Last year, Steve Asmussen and Robby Albarado teamed up with eventual Horse of the Year Curlin to clobber eight other contenders in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I). On April 12 at Oaklawn Park the trainer/jockey duo will collaborate again with Zayat Stables’ Z Fortune – but this time their starter has a lot to prove.
A fifth-place finish 9 3/4 lengths back as the beaten 3-5 favorite in the March 15 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) leaves the son of Siphon with some questions to answer in the Arkansas, especially since this is the first time he’ll tackle the 1 1/8 mile distance. But Z Fortune is not without solid credentials.
Although Zayat spent just $80,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky select yearling sale for the colt, bred in New York by Delehanty Stock Farm out of the Fortunate Prospect mare Fortunate Faith, Z Fortune’s first three starts resulted in wins of impressive quality. First came a 6 1/2-length maiden score at seven furlongs, followed by a 4 3/4-length allowance win at a mile and 70 yards, and a victory in the one-mile Le Comte Stakes (gr. III) by 2 3/4 lengths. In the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), he ranged up on the field three wide and took the lead by 1 1/2 lengths at the head of the stretch before conceding to stablemate Pyro’s smoking move up the outside.
Z Fortune is part of a loaded 14-horse field entered in the Arkansas. With final slots on the graded earnings list for the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) on the line, 3-year-olds are coming out of the woodwork for a chance at one of the Derby’s 20 stalls. Although these horses may not have maintained high profiles during this year’s prep season, several are worthy of consideration in this particular race.
The Paulo Lobo-trained Gayego was made the 5-2 morning line favorite for the race after his fine second-place finish to Georgie Boy in last month's San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita. In the San Felipe, Gayego finished ahead of Bob Black Jack, who came back to run a strong second to Colonel John in last Saturday's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
The main question surrounding Gayego is his lack of experience racing on a conventional dirt surface. He has run exclusively on the synthetic surfaces in place in Southern California.
"For sure," said Lobo when asked if that was the reason for shipping Gayego to Oaklawn. "He has only been running on the synthetic track, and I would like to give him a chance to know the dirt."
The second Asmussen entrant is a horse whose name pops up for basically the first time this season. King’s Silver Son, a Mizzen Mast colt purchased at the OBS sale of 2-year-olds in training for $320,000 by owner Mike McCarty, had been knocking at the door last year with several runner-up efforts – including finishes behind Isabull and Court Vision. After he finally broke his maiden at Fair Grounds Jan. 21, Asmussen confidently sent him to the Risen Star, where he finished second to the now-injured Sierra Sunset after making a late run from ninth and swinging five wide. Asmussen also saddles Heiligbrodt Racing Stables’ Ablaze With Spirit, a Texas-bred son of American Spirit, in the Arkansas.
Two other runners coming out of Louisiana races into the Arkansas are B. Wayne Hughes’ Indian Charlie colt My Pal Charlie and Dogwood Stable’s Blackberry Road, the second and fourth-place finishers in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). And Dogwood’s Cot Campbell is still holding onto hope for his Gone Westcolt.
“My horse is going to get lucky one of these days,” Campbell said of the Payson Stud Kentucky-bred. “I know that it's asking a lot for a stretch-runner to get lucky on a day that he has to come through 13 horses, but between Blackberry and Calvin, I'm hoping we get the job done.”
Two sons of Holy Bull, both bred in Kentucky, enter the Derby prep off solid efforts. Liberty Bull, racing in the silks of Kenneth Maier, won the Win Star Derby at Sunland Park March 16 and seeks the graded earnings to usher him into Derby contention. Isabull comes off a third-place finish in the March 15 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) for trainer Steve Hobby and owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong.
Fourth in the Rebel was the Oaklawn-based Golden Yank, a son of Yankee Gentleman who kicked off his career with a three-race win streak that included two black type victories – Delta Downs’ Jean Lafitte Stakes and Remington Park’s MEC Mile Stakes – before wrapping up his 2-year-old season with a third-place finish behind Z Humor in the Delta Jackpot (gr. III).
The Rebel was the only start of this year for the Gary Thomas trainee, who races under the silks of the Millard R. Seldin Revocable Trust.
$1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. II, April 11, race 11, approximate post 5:44 p.m. CDT), 1 1/8 miles for 3-year-olds, dirt
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Victory Pete, 118, Clinton Potts
2. Tres Borrachos, 118, Tyler Baze
3. Shekinah, 118, Christopher Emigh
4. King's Silver Son, 118, Luis Quinonez
5. Gayego, 122, Mike Smith
6. Isabull, 118, Timothy Doocy
7. My Pal Charlie, 118, Julien Leparoux
8. Blackberry Road, 118, Calvin Borel
9. Liberty Bull, 122, Eusebio Razo, Jr.
10. Golden Yank, 122, Larry Sterling, Jr.
11. Ablaze With Spirit, 122, M. Clifton Berry
12. Z Fortune, 122, Robby Albarado
13. Indian Sun, 118, Richard Migliore
14. Jazz in the Park, 118, Miguel Mena