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Countdown to the Kentucky Derby: Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, Derby Dozen Update

Keeneland Racetrack

By Steve Davidowitz | HANSEN, the 2-year-old champion of 2011 meets a large field of lightly raced, improving horses in the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday, while the Bob Baffert trained duo of BODEMEISTER and SECRET CIRCLE are the top two morning line choices in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
By nightfall, we should know exactly which horses in these two rich Derby prep stakes have either solidified their standing as legit contenders for the Kentucky Derby. We also will find out which ones have or do not have enough Graded Stakes earnings to move on to Louisville for their chance at racing immortality.
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Derby Dozen Update:
1. HANSEN: Last year's 2-year-old champion has looked very good in his latest workouts for the Blue Grass Stakes and he certainly has shown that hre can rate a bit off the pace when he easily won the 1-1/16 mile Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct despite a wide post draw and a wide run around both turns. But he figures to have stiff competition in the Blue Grass on the Keeneland Polytrack because there is so much early speed signed up and because there are a few promising stretch runners in the field. Win or lose, if he comes out of the race healthy, he still will be a legit Derby contender.
2. GEMOLOGIST: After ALGORITHMS went down to an injury and ENDER KNIEVEL failed to deliver in the Sunland derby, Todd Pletcher sent out this son of two time Breeders' Cup classic winner TIZNOW and we saw the best colt in the deep Pletcher barn. Gamely won the Wood Memorial for his fifth straight without a defeat last week over ALPHA as if he had more in the tank.
3. ALPHA: Encountered traffic problems during the early stages of the Wood last week, but closed strongly when clear to just miss catching up to Gemologist. While the latter still had some energy in the tank, Alpha was shaking off some rust and definitely gained important conditioning for the 1-1/14 mile Run for the Roses.
4. CREATIVE CAUSE: Was a good third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile behind Hansen and Union Rags last fall at Churchill and won the San Felipe last month in convincing, stretch running style before he ran another strong race to lose a head bob to I’LL HAVE ANOTHER in the Santa Anita Derby. Seems on a good program to make a good showing in Louisville. Must watch how trainer Mike Harrington navigates his way through the final madness we always see at Churchill during Derby week.
5. UNION RAGS: Looked very good winning the relatively empty Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream last month and then came up a a bit short in his modest rally after being locked in a pocket in the Florida Derby. This colt certainly is one of the best of his generation, but he has to prove it to me that he is THE BEST and he has not impressed nearly as much as his press clippings said he would.
6. DULLAHAN: Dale Romans trainee has trained forwardly for his likely stretch running bid in the Blue Grass on Saturday. Remember, this colt won the Breeders' Futurity on this track last fall when still a maiden and he then finished a good fourth from out of the clouds in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill. Has had only one start this year, a very good second to HOWE GREAT in the Palm Beach Stakes on the Gulfstream turf course last month. Meeting Howe Great and Hansen again, so we should get a good line on him in the Blue Grass. As I've pointed out more than once, Dullahan is one of the few high class stretch runners in the leading group of this year's Derby prospects.
7. HOWE GREAT: Team Valor (Barry Irwin) and trainer Graham Motion won the Derby last year with ANIMAL KINGDOM and before that Derby he looked like a synthetic track and/or a turf specialist. But Animal Kingdom worked sharply at Churchill and won the Derby for fun at 21-1. This colt seems as if he might be a turf specialist, having won the Palm Beach Stakes over Dullahan on March 11. But no one should sell him short because of that. Howe Great must win the Blue Grass to get the needed Graded earnings to make the Derby field. If he does win, that would be his fifth straight score and first on a synthetic track. Either way, we will hear from this good horse during the year.
8. DADDY NOSE BEST: Steve Asmussen trained son of Scat Daddy out of a Thunder Gulch mare won the $800,000 Sunland Derby on March 25, for his second consecutive 1-1/8 mile Graded Stakes while earning his second straight triple digit Beyer Speed Figure. Is entered in the Arkansas Derby and will be looking for a good finish, nothing more or less as he has his Graded earnings in the bank. Another of the few genuine stretch running types in the prospective Kentucky Derby field.
9. WENT THE WAY WELL: Strangely named colt owned and trained by the Animal Kingdom connections, won the Spiral Stakes by open daylight—the same race Animal Kingdom won last year before his Derby victory! Has already won a dirt race, so we should not be concerned if he goes into the Derby off this race. At the same time, his people think he might need one more start for a learning experience and the Lexington Stakes, on Apr. 21 -- 13 days before the Kentucky Derby -- is the likely target.   
10. BODEMEISTER: Baffert trained winner of a fast maiden route came back to run a strong second to CREATIVE CAUSE in the swiftly run San Felipe and then shipped to Arkansas where he is the morning line favorite from an outer post position in the $1 million Arkansas Derby. Has plenty of ability, is Baffert trained and must win the race on Saturday to guarantee a starting spot in the Derby field.
11. I'LL HAVE ANOTHER: Proved that his win in the San Felipe Stakes was no fluke as he narrowly outfinished the accomplished CREATIVE CAUSE in the Santa Anita Derby off another relatively long layoff. Will he hold his form with a four week break going to Louisville, or will he perhaps need more time to recover his full power? Must watch his workouts carefully.
12. OPTIMIZER: D. Wayne Lukas trained stretch runner was strong in the late going when second to SECRET CIRCLE in the 1-1/16 mile Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, Mar. 17. His late speed makes him a dangerous possibility for Kentucky Derby, but he must finish at least second in the Arkansas Derby to have the needed Graded earnings to make the Derby field.
Important added Note: Check out the Bovada Racebook for Kentucky Derby futures and horse racing odds on the prep races leading to the Kentucky Derby. And, to help Bovada and Gambling Beat Readers make better plays on Triple Crown prep races and on the Derby itself, lease see my website for extensive, up-to-date info on all 418 Triple Crown nominees (including the 20 late nominees). The info Includes Workout Reports, Pedigree Profiles, Performance Notes, etc.