Playing it Cool in the Coolmore
Keeneland hosts the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington on Saturday with Kentucky Derby points up for grabs. A gate full of relatively less-talked about contenders will try to secure a spot on the first Saturday in May. For me, this is that kind of race where a “Cinderella” horse may emerge. There’s no “it” horse in this race; there’s no Dortmund, Carpe Diem, Upstart, International Star, just a field of seven trying to give the juggernauts a little something to think about.
Bob Baffert ships in Fame and Power, who is coming off a win at 7 furlongs at Santa Anita. The Lexington is a mile and 1/16th, although this horse has been putting in very good works at Santa Anita, it’s a long way to the Keeneland dirt, yet somehow this horse managed to be the morning line favorite. He does get the hot jock Jose Ortiz, but let’s face it, Jose has another horse to ride in the Derby, and it won’t be for Mr. Baffert.
Henry Jones is an interesting horse. I want to support him but his past performances make him an unlikely winner at the mile and 1/16th of the Lexington. The two races Henry has won were at 6 and 7 furlongs. The last time he tried a mile and 1/16th was at Keeneland in October, but he was chugging to the finish line. Jockey Paco Lopez gets the mount again but he’s going to have a hard time getting past the other runners in this race who have graded stakes experience.
Tiznow R J being one of those graded stakes runners. This horse certainly has the graded chops and deserves a look in this race. He’s been covering this distance at Fair Grounds running with International Star and War Story.
The horse on the rail is the deserving favorite. Divining Rod has covered this distance in his last three starts, and two of them were graded experience, including finishing third behind Carpe Diem and Ami’s Flatter in the Tampa Bay Derby. A clean trip on the rail and Divining Rod collects the Derby points. However, my only concern with Divining Rod is Julien Leparoux. I’ll take Leparoux on turf, but I’ll take Javier Castellano on any surface on any given day, which leads me to my pick to win the Coolmore Lexington.
Todd Pletcher trains the horse in the second position, Comfort. There’s so much to like about this horse: Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano, Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Indian Charlie for a daddy. Those types of connections make you feel comfortable approaching the betting window. Even though this horse has no graded experience and is coming off a win at Fair Grounds, the Pletcher barn has enough confidence in him to put him this race. I’m going to take comfort in the connections of Comfort and bet him to win.
The Arkansas Derby
Not all that surprising last Saturday when Dortmund won the Santa Anita Derby and Carpe Diem took the Florida Derby. Really, the competition wasn’t all that great, and they are both Derby Darlings already. But, Zayat Stables’ El Kabier had a really rough go of it in the Wood Memorial, where he got frosted by Frosted. Zayat Stables will make another run at the roses on Saturday in the Arkansas Derby with American Pharaoh. The son of Pioneerof the Nile will have some familiar faces to his right and left in the gates at Oaklawn Park, Far Right and Bold Conquest. American Pharaoh and Bold Conquest last met on March 14 in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, which American Pharaoh stumbled at the start and still managed to clear the field. He was followed by Madefromlucky and Bold Conquest. Madefromlucky retains the veteran guidance of John Velazquez in the saddle who guided the Lookin At Lucky colt in his last two races. I have often went with the theory that jockey Mike Smith does not ship well and seems to ride with more zest in California than he does anywhere else. Of course, he proved me so wrong with Far Right. He took this young colt to the winner’s circle twice at Oaklawn. Far Right won the Southwest Stakes and the Smarty Jones.
Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. and trainer Steve Asmussen are Oaklawn’s version of Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia at Santa Anita. These particular connections have impeccable winning percentages. Santana is Asmussen’s “go-to” jock for just about everything, especially in big races, and especially with Derby points on the line. Bold Conquest has put in an impressive campaign running in previous graded stakes races with American Pharaoh, Madefromlucky, Carpe Diem, Far Right, and The Truth Or Else and Mr. Z which are both in this race as well.
American Pharaoh will once again have to kick clear of Madefromlucky and Bold Conquest, but it’s Far Right that might give him trouble this time around. American Pharaoh needs some points and he’s going to get them in the Arkansas Derby.
Oaklawn has a great day of racing for Saturday. I’m going to take a couple long shots to try to make some points in the R2K contest. Minnesota jockey Alex Canchari picked up right where he left off at Oaklawn, getting mounts for Mac Robertson. Alex recently posted that he would be heading to the East Coast to ride after the Oaklawn meet. I like Alex’s riding style better when he’s on a mild-level long shot. The best chance for Alex to claim one of these long shot victories is in Race 3 on Man of Quality (12-1). Man of Quality is coming off a win at Oaklawn at a mile distance, even though Alex lost the whip in the process on the sloppy track. Man of Quality finished second in his previous race at a mile with Alex in the saddle. He’s worth a long look in a field with only one clear favorite. These types of races provide big payouts.
Apprentice Eclipse nominee, Angel Cruz, makes the trip from Aqueduct to Arkansas to ride Bridget’s Big Luvy, at 20-1 in the Arkansas Derby. This may not be the race he wins, but Angel Cruz can ride, and he has playable mounts all day at Oaklawn. I’m actually going to take a shot with him on Union River in Race 9. Union River is trained by the legendary D. Wayne Lukas who has a knack for winning at Oaklawn and is a hometown hero. Union River has a shot in this race if he can get past the favorite Hottap. Union River finished third last time out at Oaklawn behind Battlecreek John, the other playable long shot in this race. Battlecreek John is 12-1 and got caught at the wire in his last race at this distance.
Saturday is the last day of the meet at Oaklawn Park, and Saturday’s card is a handicapper’s dream card with lucrative pay out possibilities in nearly every race. Don’t be afraid to go deep in your Pick 4’s and there are many opportunities on the 12-race card for a superfecta wager to pay out big.