04/11/2009 12:00AM

Arkansas Derby cast seeking credibility

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Old Fashioned needs a rebound from his Rebel defeat last out.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The Grade 2 Arkansas Derby on Saturday will give the race's top three choices an opportunity to answer important questions with the big dance, the Kentucky Derby, just three weeks away.

Old Fashioned is out to prove he is a better horse than his last race, when he suffered the first defeat of his career in the Grade 2 Rebel. Win Willy must show his 56-1 upset of that race was no fluke. And invader Papa Clem needs to win a major Derby prep to back up the potential he has shown by running second to Pioneerof the Nile and Friesan Fire in separate Grade 2 stakes.

Old Fashioned, Win Willy, and Papa Clem are part of a 10-horse field for the Arkansas Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race that closes out the Oaklawn Park meet. The race has drawn shippers from California, Florida, and Kentucky.

"It's a million bucks, babe," said trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who has sent Danger to Society in from Gulfstream Park.

Old Fashioned was the undisputed leader of the 3-year-old division heading into the March 14 Rebel, undefeated in his four starts with wins in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct in November and the Grade 3 Southwest in his seasonal debut here Feb. 16. Bet down to 2-5 in the Rebel, he chased a hot pace set by Silver City on a tiring track, took the lead midway on the final turn, then was reeled in late by Win Willy.

"We felt like he didn't get the pace scenario or the trip that we really needed to have to win that," said Larry Jones, who trains Old Fashioned for Rick Porter. "By all rights, Silver City was the horse to beat. It was his second race around two turns. If he improves off his first race by doing that, we would have sure looked silly letting him get seven or eight lengths out in front and then never catch him. Silver City is a very good horse. You don't let those kind get away."

Jones is hoping for a different pace scenario as well as a fast track for Saturday. He could get both. The temperature is forecast to hit 70 degrees, and Old Fashioned could get a beautiful tracking trip behind Papa Clem, who will break to his inside. Old Fashioned was given a nice relax-and-finish kind of work here Monday under rider Terry Thompson, and he is already proven at the 1 1/8-mile distance, having won the Remsen.

"We think he's right on target," Jones said. "I think he's doing everything that we want him to do at this time."

Win Willy put up a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102 when he rolled down the middle of the track to beat Old Fashioned by 2 1/4 lengths in the Rebel. His Saturday performance will determine where he fits in the Kentucky Derby picture.

"I think he's a good horse," said Mac Robertson, who trains Win Willy. "I'm not saying that he's a better horse than Old Fashioned. My horse has run one good race, and Old Fashioned has run five good races, so I hope he runs his second good race Saturday.

"I think Win Willy's big advantage is that he caters to his rider and he does try to finish and win. It seems like he likes to win. I'm hoping he solidifies his claim to being a good horse. If he runs a good race Saturday, people have to deal with him."

Cliff Berry will be back aboard Win Willy.

Papa Clem was second to Friesan Fire over a sloppy track in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. Papa Clem was making his dirt-track debut in that race after finishing second to Pioneerof the Nile over a synthetic surface in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis.

"We wanted to get him on dirt," said trainer Gary Stute, explaining why he shipped Papa Clem to Fair Grounds. "I never thought he was a synthetic-track horse, to be honest, just because his mother was dirt and Smart Strikes like natural dirt. And to me, horses that prefer the synthetic tracks usually seem to be more of a turf breeding than a dirt breeding."

Rafael Bejarano will be in from California to ride.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas feels the move back to dirt will benefit Flying Private, who in his last start was second in the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End on Polytrack at Turfway Park.

"I think he's improving," said Lukas. "He's going in the right direction for us. His last 30 days have been the best of his life. He has really had a good month, and that's all I can ask of him. Whether that's good enough remains to be seen. But I really feel good about the way he's been training."

The Arkansas Derby will go as the 11th race on a 12-race card that starts at noon and traditionally draws a crowd in excess of 50,000. The race will be broadcast on ESPN2.


:: (DRF Plus)