04/11/2012 12:19PM

Arkansas Derby: Bodemeister the morning line favorite as 11 chase $1M purse

Shigeki Kikkawa
Bodemeister has been made the 9-5 favorite for Saturday $1 million Arkansas Derby.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The dash for graded cash is on at Oaklawn Park.

The Arkansas Derby, which is the final $1 million prep for the Kentucky Derby, drew a field of 11 when entries were taken on Wednesday. And most in Saturday's 1 1/8-mile race will need a significant finish to advance on the road to Louisville.

"It's gotten to be like the bracketology in the NCAA Final Four basketball," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will send out Optimizer in the Arkansas Derby. "People are now are all paying attention to who's in, who's out, where the earnings are."

Bodemeister is chief among horses in need of earnings. The runner-up in the Grade 2 San Felipe in his stakes debut March 10, he drew post 11 for the Arkansas Derby, a race he enters after being considered for last week's Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. Bodemeister, who was made the 9-5 morning-line favorite at Oaklawn, goes for Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert.
"Mr. Zayat wanted to run. He liked the Arkansas Derby," said Baffert. "He thought it would give Bodemeister an extra week, thought it would be a better spot for him."

Bodemeister, who will be ridden by Mike Smith, will remove blinkers Saturday. He is one of two runners for Baffert, who will also send out Secret Circle, the 5-2 second choice on the morning line who will break from post 5 one start after winning the Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. Secret Circle earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92 for the win, while Bodemeister enters the Arkansas Derby off back-to-back Beyer Figures of 101, as well as a six-furlong work in 1:10.40 at his Santa Anita base April 2.

The Arkansas Derby field also includes Cozzetti, who will break from the rail one start after running third in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10. Much like Bodemeister, he needs graded cash Saturday. A win in the Arkansas Derby is worth $600,000, a runner-up finish, $200,000, and third place, $100,000. (Oaklawn will actually pay back to 11th, with the sixth- through last-place finishers each picking up about $3,333.)

"If we were to run first or second, it would give us enough to most likely get into the Derby," said Dale Romans, who trains Cozzetti and has given the mount to Jose Lezcano.

Najjaar, who was sixth in the Rebel in his stakes debut March 10, is another in need of graded cash. He will break from post 3 under jockey Calvin Borel.

"The only negative is that to get into the Kentucky Derby, we're almost in a position now where we have to win the Arkansas Derby," said Dan Peitz, who trains Najjaar. "I don't know that $200,000 will get you in the Derby now."

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who sends out both Stat, from post 2, and Raconteur, from post 10, agreed.

"Basically, the way it looks like this Derby is shaping up, unless you've got previous graded earnings, you have to win," he said. "Second or third won't get it."

The Arkansas Derby is the richest race of the meet at Oaklawn and one of four stakes to be run on a blockbuster closing-day card. The stakes will be run from the eighth through 11th races on a 12-race program. The Arkansas Derby goes as the 11th, with a post of 5:45 p.m. The complete field for the race, from the rail with riders, is: Cozzetti, Jose Lezcano; Stat, John Velazquez; Najjaar, Calvin Borel; Jake Mo, Cliff Berry; Secret Circle, Bejarano; Isn't He Clever, Robby Albarado; Optimizer, Jon Court; Atigun, Terry Thompson; Sabercat, Corey Nakatani; Raconteur, Chris DeCarlo; and Bodemeister, Smith.

The Grade 2, $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap will go as the 10th, with Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek part of an eight-horse field that includes Donn winner Hymn Book. Lezcano has the mount on Ron the Greek for trainer Bill Mott, who said the 1 1/8-mile race was appealing because of its timing in relation to Ron the Greek's summer goal, the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in June.

John Velazquez will ride Hymn Book for trainer Shug McGaughey.

The eighth race is the Grade 3, $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap. The six-furlong race drew six horses, led by Apriority, who will start as the 118-pound highweight under Rafael Bejarano. The $100,000 Northern Spur drew Grade 2 winner Drill, who is trained by Baffert.

The Arkansas Derby, along with the Blue Grass from Keeneland, will be broadcast on CNBC from 5-6 p.m. Central. Arkansas forecasters are calling for a high of 80 degrees and a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms Saturday. The infield will be open, weather permitting. Last year, Oaklawn drew a crowd of more than 62,000 on Arkansas Derby Day.

[ARKANSAS DERBY: Get PPs, new and handicapping analysis on Saturday's Oaklawn card]