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April 13th, 2013 − Oaklawn Park
COUNTDOWN REWIND: ARKANSAS DERBY
By Jeremy Plonk
Date: Saturday, April 13, 2013
Track: Oaklawn Park
Kentucky Derby Points Awarded: 100-40-20-10
Distance: 1 1/8 miles (2 turns) on dirt
HANDICAPPERS’ RECAP: Many years the Arkansas Derby is about a shining star. But this year it was the Redemption Derby as much as anything as the winners of its three key local stakes preps were absent. Either a horse was going to rebound out of the Smarty Jones, Southwest or Rebel to reclaim the local throne, or the out-of-towners would prove best in the absence of Super Ninety Nine (Bob Baffert) and Will Take Charge (D. Wayne Lukas). The raider who rallied to the cause was Overanalyze (Todd Pletcher), who gave the trainer his record third Arkansas Derby score and earned back his proud juvenile reputation. And runner-up Frac Daddy also redeemed his 2012 autumn form with a return to a strong stakes placing. The horses assumed capable of rising to stardom never made the casting call. Post-time favorite War Academy (Bob Baffert) pulled up in distress on the backstretch with a half-mile still to run and popped several balloons of anticipation for the runaway allowance winner. And Oxbow (D. Wayne Lukas), the strong runner-up in the Rebel the month previous, never factored.
ON THE CLOCK: The clock was not kind to the Arkansas Derby. The final time of 1:51.94 was the slowest since Eosops Foibles failed to shade 1:52 in 1978. In daily comparables, the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap for older horses went in 1:49.67, about a dozen lengths quicker. And compared to Bodemeister’s 1:48.71 a year ago in this race, the math pushes to more than 15 lengths slower. The Arkansas Derby fractions played out as 23.32, 24.32, 24.93, 26.65 and 12.72 for the final 1:51.94. If you just look how Bodemeister came home the final three-eighths in comparison, he went 25.38 and 11.97 before finishing second in the Kentucky Derby. This race will not impress speed aficionados.
THE EYE TEST: Overanalyze broke nicely in stride from post 9 but still wound up 6-wide into the clubhouse turn in a race that had plenty of early speed in the lineup. Jockey Rafael Bejarano was able to drop in a few paths before hitting the backstretch, but Overanalyze never got within any closer than 5 paths off the rail into the far turn. Straightened for the drive 4-5 wide, jockey Corey Nakatani aggressively hemmed in Frac Daddy in the upper stretch and blew past the tiring leaders just inside the furlong marker. He widened from there while ridden out fairly aggressive to win by 4 ¼ lengths. He galloped out with zest with his ears up and visually he ran a race that befuddles the clock. This was a strong trip-handicapper’s performance with the ground loss and finish, albeit too slow to trust fully. Runner-up Frac Daddy, despite breaking a step slower, had a very similar trip as the winner, essentially one path to his inside much of the journey while showing just a tad more tactical speed once he got into stride. Frac Daddy also wound up 4-wide on both turns, and probably was sent too hard and too soon down the backstretch in a failed attempt to clear and drop in. Frac Daddy brushed a bit with the winner as Overanalyze went by without resistance and the incident meant nothing to the outcome.
As for Oxbow, you want to complain about another bad post draw in the 10-hole, but when the exacta runs 9-8 and the winner covered easily the most ground in the race, that argument falls on deaf ears. He was very rank and throwing his head into the clubhouse turn fighting Gary Stevens, not accustomed to being that far off the pace. He did manage to finish right on the tail of runner-up Frac Daddy despite a fifth-place check so it wasn’t as terrible as it first looked. Den’s Legacy and Texas Bling, the 3-4 finishers in the Rebel never really fired, while Carve made a decent rail move late and Falling Sky scored best of the front-runners to last for fourth.
PROJECTING THE ARKANSAS DERBY FORWARD: Overanalyze, Frac Daddy, Falling Sky and Oxbow all will move on to the Kentucky Derby barring a setback. A 2-time winner at 1 1/8 miles, Overanalyze has to be considered a serious win threat in Louisville regardless of this final clocking. Frac Daddy and Falling Sky are nice horses, but perhaps a cut below the big ones. It is possible Lukas soft-balled Oxbow leading up to the Arkansas Derby as he’s openly talked about playing the Derby points system all spring. Oxbow comfortably had enough points to qualify and Lukas, after all, sat out this race with the Rebel winner for that very reason of already qualifying. Oxbow is a horse who could rebound in Louisville if you see a major spark in his workouts and training; he will tell us if he’s heading north or south. Carve was not Triple Crown nominated. War Academy reportedly was not seriously injured and the cause for his sudden departure from the race was not made public, while his future plans obviously are to be determined, but will not include the Triple Crown.