Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Apple Blossom, Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes

Posted by Brian Appleton on April 8, 2010

This weekend can pretty much be called a two-day gala with Friday’s Apple Blossom Handicap and Saturyday’s Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes. Granted the Apple Blossom is one race so it’s hardly a gala but when you consider that Zenyatta is the race headliner the scenario changes in seconds. The great undefeated Zenyatta could conceivably steal the weekend show and will most likely garner as much if not much more attention than both Kentucky Derby preps put together. That’s not to say the fields for the Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes are weak and unworthy of consideration. Quite the contrary in fact, but the overwhelming star power of racings greatest mare of all time is just too much competition to ask of talented  young three year old colts.

The Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap was setting up as the meeting point

Zenyatta

of two of the greatest females ever to grace the track in racing history earlier this year when the respective parties of Champion Zenyatta and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra agree to enter for a purse of $5 million dollars. Unfortunately Rachel Alexandra was withdrawn from consideration when she lost the New Orleans Ladies Stakes in her season debut and her connections felt she was not yet ready to face Zenyatta. The Apple Blossom Handicap is now a one horse show and it’s all about Zenyatta. Is there anyone left who is brave enough to actually state outright that they are choosing against Zenyatta anymore and that their horse actually stands a chance? It’s almost laughable to think she might lose the race.

Undefeated in 15 lifetime starts, Zenyatta is perfection in motion and over the course of the last three years has been defying everything the history books and experts say should and shouldn’t be possible. In the Apple Blossom she will going for her 16th straight victory, that’s the real race here. If she succeeds she will have equaled the feat of the incredible 1948 Triple Crown champion Citation and will enter the record books as the greatest mare in the history of this illustrious sport. Zenyatta will be making just her

Zenyatta

second start on natural dirt in the Apple Blossom after winning the 2008 renewal of the Apple Blossom. In the 2008 Apple Blossom she went off as the second choice, it was the first and only time in her life that she was not sent off as the favorite. This time around she will be the overwhelming favorite seeing as she has been a sure thing in this sport up to this point and there are no indications that situation is about to change anytime soon. Zenyatta just keeps climbing the ladder of prominence higher and higher with no end in sight, when she stops is anyone’s guess.

Only four brave souls were entered against Zenyatta this time around and not a one has a single grade 1 win to her credit. Leading the lagging pack is Larry

Just Jenda

and Cindy Jones’ Just Jenda, the only other graded stakes winner in the field aside from Zenyatta. She enters the Apple Blossom on a three race losing streak, her last victory coming in the Monmouth Oaks (gr.3) in the summer of 2009.

War Echo enters the race off a well-beaten 5th place finish in the Azeri Stakes in which she finished behind 4th place finisher Just Jenda. She has lost both her 2010 starts.

Taptam enters off a 9th place finish in the Azeri, but previously won two consecutive starts. This will be her first time trying the 9 furlong distance.

Be Fair holds the distinction of being the only contestant to enter the Apple Blossom with a victory in her last start, aside from Zenyatta that is who has only victories to her credit. She won an allowance race at Oaklawn this year in early March.

The field entered against Zenyatta pales horribly in comparison with her powerful image and their records are so drastically different that it’s almost impossible to compare them. Suffice it to say this could be billed as the equivalent of a singing contest between Celine Dion and four preschoolers.

The Arkansas Derby boasts a very strong field of graded stakes winners and

Noble's Promise

“supporting cast” Kentucky Derby prospects just waiting to steal the spot light. From the powerhouse stable of Todd Pletcher comes one of his most prized pupils. Super Saver was installed as the slight favorite in the Arkansas Derby off his close third place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby behind a victorious Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams. He had previously won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr.2) at Churchill Downs as a juvenile by more than 5 lengths. Calvin Borel gets the mount on the front-running favorite. The suspicion here is that they will attempt to get this colt to rate off the pace this time around. He did very well in the Tampa Bay Derby to hold onto third by half a length after setting the fractions up front.

Noble’s Promise enters this race off one of the strongest losing efforts on the Derby trail so far this year. In his last start he finished a neck behind Lookin At Lucky in the Rebel Stakes over the same course in his 3-year-old debut. This tough-luck colt has finished behind Lookin At Lucky every time the two face each other, but with the Lookin At Lucky not entered this time around it appears to be his race to lose. He shows up every time and runs his heart out so you can bet he’ll be competitive in the Arkansas Derby.

Dublin has not quite failed to live up to the billing trainer D. Wayne Lukas bestowed upon him last year, but neither has he done a whole lot to reinforce his highly-touted billing. The talented son of  Afleet Alex last won the

Dublin

Hopefull Stakes (gr.1) in September. He finished a strong second in his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest Stakes (gr.3) then followed that up with a 3rd place finish to Lookin At Lucky and Noble’s Promise in the Rebel Stakes. He has proven himself to be very consistent this year but has yet to capture that elusive victory.

Northern Giant, Uh Oh Bango, Pulsion, New Madrid, Berberis and Line of David complete the field. Uh Oh Bango could present the biggest outside challenge after running 4th in the Rebel and finishing second by a neck to

Super Saver

Rule in the Boyd Gaming Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. 3) in December. This will be his second start of the year and he looks like the kind of colt that is slowly but surely improving. Northern Giant last finished second to Dean’s Kitten in the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. 3). Line of David is an intriguing entry for trainer John Sadler.  He enters off a 4 ½ length allowance victory.

I think Noble’s Promise will break through with a well-deserved victory here and finally step out from the enormous shadow cast by Lookin At Lucky. Super Saver will probably be very sharp off his third place Tampa Bay Derby win but I like Dublin for second.

The $750,000 Bluegrass Stakes (gr.1) is probably the most intriguing Derby

Odysseus (middle with no blinkers)

prep this weekend and also the toughest one to handicap. A field of 9 gifted runners were entered with Florida Derby second place finisher Pleasant Prince installed as the 3-1 favorite. Pleasant Prince has finished behind Ice Box in his last three starts and looks to earn enough graded stakes money in the Bluegrass to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. While Pleasant Prince is certainly talented and has plenty of ability, I do not believe he is the best horse in the field.

Odysseus comes into the Bluegrass Stakes riding a hot three race win streak which includes one of the year’s most impressive Derby prep victories. In the Tampa Bay Derby last out Odysseus turned certain defeat at the top of the stretch into resounding victory by re-rallying after being passed in the stretch to win by a thrilling nose over Schoolyard Dreams. While Schoolyard Dreams did not flatter his form in the Wood Memorial last weekend, I still believe this is one of the best colts of the year and he will find a way to win this race. He is still very inexperienced and green but his talent shines through every time he steps onto the track. This will be his first start on polytrack.

Interactif enters the Bluegrass as the stronger half of a Todd Pletcher entered duo with Aikenite. Interactif has lost his only two races this year by a mere

Interactif

nose in his 2010 debut and a fast closing second by a half length to Sidney’s Candy in the San Felipe (gr.2). Aikenite last finished third to leading Kentucky Derby contender Eskendereya in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes (gr.2) and will be looking for a breakthrough performance here. A win, second or third place finish would assure Aikenite a starting position in the Derby with his earnings already standing at $218,000.

First Dude, Paddy O’Prado, Make Music for Me, Codoy and Stately Victor round out the field.

Odysseus seems like the kind of colt that anything could conceivably be possible with and so far he has won on sheer talent alone. If he can put all his immaturity issues behind him in the Bluegrass he should win this going away. Interactif, Aikenite and Pleasant Prince are hard to separate for me. If there is a good strong pace up front, Pleasant Prince and Aikenite will benefit the most but Interactif is more consistent and competitive in top tier races than either one. First Dude and Codoy are also intriguing entries but looked a little out-classed at this point.

Aside from the big three races this weekend there are a bunch of high-class runners competing across the nation in graded stakes races, the most obvious of these is the return of Informed Decision in the Vinery Madison (gr.1) today and the return of Forever Together in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr.2) on Saturday. Enjoy the races. Go Zenyatta!

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3 Responses to “Apple Blossom, Arkansas Derby and Bluegrass Stakes”

  1. LDP said

    In the Bluegrass I would not leave Aikenite off my ticket. He was closing very quickly when facing Noble’s Promise here last year, so it’s clear that he loves the track. Odysseus should tear this field apart if he likes the Poly, but then again this Keeneland. Same goes for Interactif, he likes synthetic and he likes turf, which bodes well for his chances here, but the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita is a lot different then the Polytrack at Keenland.

    In the Arkansas, I’m rooting slightly more for Dublin, but I love Noble’s Promise too. I’m hoping both show the signs that they are revved up and ready for the Derby

    The Apple Blossom. She is such a standout, if Zenyatta were to lose here, and I don’t think she will, then it would be an even bigger upset then Rachel Alexandra losing to Zardana, and that was one heck of a shocker.

    • Aikenite is good and has a solid two-year-old foundation but I don’t like him as much as Odysseus, Pleasant Prince, Interactif or Super Saver. They’ve all shown really good form this year and recently.

      I’d be fine with Dublin winning the Arkansas Derby. I really liked him a lot last year and D. Wayne Lukas is like a living legend. Noble’s Promise though is my favorite here.

      Zenyatta losing to the Apple Blossom field would be right up there with Man ‘O’ War losing to Upset and Secretariat getting beat by Onion. I don’t think it will happen either, she’s so amazingly consistent in her perfection.

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