04/12/2009 11:00PM

Danger to Society first-time Dutrow


NEW YORK - Although the Coolmore Lexington Stakes remains to be run next week, no prominent 3-year-old is targeting the race, so Saturday, if you can believe it, is really the last day of major preps for the Kentucky Derby. The long road to Kentucky Derby 2009 ends with the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby, the closing-day feature and signature race at Oaklawn Park, and the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

The Blue Grass heads a strong card at Keeneland that includes three other graded stakes: the Grade 2, $250,000 Commonwealth; the Grade 2, $200,000 Jenny Wiley, which marks the seasonal debut of last year's female turf champion, Forever Together; and the Grade 3, $100,000 Shakertown Stakes.

Elsewhere, the headliner at Aqueduct is the Grade 2, $150,000 Comely Stakes, while the main event at Santa Anita is the $100,000 La Puente Stakes.

Arkansas Derby

The two marquee horses in this race are Old Fashioned and Win Willy, who finished two-one last time out in the Rebel Stakes, the local prep for this. In my opinion, both have serious questions to address.

Old Fashioned, one-time future-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby, turned in his second straight fast early-slow late performance in the Rebel. He was able to get away with it against what has subsequently proven to be a weak field in his 3-year-old bow in the Southwest Stakes, but the fact that he didn't get away with it again in the Rebel - the first loss of his career - has brought his record under greater scrutiny. People have started to realize that Old Fashioned's big win in the Remsen last fall, the performance on which he gained his once lofty status, was as much due to him controlling an uncontested lead through slow fractions against soft competition as anything else. And on Saturday, Old Fashioned is not going to shake loose through slow fractions, not with Papa Clem in this race.

As for Win Willy, the Rebel was his third win from four starts, with his only loss coming in his only attempt on turf. But Win Willy got an ideal pace setup in the Rebel, and that had to play a role in him improving his previous career-best Beyer Figure by 18 large points. Since Win Willy on Saturday will be a fraction of the 56-1 he was in the Rebel, he's going to have to show me he isn't a one-hit wonder.

I'm going with Danger to Society. Danger to Society will be making his first start since finishing seventh in the Holy Bull Stakes in late January in the first loss of his career, a performance I don't think was as bad as it appears on paper. Danger to Society was the favorite in the Holy Bull off a strong nine-furlong score in his first start of the year, and he looked to be the controlling speed in a race that didn't have a lot of pace in it. But Danger to Society was passively ridden early in the Holy Bull, conceding the pace edge, which was especially frustrating to his backers since the main track at Gulfstream that day was decidedly speed-favoring. And then, when Danger to Society was shuffled back on the first turn, the Holy Bull was essentially over for him.

Right after the Holy Bull, Danger to Society was transferred to trainer Rick Dutrow, so he'll be first-time Dutrow on Saturday, a statistically big move. Moreover, Danger to Society projects to sit a nice stalking trip just off a pace set by Papa Clem and pressed by Old Fashioned.

As for the Blue Grass, Theregoesjojo looks tough to me as a possible favorite. Even if he was never going to beat Quality Road or Dunkirk in the Florida Derby, Theregoesjojo would have at least been closer to those two leading Derby prospects at the finish if he had not run into trouble at the top of the stretch before ending up third. In multi-race exotics, I would also use Patena and Hold Me Back. Patena flopped when first-time Dutrow last out in the Louisiana Derby, but there is a chance that even with his big wet-track pedigree, he didn't like the slop he caught that day. Hold Me Back, who has yet to lose on a synthetic track, looks entirely logical.

La Puente Stakes

Battle of Hastings won't be close to the near 8-1 he was when he won the Baldwin Stakes early last month in his 3-year-old bow, and he looks like a repeater in this spot.

This race drew four horses who ran in last month's Pasadena Stakes, including the horses who disputed the pace in that race, Wall Street Wonder and Leedstheway. It's hard not envisioning those two conspiring for an honest pace again Saturday, and that should help Battle of Hastings. Battle of Hastings should be even more amenable to settling in the early stages second start back off a layoff than he was when he won the Baldwin from off the pace. And while Battle of Hastings is stretching out in distance, he did beat 15 opponents at this one-mile trip last September at Doncaster, and did so over soft footing that had to be demanding.

Shakertown Stakes

Mr. Nightlinger, who makes his 2009 debut here, was king of the hill in turf sprints last summer. But while Mr. Nightlinger probably has the speed to outrun Hewitts early Saturday, Hewitts has enough speed to cause Mr. Nightlinger grief, and help set this race up to be won from off the pace.

I like Hellvelyn, whose U. S. form is strong if you sift through it. Throw out his start in last fall's Nearctic, in which something went wrong enough for him to miss almost the next four months, and draw a line though his comeback because the distance was wrong for him. After that, this is what you have in Hellvelyn: A horse who was lengths the best when he missed by a head after an awful start in a tough turf sprint stakes last summer at Saratoga in his U. S. debut, and a horse who finished furiously to win a turf sprint at Gulfstream most recently.