This Saturday is the last chance for 3yr olds to win their way into the Kentucky Derby. The only 100 derby point race remaining is Saturday’s G1 Arkansas Derby for a $1,000,000 purse and the coveted 100 derby points. The 1-1/8 mile win and you’re in event over the dirt course has been a springboard to Kentucky Derby glory several times, including 2015 when American Pharoah captured the Oaklawn classic.
This year, 12 hopefuls will go to the gate, including Juvenile Champion/Eclipse Award winning Classic Empire and undefeated Rebel Stakes winner Malagacy. Malagacy is already guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby after earning 50 points with his win.
Classic Empire, however, is currently sitting at number 21 in the derby points standings and will need a top four finish to break the top 20. The Mark Casse trainee has had an odd road back to the races including a hoof abscess, back troubles, and a flat out refusal to train. In his one race this year he finished a well beaten 3rd in the G2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream back on February 4th.
The pressure for all of the connections involved is mounting as most of the field will need to win the race for a chance at Kentucky Derby fame. So let’s get to the handicapping.
Oaklawn Park is a small track and does not card many 3-turn, 1-1/8 mile races. In the last three, two were won in wire to wire fashion, the third was won from far back, and all winners were from middle to outside posts. Not much to go on here.
The pace of this race will be tough to gauge. Classic Empire has shown early foot but his training issues make any performance expectations suspect. Rockin Rudy, breaking from the rail, is a turf sprinter who should show speed, but he hasn’t run on dirt since breaking his maiden in an $80,000 claiming event at Del Mar last August. The #4, Petrov, had been showing speed but his early speed figures were a bit muted last month in the Rebel Stakes.
The speed to count on will come from the outside post. Breaking from gate 12 is 2-1 morning line favorite Malagacy who will be up close to push the pace, but probably not on the lead. I respect that Malagacy is undefeated and has a win on this oval, but I can’t accept such a short price from the 12 post in a 12 horse field.
I am going to take a chance with a real longshot in this race. My selection is 15-1 morning line Conquest Mo Money with Jorge Carreno aboard. Conquest Mo Money, the #11, was up close to a very quick G3 Sunland Derby pace where he finished 2nd, well ahead of Bluegrass Stakes winner Irap who finished 4th. Conquest Mo Money broke from the 12 post in that race, ran widest of all around the first turn, sat wide mid-pack along the backstretch and made a move to get the lead while still wide on the turn for home. He ran on professionally and was out closed by only one horse, Hence, who rated 2nd to last behind that hot pace.
My hope is that jockey Jorge Carreno can guide Conquest Mo Money closer to the inside and save a little bit of ground this week. With a better trip, this horse looks to be on the improve at the perfect time. I don’t think we will get 15-1, but the price should be worth the risk.