As the first Saturday in May approaches, two more major Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) prep races are slated for April 14. The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) will be held at Keeneland, and the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) will be contested at Oaklawn Park.
Although the field for the Blue Grass may be small, it will be an important test for two of the top Triple Crown contenders. Street Sense, last year's champion juvenile colt and winner of the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), will be making his second start of the year. His top competition in the Blue Grass is expected to come from grade I winner Great Hunter.
However, they will not be the only horses in the starting gate. Other horses expected to compete include Dominican, Zanjero, and Teuflesberg. Dominican's trainer, Darrin Miller, considered both the Blue Grass and the Arkansas Derby after the gelding's five-length win in the March 24 Rushaway Stakes over Polytrack at Turfway Park. A combination of factors led to him entering Dominican in the Blue Grass.
"It is a smaller field," Miller said. "And the Polytrack has been a real good thing for him. He seems to really enjoy it."
In his last start as a juvenile, Dominican, who is a son of El Corredor, ran third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) behind Tiz Wonderful and Any Given Saturday for owners Bonnie and Tommy Hamilton's Silverton Hill. After the race he received a layoff and was gelded.
"It was a tough decision to make, but he was a ridgling and he was uncomfortable so we needed to do so," Miller said. "It was a matter of physical comfort. He is a very aggressive horse and that hasn't changed."
Miller also trains Sedgefield for the Hamiltons. The Smart Strikecolt ran fourth in the Central Bank Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) April 7, and plans for him remain undecided.
"The Crown Royal American Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) is a possibility," Miller said. "We are not ruling out the Derby, I don't think. We've got a month. That was kind of the deal with running him in the Transylvania - to give us a month to access him and get him on the Churchill surface. He came out of that race very well. We are wide open at the moment."
One horse who is going in the Arkansas Derby is Officer Rocket. Bob Holthus trains the colt for Frank Fletcher Racing Operations.
The British-bred son of Officer, who is out of the Gone Westmare Ocean View, will be making his 10th career start in the Arkansas Derby. It looks to be a rematch with lightly-raced Curlin, who defeated him by 5 ¼ lengths in the March 17 Rebel Stakes (gr. III) in their last start. As a juvenile, Officer Rocket won the Arlington-Washington Breeders' Cup Futurity (gr. III).
"We hope he moves forward," Holthus said. "I think he would have to be first or second (in order to run in the Derby). I don't think the owner or I would want to run him just because he was eligible."
When questioned about Officer Rocket's ability to get longer distances, Holthus said he was pleased with his colt's attitude and the way he has finished his races.
"I think most Officers probably have been more or less sprinters, but I think (Officer Rocket) gets some distance from his dam," he said. "He is a very easy horse to rate and that helps to make him go further than probably his pedigree shows."