A field of 10 was entered for Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. II), and although two of the "Big Three" stabled at Oaklawn this winter will run, it is not quite what the Hot Springs track had envisioned. Rockport Harbor has defected, Afleet Alex is coming off a last-place finish, and Greater Good drew the outside post position.
With several up-and-comers hoping to stamp themselves as Kentucky Derby (gr. I) contenders, it is still Greater Good they'll have to beat after the son of Intidab
captured the Southwest and Rebel Stakes (gr. III) with strong stretch runs. But it was Afleet Alex who was made the 2-1 morning-line favorite, followed by Greater Good at 5-2.
Owned by Lewis Lakin, Greater Good will be ridden once again by John McKee, who likely will try to take back at the start and save as much ground as possible, instead of having the horse break sharply as he surprisingly did in the Rebel before settling in about seven lengths behind the pace-setting Rockport Harbor.
Greater Good showed his readiness by working a sharp six furlongs in 1:12 3/5, with a snappy final quarter in :23 4/5.
The Arkansas Derby will be an attempt at redemption for Afleet Alex, who fell apart in the Rebel, backing up to last. He was later diagnosed as having a lung infection. In doing so, he lost his rider, John Velazquez, who returned to his bread and butter guy, Todd Pletcher, for whom he'll ride Bandini in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) the same day.
Afleet Alex, owned by Cash is King Stable, surprised railbirds at Oaklawn Tuesday by drilling a half-mile in :46 1/5, galloping out five furlongs in a blistering :58 3/5 under jockey Jeremy Rose, who returns aboard the son of Northern Afleet
on Saturday. Afleet Alex really rumbled down the stretch in the work, closing his final quarter in :21 4/5.
If he is fit enough and healthy enough, and isn't affected by the work, he still is the most accomplished horse in the field and will be tough to beat. He will break from post 6.
There will also be support for Melnyk Racing Stables' Flower Alley, winner of the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway in the mud. The son of Distorted Humor
had only two lifetime starts under his belt going into that race, and should continue to show improvement. Trained by Pletcher, he'll break from post 5 under Jorge Chavez.
Don't be surprised to see Andromeda's Hero, trained by red-hot Nick Zito, get bet down following Zito's remarkable run of stakes victories on the Derby trail. This son of Fusaichi Pegasus
, owned by Robert LaPenta, won the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay before finishing fifth in the Lane's End, apparently unable to handle the wet sealed track. Zito has named Corey Nakatani to ride Andromeda's Hero, and Nakatani may have to negotiate some traffic, breaking from post 2.
The real sleeper in here looks to be Dan Borislow's Wild Desert, who finished a fast-closing second in the Lane's End. The son of Wild Rush, trained by Kenny McPeek, has been working brilliantly without his usual workmate since that race and is capable taking a big step forward on Saturday. Pat Valenzuela gets the mount and will break from poast 7.
Rush Bay, Cat Shaker, and Real Dandy all have stakes credentials and will be looking to post a major upset. Batson Challenge ran a game third in the Rebel, and Canteen ships in from Neil Drysdale's barn in California.
Arkansas Derby field:
PP, horse, Jockey, Trainer, Weight, ML Odds
1. Batson Challenge, Calvin Borel, Pete Vestal, 118, 30-1
2. Andromeda's Hero, Corey Nakatani, Nick Zito, 122, 10-1
3. Canteen,Victor Espinoza, Neil Drysdale, 118, 12-1
4. Rush Bay, Eusebio Razo, Jr., Tom Amoss, 118, 12-1
5. Flower Alley, Jorge Chavez, Todd Pletcher, 122, 9-2
6. Afleet Alex, Jeremy Rose - (2-1), Tim Ritchey, 122, 2-1
7. Wild Desert, Patrick Valenzuela, Kenny McPeek, 118, 6-1
8. Real Dandy, Roman Chapa, Steve Asmussen, 118, 20-1
9. Cat Shaker, Joe Bravo, Craig Callis, 122, 30-1
10. Greater Good, John McKee, Robert Holthus, 122, 5-2