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Apr 12, 2013

Up the Backstretch: Look out, Derby straight ahead

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 (Sports Network) - Where has the time flown? Wasn't it just yesterday that the 2013 trail to the 139th Kentucky Derby began with Itsmyluckyday winning the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day?

Now we're down to the last two major prep races on Saturday, with the Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby worth 170 points each to the first four finishers.

The $750,000 Blue Grass at Keeneland attracted 15 3-year-olds with 14 allowed to start in the 1 1/8-mile race. In the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, about 50 minutes after the Blue Grass, 10 Kentucky Derby hopefuls will leave the gate.

If the favorites in each race are an indication of the type of fields entered, then both stakes are wide open with Uncaptured listed at only 7-2 for the Keeneland race and lightly raced War Academy at 2-1 in Arkansas.

"This is the third 14-horse field in Blue Grass history and the morning line favorite has won (the first two). That's a nice little stat that's in our favor," said Norm Casse, son and assistant to Uncaptured's trainer Mark Casse. "To be the favorite in a race like this, it's exciting. It's what you want to do."

The Casses also have entered Dynamic Sky in the Blue Grass after the colt posted a win, a second and a fourth in the three preps at Tampa Bay Downs.

However, its Java's War that comes into the race as the horse to watch. Trained by Ken McPeek, the colt has shown every indication to liking the 1 1/8 miles after finishing a strong second in his season debut behind current Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby.

"He has had some slightly rough trips, but he can handle it with his running style. He's going to have to weave his way through in here," noted McPeek after Java's War drew post 4.

When a 3-year-old with just three starts and a fourth in his only stakes is made the 2-1 favorite for a major race, it doesn't say much for the quality of the field.

War Academy, trained by Bob Baffert, is coming off a 3 1/2-length win in an optional claiming event at Santa Anita. Somehow that short resume got him the favorite's role in the Arkansas Derby.

It's Baffert's other horse, Den's Legacy, that has shown much more talent in tougher races. The 6-1 fourth choice has not been worse than third in all but one of his 11 starts. This year, he was second in both the Sham and Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, and last time out a close third in Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes.

Oxbow, the 5-2 second choice, has had an interesting year. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, the colt won the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, was fourth beaten a half-length in the Risen Star and got second in the Rebel. He likes to be on or near the lead.

Unless one of the winners has an eye popping win as Bodemeister did in last year's Arkansas Derby, Verrazano, Revolutionary, Orb and Goldencents will make up the top four choices going into the Run for the Roses.

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