With his big effort in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) behind him, Noble's Promise has shown his ability on the Oaklawn Park dirt. The question for the son of Cuvee heading into the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 10 is how he'll handle the added distance.
Ridden for the first time by Robby Albarado, Noble's Promise edged away to take control mid-stretch in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel March 13—his first start on dirt anywhere—but could not hold off the surging Lookin At Lucky in the final strides and was nipped by a head.
"I think the key to this horse going a little further is going to be the rider," said trainer Ken McPeek. "Robby Albarado is going to be getting another try on him here. I think Robby learned a little something (last time).
"He (Noble's Promise) has this tendency to try to scoot away and he tends to want to do that and that's good that you have that move with him. But I think Robby being a little more patient with the colt is going to be important. But I don't think it's any big deal. He'll get it done."
Noble's Promise, 2-1 on the morning line, drew post 3 for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. He'll break just to the outside of the other two fancied runners in the field, 9-5 morning line choice Super Saver at the rail, and 7-2 third choice Dublin in post 2. The 74th running of the Arkansas Derby is the ninth race on the program, the final card at Oaklawn Park in 2010. The race is part of NBC Sports' live coverage of Churchill Downs’ “Road to the Kentucky Derby” beginning at 5 p.m. EST.
With a 3-3-1 record in seven starts and a field-leading $793,500 in overall earnings, Chasing Dreams Racing 2008's Noble's Promise has never run a bad race, whether the surface is synthetic, turf, or dirt. But in his three starts since winning the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland Oct. 10, the colt, who is out of the Clever Trick mare The Devil's Trick, has had a problem. Namely, Lookin At Lucky.
The 2009 juvenile champion has beaten Noble's Promise narrowly in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), CashCall Futurity (gr. I), and the Rebel in succession. Lookin At Lucky skipped the Arkansas Derby to stay home to run in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 3 but encountered serious trouble while finishing third.
"Of course he's been a bit of a nemesis for us," McPeek said. "But there is only three-quarters of a length, a half-length and a head, whatever you want to call it, in the last race that separates these horses on three different race tracks, and in my case, (with) three different riders. And so if you have that much respect for Lookin at Lucky you certainly have to give us some.
"Any time a horse that's that talented goes some place else it's a positive. I love my colts in Arkansas for a reason. I really felt like that was the race track that I needed to bring him back on. And unfortunately, Lookin at Lucky stayed west and I'm sure they had their motives. And of course their race was probably a disappointment to them but we're happy where we're at and we think it's a good next step."
Noble's Promise is second to Lookin At Lucky in graded earnings among the leading 3-year-old contenders with $708,000 and is assured a spot in the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. But McPeek said his bay colt is in peak form coming into the Arkansas Derby and he wants to see a winning effort, even if he doesn't need to.
WinStar Farm's speedy homebred Super Saver, from the strong barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, is the horse to beat in the Arkansas Derby. The colt by Maria's Mon--Supercharger, by A.P. Indy, should not be hindered by the the rail draw because of his outstanding early foot, and he will be ridden by Calvin Borel. Super Saver is expected to be on the lead.
A five-length winner of Churchill's 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) in front-running fashion when teamed with Borel for the first time in the final race of his 2-year-old campaign, Super Saver has had just one start in 2010. He ran third after setting the pace as the 3-2 choice in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) March 13, finishing a half-length behind the victorious Odysseus.
Overall, Super Saver has won twice in five starts with one second and one third while earning $201,232. He's currently 25th in graded earnings with $163,832 and should make the Kentucky Derby field with an in-the-money performance.
Grade I winner Dublin, from the D. Wayne Lukas stable, has had a strong Oaklawn meet, finishing a close second in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 20 and third in the Rebel. The late-running son of 2005 Arkansas Derby winner Afleet Alex out of Classy Mirage, by Storm Bird, is owned by Robert C. Baker and William L. Mack.
Dublin is seeking his first win since taking the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Sept. 7. The chestnut colt has won twice in seven starts with one second and one third, and has earned $308,623. He'll be reunited with Terry Thompson, who has been winning at better than a 30% clip at Oaklawn recently, for the Arkansas Derby and they will break from post 2. Dublin is 14th on the graded earnings list coming into the race.
Lukas also saddles 8-1 shot Northern Giant, who makes a quick turnaround following his second-place effort to Dean's Kitten Marcy 27 in the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park. Though the Westrock Stables' son of Giant's Causeway has just one win in eight starts, he also ran third in the Risen Star Stake (gr. II) this season at odds of 53-1.
Northern Giant broke his maiden at Oaklawn last year on a sloppy track by more than 11 lengths. He leaves from post 4 with new rider Victor Espinoza aboard.
Uh Oh Bango, on the Derby bubble at 21st in graded earnings, was beaten by a neck by Rule in the Boyd Gaming Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) last December. He ran fourth in the Rebel, beaten 6 3/4 lengths, in his only start in 2010. The Arizona-bred son of Top Hit is trained by Kory Owens for Triple AAA Ranch and will be ridden for the first time by Shaun Bridgmohan.
Pulsion, who sheds blinkers for trainer Patrick Biancone, didn't fare well in two starts in Florida during the current campaign, finishing sixth in both the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and the Florida Derby (gr. I). His best effort previously came in a runner-up finish to Lookin At Lucky in Oak Tree's Norfolk Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita last fall.
New Madrid and Berberis are coming off maiden wins. Speedy Southern California shipper Line of David makes his stakes debut off a first-level allowance victory by 4 1/2 lengths for leading Santa Anita conditioner John Sadler.
$1 Million Arkansas Derby (gr. I, Race 9, 4:48 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Super Saver (KY), C H Borel, 122, T A Pletcher, 9/5
2. Dublin (KY), T J Thompson, 122, D W Lukas, 7/2
3. Noble's Promise (KY), R Albarado, 122, K G McPeek, 2/1
4. Northern Giant (KY), V Espinoza, 118, D W Lukas, 8/1
5. Uh Oh Bango (AZ), S Bridgmohan, 122, R K Owens, 15/1
6. New Madrid (KY), A Castellano Jr., 118, T A Ice, 20/1
7. Berberis (KY), A T Gryder, 118, S M Asmussen, 30/1
8. Line of David (FL), J K Court, 118, J W Sadler, 15/1
9. Pulsion (FL), C S Nakatani, 118, P L Biancone, 15/1
Blinkers Off: Pulsion