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Friday, April 15, 2005

Arkansas Derby

- I’d like to be a wise guy and shop for a price in the Arkansas Derby; after all, there’s Pletcher’s Flower Alley, making only his 4th start and coming off his upset win in the Lane’s End, in which he rallied after racing erratically throughout. Pletcher said he was climbing due to the mud getting kicked up in his snout. Wild Desert is making his third start of the year, and kicked into high gear into the stretch in the Lane’s End and looked like a sure winner before Flower Alley found his stride. Plus, he gets Pat Valenzuela here. And how great would it be to cash a bet at anything close to the 10-1 morning line on a Nick Zito horse, Andromeda’s Hero? After all, he only got beat by 3 lengths in the Lane’s End, may not have liked the track, and gets Nakatani. The connections of Cat Shaker have Derby Fever after upsetting in the Rushaway over the same muddy Turfway track.

But I can’t really get excited about any of the horses coming out of those races and that muddy track. The Lane’s End is a race that just fell apart; Spanish Chestnut, usually reliable to hang in for a piece of the purse, quit altogether when the improving Mr. Sword scooted up the rail (he confirmed his current form with a dazzling :57 4/5 work for the Blue Grass), and after getting 6 furlongs in 1:11, it took nearly 39 seconds for them to get home on a drying-out surface that may have been favoring closers. So how about we throw out all of these; and then we’re left, again, with Afleet Alex and Greater Good.

Reader ‘throwaway,’ in the comment section here (that I’d love to see used more often!), wrote that he liked Afleet Alex more than I do, based on my surprise at his being tabbed as morning line favorite, and my hope that he does go off as such. It’s not really that I don’t like him, but more that I just don’t know what to do about him here. Coming into the Rebel, he seemed to be on a perfect path to glory, as Tim Ritchey gave him the extra 6f prep, which he won most impressively. But then came his dreadful Rebel, and the disclosure of his lung infection. So what now? Though we keep reading about how he has hasn't won around 2 turns yet, a repeat of his effort in the BC Juvenile no doubt wins this. But do you fully accept the excuse for how awful his last race was? Even if you do, do you think he’ll be sharp enough to win right now? Isn’t Ritchey just looking for him to get back on track and set him up for the Derby? So I said I hope he’s the favorite, because that gives me an easy reason to do what is, in my opinion, the logical thing and look to beat him given all the questions about him. If he wins impressively, the added intrigue that would bring to the Derby would be great.

So I have to go with Greater Good as my selection to win the race. Even though his speed ratings are not in the same class as other Derby contenders, those contenders aren’t here, and those figs fit in just fine in this field. Plus, there’s no reason to think he won’t improve. As trainer Bob Holthus says, "The horse hasn't missed a beat….We've been able to breeze every day we wanted to breeze." [Daily Racing Form] The questions about his pedigree, which will certainly be valid in 3 weeks, mean nothing here. There’s not a ton of speed, but the maiden Canteen and Flower Alley should provide enough to set him up for his usual late run, and I expect he’ll get up in time again.

- Greater Good has a fan in Rockport Harbor’s trainer John Servis. "Greater Good is the best-kept secret in racing….He hasn't done anything wrong yet. He should be the favorite." [Louisville Courier-Journal] And Servis said Rockport Harbor "was nice and relaxed" galloping a mile in 2:08 on Thursday morning. [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]