10/14/2011 2:23PM

Remington Park: Prayer for Relief may have company out front in Oklahoma Derby

Shigeki Kikkawa
Prayer for Relief figures to be out front early in Sunday's Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.

Prayer for Relief’s tactical speed coupled with his ability to adapt to a variety of racing surfaces has helped the 3-year-old compile a perfect record in 2011. On Sunday, he will be seeking his fifth straight win in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.

The Oklahoma Derby is the track’s richest race for Thoroughbreds and anchors a program that includes the $250,000 Remington Park Oaks and $125,000 Remington Green. The stakes are part of a special Sunday program that will begin at 1:30 p.m. Central. The Oklahoma Derby, at 1  1/8 miles, is the final stakes on the card and it will go with a field of 12.

Prayer for Relief, whose initial career win came a year ago in a $50,000 maiden claiming race back home in Southern California, has since become one of North America’s most accomplished 3-year-olds. He has reeled off three consecutive stakes wins in his last three starts: the Grade 3 Iowa Derby on June 25, the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby on Aug. 6, and the Grade 2 Super Derby on Sept. 10. As a result of his success, Prayer for Relief is poised to become a millionaire Sunday.

“He’s kind of the king of the derbies this summer,” said Bob Baffert, who trains Prayer for Relief for Zayat Stables. “He’s getting a lot better; the further, the better for him. It’s amazing. He just goes and goes.”

Baffert said because of Prayer for Relief’s stamina, the long-range goal for the horse is a start in next spring’s Dubai World Cup. As for a start in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Classic, he said a decision would be made following the Oklahoma Derby.

Prayer for Relief’s rivals Sunday include five horses he defeated in the Super Derby. He was allowed to dictate the fractions in the 1 1/8-mile stakes at Louisiana Downs and won by 2 1/2 lengths under regular rider Rafael Bejarano.

“I think the pace was a big issue in that race, and I think anybody that didn’t win it would agree,” said trainer Donnie Von Hemel, who saddled Alternation to a fourth-place finish in the Super Derby.

Von Hemel, who will add blinkers to Alternation, is hoping for a better setup in the Oklahoma Derby. Alternation’s biggest career win came in the Grade 2 Peter Pan, when he closed from next to last. Awesome Bet, another late-running stakes winner who was second in the Super Derby, also would benefit from more pace Sunday.

“He came from way back in the Barbaro at Delaware Park to get there in time,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Awesome Bet. “I didn’t think the pace scenario was as kind to him in the Super Derby, and he still ran a competitive race.

“I thought he ran a great race last time.”

Trainer Tom Amoss had a similar opinion of Populist Politics’s third-place effort in the Super Derby.

“The Super Derby was his best race,” he said. “He really closed against a real pedestrian pace, and that’s not easy to do. His close is impressive, and if he can get a good setup in front, it will give him a real chance.”

Populist Politics had been entered in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby earlier this month, but Amoss said he was scratched from the race in the hopes a better pace scenario would be awaiting the horse in Oklahoma.

Redeemed and Socialsaul, two quick horses from New York, should ensure legitimate fractions Sunday.

Redeemed has registered his three career wins in sprints. In his last start, he was second in the $300,000 Smarty Jones at Parx Racing going a mile and 70 yards. That race has since produced the winners of the Indiana Derby, Wilburn, and the Kent at Delaware Park, I’m Steppin’ It Up. Edgar Prado has the mount on Redeemed for trainer Tony Dutrow.

Socialsaul won the $159,000 New York Derby on the front end at Finger Lakes in July and in his most recent start he set a quick pace when second to older rivals in the Noble Nashua at Belmont Park.

“He loves the mile and an eighth and he’s an improving 3-year-old,” said Gary Contessa, who trains Socialsaul.

Despite the fact there is added pace in  the Oklahoma Derby, Prayer for Relief has shown an ability to stalk with success and that makes him dangerous. He’s also well proven on the road, and with those kind of assets he is once again the one to beat Sunday.