April 14 is the last call for those looking to earn a trip to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
At Oaklawn Park Saturday, where the Racing Festival of the South is currently taking place, the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) offers 170 qualifying points (100-40-20-10) and caps a rich stakes-studded card that also includes the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2).
At Keeneland Race Course, the $200,000 Stonestreet Lexington (G3) offers only 34 total points (20-8-4-2), but it could be a difference-maker for My Boy Jack, the morning-line favorite who currently is on the bubble with 32 points. The feature comes a race later when a classy field of 11 fillies and mares goes in the $350,000 Coolmore Jenny Wiley (G1T) on the grass.
Weather could be a factor at Keeneland, where morning showers and scattered storms in the afternoon are in the forecast.
Oaklawn Handicap (OP, race 10, 5:40 CT): Santa Anita Park shippers Accelerate (10) and City of Light (11) are the first two choices on the morning line, and as fate would have it, they drew the two outside posts for this nine-furlong race.
Both are making their initial starts outside Southern California. Accelerate is a 17-start veteran who has been through the wars against top-flight competition repeatedly, and his last three wins—all in grade 1 or grade 2 stakes—have been accomplished in three different ways: on the front-end; stalking from close range; and rallying from the middle of the pack.
The younger and more lightly raced City of Light has won or placed in all six of his starts, climaxed by wins in the Malibu (G1) and the Triple Bend (G1) stakes at seven furlongs. This will be the first route attempt for the colt by Quality Road, who was brilliant enough to win the Amsterdam (G2) in track-record time at six and one-half furlongs, but also won three grade 1 titles at 1 1/8 miles.
Hedge Fund (7) has been favored for six of his seven starts, and is clearly on the improve for Todd Pletcher, after starting off his 4-year-old season with two wins, notably a score in the Essex Handicap over the Oaklawn surface four weeks ago in which he re-broke after being headed for command on the far turn and drew off late.
Potential upsetters include Untrapped (4), second in the Essex; Hawaakom (5), who won a muddy renewal of the Razorback Handicap (G3) from way back; and Inside Straight (8), who pulled off a 19-1 upset of this race last year.
A - 7, 10
B - 11
C - 4, 5, 8
Unraced at 2, Magnum Moon earned 50 points in the Rebel, his third win from as many starts. He picks up seven pounds off that race and is pegged at 8-5 to give Todd Pletcher his fifth win in the Arkansas Derby.
One of two colts in the line-up sired by 2007 Arkansas Derby winner Curlin , Solomini was making his first start of the year when second-best in the Rebel, in which he lacked room on the rail turning for home and altered course to grind out second over Combatant. His connections won this race with Kentucky Derby runner-up Bodemeister in 2012 and with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015. Solomini has only 34 points, so he needs to finish no worse than second to be ensured a starting berth in Louisville three weeks from Saturday.
A tactical edge may belong to Quip (8), the 19-1 winner of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in pace-pressing fashion first time out this year, as there isn't much else in the way of early speed in the field.
Tenfold (3) makes his stakes debut for Steve Asmussen, after starting off with two wins at 1 1/16 miles on the track. He is the "other" son of Curlin, who won this race by better than 10 lengths as a third-time starter for the Hall of Fame conditioner.
A - 6, 8
B - 5
C - 3, 9
Lexington (Kee, race 9, 5:34 ET): As mentioned up top, My Boy Jack (12) has to earn his way up the road, after putting in a big run but flattening out late to wind up third in the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2).
My Boy Jack moved a bit prematurely in the Louisiana Derby, to be sure, but although he may be the best closer in Saturday's race, the combination of a short price, post 12, and a considerably shorter stretch run make me want to look elsewhere.
Telekinesis (2) has only run twice, but looks like a colt worth following. He was a decisive debut winner at six furlongs, and his third-place finish in allowance company when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles a month later is better than it appears at first glance, because he became embroiled in a battle for the lead with Silver Dust, a stakes-seasoned older horse.
As he showed first time out, Telekinesis doesn't require the lead to be effective. He may trip out nicely stalking Battle At Sea (1). Moreover, any moisture in the track could be a plus, as his sire Ghostzapper was a brilliant mudder.
Worth watching in their seasonal debuts are Honor Up (4), second to Audible in a New York-bred maiden race last fall; and Greyvitos (6), a survivor of the Lilac Fire at San Luis Rey Downs, who has had knee chips removed since winning the $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile.
A - 2
B - 12
C - 4, 6
Jenny Wiley (Kee, race 10, 6:12 ET): An initial pass through the field landed me squarely on Dona Bruja, an import from Argentina whose first five races in the United States have come on firm ground (three of those resulting in wins at the grade 3 level), but who won or placed four times on heavy going back home.
One of Dona Bruja's losses came in the First Lady (G1T) over the Keeneland course last fall, when she had virtually no chance after trailing to the stretch and needing to uncork a final quarter in about :22 seconds just to get into fourth. She was put away for the year after that, and returned in mid-winter to show vastly improved early speed (with Jose Ortiz aboard for the first time) for a front-running win over La Coronel (8) in the Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3T).
No knocks on horse-for-course La Coronel (3 for 3 at Keeneland), or Chad Brown's trio of Off Limits (3), Sistercharlie (7) and Fourstar Crook (11), but the one I want to try and wake up on rain-softened footing is Kitten's Roar (5).
A rallying fourth in the 2017 Jenny Wiley, Kitten's Roar has been idle since being outkicked as the 8-5 choice in the Suwanee River (G3T) a little more than two months ago, and she could fall through the cracks at double-digit odds. She has a 4-1-0 record from five starts on turf rated something other than firm, including a third-level allowance win on a Keeneland course labeled good "off the page" in 2016. The one loss on non-firm turf was a second in the E.P. Taylor (G1T) last fall over a bog at Woodbine.
A - 4, 5
B - 3, 7, 11
C - 8