'll take a shot @ 12 or 15-1 in Baltimore...
edb More than 1 year ago
Well the last two weekends makes Dialed In the lukewarm favorite for the derby. BUT it really jumbled up the odds and should give us some nice tri numbers. Way too many one hit wonders now involved. I have a field/Mo box (2nd future) that will include at least 8 starters. I didn't think Mo was the weakest part of that bet. It would be a pip if Factor and Mo pass up the derby and really cause more mystery. Anyone notice Mucho's work? And where did Gourmet Dinner run off to?
Clem Kadiddle More than 1 year ago
Sometimes I get it right. This could be one of them. Okay. It is nearly 3 weeks until the Derby. I don't need the past performances for this one. The only one that can possibly win it is JP's Gusto.
gary m camejo More than 1 year ago
I made my contribution last time about Mo and the Met mile, now let The Factor join him. All we need now for other speedsters like JP Gusto and others like him to get out of the way so with can se horses with TRUE GRIT do battle to wire and not be impeded by these dead beat sprinters who will be rubber legged in the home straight.
Bill Daly More than 1 year ago
Buffalo Joe, don't feel lonely. Imagine how Tim Ritchey feels....you think Borel will hang around now?? Should be interesting to see who he winds up riding since it won't be Tim's horse.
Sue Galster More than 1 year ago
Synthetic preps need to be given the boot from inclusion in the graded earnings list for the Derby...period. So Animal Kingdom and Brilliant Speed get in, and the talented late maturing Shackleford will now have to wait out the defections. There should be several (fortunately for Shackleford). If Uncle Mo isn't 100% he will not run (thank you for being such a responsible owner, Mike Repole). The same will go for The Factor (George Bolton knows what he's doing). Saturday proved The Factor doesn't want any part of 10f, especially without having things his way, and the palate thing? The owners of Comma To The Top have been saying all along he will not run in the Derby...please save that super heart for shorter races! The same had been said for Decisive Moment(?) The owners of JP's Gusto need to watch the Ark Derby replay 25 x in a row like I did, and realize he was done at 7f. Master of Hounds? He may ship over...if he does, it will mostly be due to the lack of consistency from the 3yo crop, so Yes, I guess...run! I have a 48-1 future on Astrology, but the word is he will skip the Derby and point to the Preakness. So that's 5, perhaps 6 out of the top 20, then Shack gets in, as well as Twinspired, which would actually be a nice thing, after running one heck of a race (another late bloomer, but I agree that the Blue Grass will mean next to nothing come Derby time). Twinspired in the Derby at CD? Come on...no brainer. And he will become the stone cold betting favorite just based on his name (those crazy kids)! One more thing...go back and watch the Ark Derby repeatedly (but ignore the horrible race call. Terry, you are a gentleman, but that was awful. Yet one more reason to leave the saddle cloth colors alone)! Watch and isolate the top three finishers. How Dance City finished the way he did was absolutely amazing. I was irritated with how long DC took to load, so I had an attitude about him the whole live race. But if Sway Away hadn't run like a dweeb in the stretch, crowding DC into the rail and bumping him twice, would DC have been 1st? 2nd? Expending all that energy before even making it into the gate, then to make that run? I will definitely watch for his next start. Nehro will have the edge in the Derby with (now) two solid late kicks...and one more hop (ok, two) puts his nose in front of AAA for the win. I love class act Jon Court (big fan of the Jockeys series on Animal Planet) and his family's story. How great a win would that be for all of them? Dialed In, on his day, can come from dead last, but he has not been consistent either (and I fear a rough trip ala Ice Box/deja vu). Toby's Corner continues to improve, and Jay...you were dead on in your Derby Watch to be impressed with his "knifing through traffic." Eddie Castro rocks, is a super smart jock, tucked in early on the rail and gave that horse every chance. He had to check at least once in the stretch, too, before he got clear. Thanks Mike, and I know it's no accident you comment after Jay in the Derby Watch. Jay, watch out for those backhanded equine remarks...don't let them snort anything bad about you! Mike, my fav Derby Watch comment of all time was when you said "someone had to finish 3rd to Smarty Jones 3 times in Arkansas. This is the one..!" Peace be with you all this Holy Week.
turbo999 More than 1 year ago
Sue - I hope you & I are the only ones who noticed the GAME race Dance City ran in Ark. - this was the second straight race that he was passed by another horse and came on again. The pace scenario couldn't have been better for AAA & Nehro - in fact, if you watch the replay, Nehro never left the fence until the 5/16 pole. In the Derby, both these horses, along with Dialed In and any other late-closing horses, will be forced to weave thru traffic on the final turn or go 5-6 wide - either way, their closing kick will be compromised (Ice Box in '10, anyone?). I know this might be blasphemy, and in no way am I comparing DC's talent to him, but the last time I saw a Derby horse get hooked for an extended period of time, put that horse (Sarita's Song) away, and come back on the eventual winner, was Silver Charm in Free House's 1997 Santa Anita Derby... I don't think there are any Free Houses in this year's field, do you? Laugh if you must, but don't completely dismiss Dance City from your tickets come May 7...
larry More than 1 year ago
I agree with you 100% If you remember last year Super Saver ran the same Arkansas Derby as Dance City and then won the Derby. Only problem is City Zip really does not produce distance. I am willing to make an exception and if earnings preclude him from running in the Derby he will have my money in the Preakness.