04/09/2008 11:00PM

Commonwealth a good fit for Thousand Words


NEW YORK - Although next week's Coolmore Lexington remains, Saturday marks the final round of truly major Kentucky Derby preps, with the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland topping the stakes schedule. Also at Keeneland are a pair of Grade 2 stakes, the Commonwealth and the Jenny Wiley.

Commonwealth Stakes

This race might look wide open on paper to many, apparently including the track's morning-line maker, who pegged 5 of the 10 entrants at odds between 7-2 and 6-1. To me, however, Thousand Words is a strong play. If, that is, he even runs in this race. Thousand Words also was entered in Friday's Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland. But where the Maker's Mark came up an especially strong race, this race did not come up particularly tough, and Thousand Words stands a much better chance of winning Saturday than he does Friday. And if Thousand Words opts for this spot and goes off the favorite, his odds will still be acceptable.

Thousand Words comes into this off a sharp win on the turf at Santa Anita, which was good for a strong Beyer Speed Figure of 104, but he also clearly likes synthetic surfaces. He raced on one in his U.S. debut two starts back in the San Pasqual Handicap and was a good fourth against strong company. Thousand Words finished only a little more than two lengths behind runner-up Well Armed, who came back to win the San Antonio Handicap and finish third to Curlin in the Dubai World Cup. Thousand Words also was less than a length behind third-place finisher Heatseeker, who came back to win the Santa Anita Handicap and ran big when a narrowly beaten second in last week's Oaklawn Handicap. Thousand Words underscored his affinity for synthetic when he posted a big bullet work on Keeneland's Polytrack last Sunday.

Arkansas Derby

I'm not sure how big a price he will be, but after watching Zenyatta, Tiago, and Heatseeker all come out of races on Santa Anita's synthetic surface and run huge in big stakes last Saturday on Oaklawn's main track, I just have to take Gayego in this spot.

Gayego isn't the only one in this event making the Santa Anita-to-Oaklawn move. Victory Pete and Indian Sun are doing the same. But Gayego is clearly the best of the three. He earned the biggest Beyer in this field when he got a 102 for his decisive win in the San Pedro Stakes two starts back. Most recently, Gayego was a game second in the San Felipe in his first attempt around two turns, only getting caught late by Georgie Boy, but finishing ahead of Bob Black Jack. The latter flattered the San Felipe form by running his heart out when beaten a half-length by the highly regarded Colonel John in last week's Santa Anita Derby.

As for the Blue Grass, I'll take Cool Coal Man to upset Pyro, but without a great deal of confidence.

Jenny Wiley Stakes

Familiar rivals Precious Kitten and Lady of Venice both begin their 5-year-old campaigns in this spot, and while Precious Kitten held the upper hand in their last two meetings, I'm going with Lady of Venice this time.

There are several reasons why I like Lady of Venice: She'll be the better price of the two, she might be slightly more effective of the two when fresh, and she is certainly capable of mastering Precious Kitten, as she showed when she won the CashCall Mile last summer and the Regret Stakes when they were both 3. But the big reason why I'm going with Lady of Venice is the anticipated footing. Although Keeneland's turf drains remarkably well, with all the rain forecast for Kentucky on Friday, it's hard to envision this race won't be run with some cut in the ground. And I think Lady of Venice is the better of the two over such footing.