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Apr 09, 2010

Last Chance to Make a Big Impression

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The final two Grade 1 three-year-old Kentucky Derby prep races highlight an exciting weekend of racing as the Run for the Roses is just three weeks away. Will a horse from the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes provide a challenge to the current three favorites, Eskendereya, Lookin At Lucky and Sidney's Candy? We'll know the answer come Saturday night.

Leading the charge in the $1 million Arkansas Derby are Noble's Promise and Dublin, the second and third-place finishers in the Rebel Stakes. Also in the mix are Super Saver, Uh Oh Bango, Northern Giant, Pulsion, Line of David, New Madrid and Berberis.

Noble's Promise, who sports three victories in his last six starts, finally gets to run without Lookin At Lucky grabbing the headlines. The two-year-old champ has defeated the Ken McPeek-trained colt the last three races.

The Arkansas Derby will be Noble's Promise's second start off a three-month layoff, so improvement is expected from his close second-place finish to Lookin At Lucky in the Rebel. In addition, he's likely to inherit a great stalking trip behind both Super Saver and Line of David.

Dublin had a much tougher trip in the Rebel, going five-wide into the first turn then needing a pair of moves to range alongside Noble's Promise around the final turn. However, when asked to keep up with that colt, as well as Lookin At Lucky, he failed in every sense of the word, losing by a solid three lengths.

One of two D. Wayne Lukas horses in the race, Dublin will have his fifth straight rider change this Saturday as Terry Thompson, who rode him in the Southwest Stakes, regains the mount. The horse is not bred to go more than one mile so it's doubtful he'll be able to challenge Noble's Promise once again.

One other horse from the Rebel will take a shot in the Arkansas Derby and that's the fourth-place finisher, Uh Oh Bango.

Like Noble's Promise, Uh Oh Bango should improve off his last performance, his first since early December. He was severely squeezed at the start from both sides as Royal Express veered out and Pleasant Storm bore in. However, it took him quite a long time to eventually get past the speedy (and outclassed) Royal Express at the top of the stretch, which shows the son of Top Hit was a little short coming off the layoff. He could be the horse in this race the public overlooks.

Coming from post position one, Super Saver will make his second start of the 2010 season after finishing third by a half-length in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Leading for much of the early part of the race, Super Saver was overtaken by Schoolyard Dreams around the far turn, but fought back gamely along the rail while running on his wrong lead through the stretch. That race should do him a world of good stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time.

Super Saver is well bred to handle the distance, but he only knows one way to run and that's on the lead. If the pace is too quick early, it's doubtful he'll be able to hold off Noble's Promise through the lane. On the other hand, if the other speed rates, he could be long gone.

One horse I don't expect to be on the lead is Pulsion. His front-running trip in the Florida Derby was the exception, not the rule. Even with a change of tactics, it's doubtful he's good enough to challenge for the win on Saturday.

D. Wayne Lukas sends Northern Giant into the Arkansas Derby just two weeks after running in the Lane's End Stakes. This will be the colt's fourth race since February so expect a regression after two consecutive in-the-money finishes.

One longshot to keep in mind is the lightly-raced New Madrid. The son of Rock Hard Ten rebounded from his loss to Endorsement in a maiden race to earn a victory of his own three weeks later. However, this field is a lot tougher than the one Endorsement faced in the Sunland Derby so proceed with caution.

Only one winner of the Arkansas Derby (Smarty Jones) has won the Kentucky Derby since 1983 so it's doubtful the winner will come right back three weeks later and be draped with the blanket of roses. Still, it's a very good betting race since most of the combatants will be running not only to take the winner's share of the purse, but also to be eligible to come back on the first Saturday in May.

Selections: 1) Noble's Promise; 2) Uh Oh Bango; 3) Super Saver

IS THE BLUE GRASS SUDDENLY A TURF RACE?

It's a known fact turf horses prefer synthetics over conventional dirt. So it shouldn't come as a shock that three of the top five betting choices in the Blue Grass are grass lovers.

Make Music for Me comes over from California where he proved victorious in the Pasadena Stakes on the turf at Santa Anita. Ironically, it was his first lifetime win despite earning over $200,000 in six previous races. Nevertheless, the son of Bernstein shouldn't be shrugged off too quickly since he owns a pair of second-place finishes to Lookin At Lucky earlier in his career.

Paddy O'Prado is another horse that broke his maiden in his last start. Coincidentally, it was also a stakes race as he blew away a field of nine in the Palm Beach Stakes over a very fast turf course at Gulfstream Park. Still, it was a tailor-made trip for Paddy O'Prado, as he hugged the rail every step of the way. Don't expect a similar performance against a much better field on Saturday, particularly since he drew post seven this time around.

A colt that defeated Paddy O'Prado last summer should be able to do it again in the Blue Grass.

Interactif comes out of the San Felipe where he finished a game second to Sidney's Candy. Another in a long line of Todd Pletcher three-year-olds, the two-time stakes winner on turf should relish the Polytrack surface even more. His second dam on the female side is not only a daughter of the undefeated filly, Personal Ensign, but she's also a half-sister to champion My Flag.

The Blue Grass is not solely for turf horses as the Tampa Bay Derby winner and Florida Derby runner-up are also in the mix for top honors.

Odysseus will try to duplicate his tremendous finish at Tampa Bay, a race in which he dropped out of contention before passing horses one by one through the stretch.

Schoolyard Dreams, the horse he nailed at the wire last time out, failed miserably in the Wood Memorial so Odysseus's victory in the Tampa Bay Derby might not have been as impressive as it looked on race day. However, the two horses Odysseus knocked off in his prior two races both came back to win their subsequent start.

Pleasant Prince returns for one more race to try and earn enough money for entrance into the Kentucky Derby. The Wesley Ward-trained colt is bred to run all day and he showed it by coming up a nose short at the wire in the Florida Derby. Moreover, he breezed five furlongs in 58 2/5 over the Keeneland surface last Sunday proving he'll be able to handle the crossover to Polytrack.

On the negative side, the $30,000 yearling purchase might not give it his all, since he'll need to save his best work for May 1. Also, the pace of the race might be a bit too slow for him to make his patented late close.

Selections: 1) Interactif; 2) Pleasant Prince; 3) Odysseus



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