Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

The Arkansas Derby and Commander

Posted by Brian Appleton on April 15, 2011

The Arkansas Derby (gr.1) looks like The Factor’s race to lose but I’ve been burned too much in the last couple of weeks by favorites (Wood Memorial and Ashland Stakes anyone?) to play this one without any angles. With that being said I think The Factor is the class of this field and is poised to run big. In his last start the Bob Baffert trainee won the Rebel Stakes (gr.2) by six lengths, earning a 103 Beyer for his front running effort. The Rebel was his second straight Grade 2 victory after he captured the San Vicente in similar run away fashion. It is well documented that The Factor is an unratable speed ball who will be gunning for the lead right from the start. With 13 horses in the Arkansas Derby field he will have much tougher time setting the pace on his own terms.

Brethren’s star has probably fallen farther than any former leading Kentucky Derby candidate this year after his lackluster third place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr.2). After winning the first three starts of his career with impressive ease the bay colt failed to live up to expectations against a weak field in the Tampa Bay Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher has decided to add blinkers to help Brethren focus in the Arkansas Derby, feeling that his charge lost focus when he got to the lead in the Tampa Bay Derby. He has fired off two five furlong bullets at Palm Meadows Training Center, the last move he completed in a fantastic time of :59.00 flat. It seems like he could be a little out of his element running against such a competitive field after failing so badly against a weak field last time but he’s been training much better for this race than he did for his last so don’t be surprised if he bounces back with a stronger run.

Sway Away was last seen finishing a troubled 6th in the Rebel Stakes (gr.2) after smashing into the side of the gate at the break and knocking out some teeth. Before the Rebel Stakes Sway Away produced one of the most impressive late runs displayed by a three-year-old colt this year to finish second to The Factor in the San Vicente (gr.2). He has breezed twice over the Oaklawn dirt track in preparation for the Arkansas Derby. His last move, a six furlong move he completed in a final time of 1:12.60 came one week after he worked five furlongs in less than a minute. He should be ready to come back with a much stronger run than his incident-filled Rebel run suggests, he is a lot better than his six place finish there.

Alternation rides a three race win streak in the Arkansas Derby. On January 15th Alternation defeated fellow Arkansas Derby contestant Elite Alex in an Allowance race at Oaklawn Park by a head after a stretch long battle that resulted in a three-way photo finish. He has a pedigree to die for on both sides of his family as a son of Distorted Humor and his dam, Alternate, is a daughter of Seattle Slew. His last two works at the 5 and 6 furlong distance have been easy moves that border on slow but despite that he could make an impact in the Arkansas Derby as he has proven his class at Oaklawn two time now.

Because of time restraints I won’t be able to write about the other three colts I want to keep an eye on Saturday, Elite Alex, Archarcharch and J P’s Gusto. Of those three Elite and Alex will enter off a speedy 6 furlong work completed in 1:11.60. If Calvin Borel finally gives him a good ride this colt will be heard from big time. J P’s Gusto enters off a sizzling 5 furlong work he finished in :58.60 to earn the bullet. If that April 9th work doesn’t have him sharp for the Arkansas Derby I’m not sure what will.

Before I take off I have to make mention of a colt I think could be poised to become a major force amongst the sophomore ranks. In the January 15th allowance race that Alternation won by a head over Elite Alex the Larry Jones trained Commander finished another neck back in third. Commander has one of the most fluid strides in a horse I have ever witnessed, it’s truly a thing of beauty. I remember reading Larry Jones saying that he believed this colt could be one of the best of this crop if he would only stop goofing off in his races. Jones feels Commander is just like a teenager out for a run with his buddies when he runs his races but he was finally able to get the colt to focus in his last start when he won an allowance race after swerving to the inside behind the two leaders at the top of the stretch, being righted by Calvin Borel, then swerving in sharply again before finally angling to the outside and winning in a casual hand ride. He runs Saturday at Oaklawn in the 1 mile Northern Spur Stakes.

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