04/11/2011 12:02PM

2011 Kentucky Derby: Under the Radar - Arthur's Tale

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By finishing second in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last Saturday, Arthur’s Tale didn’t exactly pull Excalibur from the stone, but he leapt from Kentucky Derby non-entity to one of the intriguing “bubble” possibilities for this year’s Run for the Roses.

With juvenile champion Uncle Mo defeated in the Wood, Premier Pegasus and To Honor and Serve on the sidelines, Jaycito battling a bruised hoof, and Soldat coming off a mediocre performance in the Florida Derby, this year’s Kentucky Derby is as wide open as it has ever been. Perhaps it is a race tailor-made for a late-bloomer, an “Under the Radar” performer, so to speak.

Arthur’s Tale is by Bernardini, the 3-year-old champion of 2006. That season, Bernardini reeled off six consecutive victories, including Grade 1 triumphs in the Preakness, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup (117 Beyer). In the final start of his career, the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Bernardini finished second, a length shy to the older Invasor.

From his first crop of runners, 3-year-olds of 2011, Bernardini has sired Remsen winner To Honor and Serve, Frizette heroine A Z Warrior, Gotham winner Stay Thirsty, and Italian Group 1 winner Biondetti.

Arthur’s Tale also receives class and stamina from the female half of his pedigree. His dam, Owsley, won four graded stakes races on turf, including the Grade 2 Galaxy and Grade 2 New York Handicap. A winner and stakes placed from five starts on dirt, Owsley succeeded at distances ranging from a mile to 1 3/8 miles. She earned two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures during her career (for the Galaxy and her win in the Grade 3 Modesty).

With Arthur’s Tale’s placing in the Wood Memorial, all three of Owsley’s starters have earned black type. War Hoot finished third in the $250,000 President’s Cup, while Senada ran third in last year’s Topicount Stakes at Belmont. Both of those races came at nine furlongs on the grass.

Owsley herself is related to a pair of long-winded jump performers in Dr. Ramsey and Addinson. Considering the stamina in this pedigree, Arthur’s Tale seems like a good candidate to last the demanding Derby distance of 10 furlongs.

Bred by Stone Farm, Arthur’s Tale was purchased for $750,000 at the 2009 Fasig-Tipton select yearling auction at Saratoga. He was bought by Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stable and sent to trainer Tom Albertani, the same owner-trainer combination that campaigned Bernardini.

Arthur’s Tale made his career debut on July 31, 2010 at the prestigious Saratoga meeting. He finished fifth at six furlongs that afternoon, but faced a promising group that featured Astrology (ran third, won Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes in the fall), Anthony’s Cross (finished fourth, won Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes this year at Santa Anita), and Rush Now (placed eighth, won Dover Stakes at Delaware later in 2010). Both Astrology and Rush Now returned to graduate next out.

Arthur’s Tale stretched out to a one-turn mile at Belmont for his second start, a maiden special weight on Sept. 11. Racing with Lasix for the first time, he put in a late run, but it was only good enough for third, 2 3/4 lengths behind favored winner Heisman.

With all of those influences on the bottom of his pedigree, it was only natural for Albertrani to try turf with Arthur’s Tale, and the colt finished an even fourth going a mile on grass at Belmont on Oct. 10.

Arthur’s Tale received a slight freshening after that race, but he returned in an off-the-turf maiden special weight on Dec. 2 over the Aqueduct inner track. Making his first start in blinkers in his initial race around two turns, Arthur’s Tale showed improved early speed, and he battled on the lead with favored Dance City through slow fractions of 24.06 and 48.79. Racing outside of Dance City, Arthur’s Tale made the lead for good inside the eighth pole, and drew off to win by two lengths. Dance City came back to win his next two races over the winter at Gulfstream, including a tally over 3-year-old prospects Cal Nation and Bowman’s Causeway in an entry-level allowance on March 19.

Arthur’s Tale failed to kick in when making his first start against winners in the $65,000 Count Fleet Stakes at a mile and 70 yards over the inner track on New Year’s Day, but he did finish ahead of a pair of next-out winners. He raced wide when fourth of five over a sealed, muddy track in the $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 5, but gained valuable experience while facing some good foes (Toby’s Corner, the Wood winner, took that race by two lengths over J J’s Lucky Train, a winner in his next two races, including the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes).

Arthur’s Tale needed a confidence boost, and Albertrani dropped him into an entry-level allowance race at a mile over the inner track on March 23. It was only a four-horse field, and Arthur’s Tale ended up prompting very slow fractions while racing three wide. After losing ground to the two pacesetting favorites, Arthur’s Tale showed enough moxie to wear them down in the stretch, getting up by a neck while flipping back to his wrong racing lead right on the wire.

Most observers felt it was folly to challenge the undefeated Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial, but Arthur’s Tale came in ready for a brawl. He stalked the pace while saving ground going into the first turn before racing in between rivals down the backstretch. He was shuffled back slightly on the far turn, but angled out and began a strong rally in upper stretch. He whipped past Uncle Mo with an eighth to run, but was just outfinished by his old nemesis Toby’s Corner with 70 yards remaining.

Arthur’s Tale isn’t afraid of traffic, is bred for longer distances, and seems to be peaking at the right time. His biggest battle over the next month is with the graded earnings list. With several prep races remaining, it is quite possible that Arthur’s Tale will be excluded from the Derby field. If that’s the case, he’s one to follow in races like the Peter Pan as that would serve as a nice prep for the Belmont Stakes in June.

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