04/05/2010 11:00PM

Arkansas Derby picks up a new player


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The field for the Arkansas Derby picked up a significant new player on Tuesday morning, when the Lane's End Stakes runner-up, Northern Giant, joined the lineup for the Grade 1, $1 million race.

"He's in," said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Northern Giant for Westrock Stables.

Northern Giant is one of seven probables for the Arkansas Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race that will close out the Oaklawn meet Saturday. Lukas said Victor Espinoza has the mount on the horse. Northern Giant finished second in the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway Park in his last start March 27, and needs graded earnings to get into next month's Kentucky Derby.

"I'd rather that we had four weeks [between races], but we don't," Lukas said. "But we've got him on a track that he loves, and we've got a $1 million purse. And, he's doing very well.

"The other option was to ship to run in the Lexington," Lukas said of the Keeneland stakes run on Polytrack. "We would get the extra time, but then you've got the unknown surface that he could like or he couldn't like."

Northern Giant was an 11-length maiden winner at Oaklawn in February, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 92. From there, he went on to run third in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds then second in the Lane's End.

"His last race was good enough to win, but it was on Polytrack, and I don't think he cared for it," said Lukas.

Lukas also has Dublin, winner of last year's Grade 1 Hopeful, for the Arkansas Derby. He has run twice at the meet, finishing second in the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest in February and third in the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel in March.

Line of David, an allowance winner based in Southern California, flew in Tuesday morning aboard the same flight that brought Zenyatta to town for Friday's Grade 1, $500,00 Apple Blossom. He is probable for the Arkansas Derby, as are Noble's Promise, Super Saver, Uh Oh Bango, and Pulsion.

Thompson red-hot in saddle

No rider at Oaklawn has been hotter than Terry Thompson, who will be aboard Just Jenda in the Apple Blossom and Dublin in the Arkansas Derby. He has won 17 races from 60 mounts over the last nine race dates and is on pace to become the first rider in a decade to win back-to-back titles at Oaklawn. The last jockey to do so was Tim Doocy, in 1998-1999.

"I'm really, really grateful for the season I've had," Thompson said. "It's always a real competitive meet as far as riders. There's so many riders here that have won titles."

Dublin will give Thompson a big shot to win his second Arkansas Derby since he upset the race with Sir Cherokee in 2003. He rode Dublin to a runner-up finish in the Southwest, was replaced for the Rebel, then regained the mount for Saturday.

"He's a big, powerful horse, and you don't ever seem to get to the bottom on him," said Thompson, who since the fall has regularly worked Dublin. "He always seems to have another gear.

"When I rode him in the Southwest, we just couldn't get up in time. He stumbled out of the gate, that put us in last, and we kind of had a wide trip. There were so many variables that if any one of those could have changed I feel like we could have won the race."

Dublin closed fast to finish three-quarters of a length behind wire-to-wire winner Conveyance. He has since turned in some strong works for the Arkansas Derby, and Thompson said he feels he is a horse who is moving forward heading into the race.

Thompson, who has won 54 races at the meet, has a seven-win lead in the standings over Corey Nakatani, who is now riding at Keeneland.

Silver City to miss Count Fleet

Silver City had been scheduled to run at Oaklawn on Friday in the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, but he had a minor physical setback and will miss the race, said his trainer, Bret Calhoun.

Silver City, an impressive allowance winner earlier this year at Fair Grounds, had some soreness in a suspensory, and his connections are backing off on his training for the next 30 days. He was a stakes winner last year at Oaklawn.

The Count Fleet drew a field of seven, with Mike Smith, who is in town to ride Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom, getting the mount on Custom for Carlos for trainer Eddie Kenneally.

* Proud Spell, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2008, has recently had a filly by Indian Charlie, said her former trainer, Larry Jones. Proud Spell won the Kentucky Oaks for her breeder, former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones.

* Henshin Hero, a 3-year-old who has won two allowances at the meet, is set to make his stakes debut here Saturday in the $75,000 Northern Spur, said his trainer, Calhoun.