Magnum Moon

Magnum Moon

Dana Wimpfheimer

Three Things to Watch: Will Top Trio Reign at Oaklawn?

Is the Arkansas Derby a three-horse fight between Magnum Moon, Solomini, and Quip?

As the Road to the Kentucky Derby heats up, each week we will take a look at three things to watch from the 3-year-old division as they head into that weekend's respective prep races.

April 14 marks the last chance for sophomores to earn points toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) with Magnum Moon and Solomini headlining the Arkansas Derby (G1) and My Boy Jack standing out in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3). Below are a trio of storylines expected to have an impact on the races and the forward progress of its contenders.

1. Is the Arkansas Derby a three-horse fight between Magnum Moon, Solomini, and Quip?

They better hope so as far as their Kentucky Derby hopes are concerned (more on that in a bit).

Both Magnum Moon and Quip are in good shape points wise with 50 apiece and there is reason for each to improve off their recent victories. Magnum Moon already proved he could handle Oaklawn Park—as well as a chunk of his Arkansas Derby rivals—with his 3 1/2-length win in the March 17 Rebel Stakes (G2) and there has been no hotter barn than the Todd Pletcher one when it comes to racking up these prep races. Quip earned his win in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) without being 100% cranked so he stands to move forward from a fitness standpoint, but suffered his lone career loss in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) when he was unable to be on or near the front end as he was in his three victories.

With just 34 points to his credit, Solomini is most in need of a top three finish Saturday—something that shouldn't be an issue if the son of Curlin  runs like his usual self. The Bob Baffert-trained chestnut colt has been his own worst enemy with his quirks, most notably being disqualified to third after crossing the wire first in the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity (G1). Besides that stewards placing, he has never been worse than second in five career starts. And if the big three run to form, seeing anyone else gate crash the top three spots would be a stunner in its own right.

2. Does My Boy Jack thrive off more work?

Trainer and co-owner Keith Desormeaux certainly believes so, or else he wouldn't be putting the son of Creative Cause  into the starting gate for the fourth time already this year, with designs on hopefully a fifth start come May 5.

My Boy Jack has proven himself a hearty sort, making nine starts already in a career that has seen him prevail in stakes company over both turf and dirt. Desormeaux is known for always erring on the side of his charges, so the fact he feels confident enough to run the colt back in the Lexington Stakes following a third-place effort in the Twinspires Louisiana Derby (G2) March 24, might be a ringing endorsement on how My Boy Jack is doing.

"I wouldn't even attempt it if the horse wasn't 100% capable and showing me the signs of a horse that can handle it," Desormeaux said. "He is very sound and very hearty, so I think he is going to relish more work. As you can see, I am not the type of trainer that—you don't see my horses working every five or six days, :48s. I am just not the type. I use races to build fitness most of the time and I have really taken that aspect to another level when we decided to run in the Lexington.

"Of course, I have done some work with him in the morning, but not the same as I would usually. So we are going to let this race build them instead of the morning works builds his fitness."

3. Are there any Derby contenders who will deserve a mulligan heading into May 5?

Not if history has anything to say about it. Derby trends can be as cyclical as Kentucky weather, but one that has held strong is the notion that a horse cannot fall backwards into a win on the first Saturday in May.

Since 1980, no Kentucky Derby winner has finished worse than fourth in their final race before the classic, with Mine That Bird (2009), Giacomo (2005), Thunder Gulch (1995), and Sea Hero (1993) the only ones to win the roses after running outside the top three the race prior. Nineteen Kentucky Derby winners during that span won their final prep—including the last seven victors of the 1 1/4-mile test. So while it may be tempting to fire up excuses for horses with back class that have off days right before the Derby (see: Pyro, 2008 and Stay Thirsty  and Soldat , 2011, if a horse is backsliding weeks out before the biggest race of its life, it's not likely pulling itself together against 19 of its most competitive rivals—a majority of whom are on the upswing.

So to those wanting to draw a line through Promises Fulfilled's ninth-place run in the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) or Bravazo's eighth-place effort in the Twinspires Louisiana Derby (G2), may the Force be with you. You're going to need it.