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Apr 11, 2008

Wide open Arkansas Derby expected


 Hot Springs, AR (Sports Network) - Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby will be one of the most wide open Kentucky Derby preps in recent memory, as no clear favorite in a full field of 14 has been established leading into the 1 1/8 mile race at Oaklawn Park.

The Arkansas Derby has proven to be a major indicator of success in recent Triple Crown races.

Smarty Jones turned his 2004 win into victory in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The following year, Arkansas Derby winner Afleet Alex captured the Preakness and Belmont Stakes after a third-place finish in the Run for the Roses.

Two years ago, Lawyer Ron won the Arkansas Derby and became one of the top handicap horses in 2007. Curlin captured last year's Arkansas Derby on his way to winning the Breeders' Cup Classic and being voted Horse of the Year. In between, Curlin was third in the Kentucky Derby, first in the Preakness and second to Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, hoping to repeat last year's win with Curlin, has entered three colts in the race led by Risen Star Stakes runner-up Z Fortune. Joining Z Fortune from the Asmussen stable will be King's Silver Son and Ablaze With Spirit.

Z Fortune will be ridden by leading jockey Robby Albarado from post 12. Asmussen uses Albarado as the regular rider for Curlin, who recently won the Dubai World Cup.

"What a difference a year makes in the Arkansas Derby," Albarado said from Keeneland. "The only thing that's the same is that I'm riding a horse for Steve (Asmussen). But unlike last year, this is a wide open derby with no standout. As for Z Fortune, I know he has a lot of talent. I've watched him train, I've ridden against him, and Steve tells me that he is doing well. All I can do is try my best, and hope for the best."

Owned by Zayat Stable, Z Fortune began the year by winning the Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds, followed by a second to Pyro in the Risen Star Stakes.

Sent off as the 7-10 favorite here at Oaklawn, the colt finished fifth in the Rebel Stakes behind Sierra Sunset. The gray three-year-old has won three of five career starts for $186,600.

The top horse coming out of the Rebel Stakes is King's Silver Son, owned by Mike McCarty. The gray colt will start from post four with Luis Quinonez in the saddle.

King's Silver Son made a five-wide move in the Rebel to go from last in the nine-horse field to second as a 17-1 longshot. He has earnings of $116,600 in seven starts with one win.

The third of Asmussen's trio is Ablaze With Spirit. Owned by Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, Ablaze With Spirit will break from post 11 with Clifton Berry riding. Ablaze With Spirit will be part of a three-horse mutuel field, including Shekinah and Jazz in the Park.

Ablaze With Spirit is coming off a third-place finish in the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park. Two months ago he won the Jim's Orbit Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park. Ablaze With Spirit has won two of six lifetime races for $170,795.

Here is the complete field in post position order for the 72nd Arkansas Derby: Victory Pete, Clinton Potts; Tres Borrachos, Tyler Baze; Shekinah, Chris Emigh; King's Silver Son, Luis Quinonez; Gayego, Mike Smith; Isabull, Tim Doocy; My Pal Charlie, Julien Leparoux; Blackberry Road, Calvin Borel; Liberty Bull, Eusebio Razo, Jr.; Golden Yank, Larry Sterling, Jr.; Ablaze With Spirit, Clifton Berry; Z Fortune, Robby Albarado; Indian Sun, Richard Migliore and Jazz in the Park, Miguel Mena.

The Arkansas Derby has a scheduled post-time of 6:44 p.m. (et) and will be televised on ESPN.

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