The Morning Line: Arkansas Derby

Welcome to Bob Baffert Land

Secret Circle wins the Rebel

Yes you read that correctly, Oaklawn Park is the place that Bob Baffert has owned on the 2012 Derby Trail. It’s also now the place where his streak will be put to a Grade 1 test in the $1 Million Arkansas Derby. It’s going to take more of the same to eliminate this field but he’s not going into battle alone. Coming with him is the jockey that rode in all three wins and more importantly so is the horse that was responsible for two of those wins.

The trickiest part about the troops accompanying him back to Hot Springs is that the two time winner isn’t even the morning line favorite. So since Baffert has a pair of horses representing the favorite and second choice then how hard is it going to be for him to walk away with 4 consecutive wins? That is a valid point but there’s still one hurdle that needs to be cleared. In his hall of fame career Bob Baffert has yet to win in the Arkansas Derby. So Game On, Baffert is on board for the challenge.

The streak began with the Southwest Stakes on 2/20. For the third time in the races history, the Southwest Stakes was split into 2 divisions in order to accommodate the surprising amount of entries for the G3 Stakes. What better way to kick off the derby trail at Oaklawn then by going 2 for 2 – Castaway followed by Secret Circle with Rafael Bejarano aboard both times. On 3/17 Secret Circle wasn’t ready to give up his spot in the winner’s circle when Baffert sent him back for the G2 Rebel stakes. The win also made it Bob Baffert’s 3rd consecutive Rebel Stakes win. Since I mentioned that let’s throw some more Baffert/Oaklawn numbers on the board.

His first Rebel win came after his first Southwest win also in 2010. That year Baffert elected to skip the Arkansas Derby. Then last year Baffert passed in the Southwest but returned to hold court again in the Rebel with The Factor. Since he had a good thing going, 3 wins in 3 Derby Prep attempts, The Factor was back for the 2011 Arkansas Derby. But that’s where Baffert’s streak ended. The math will tell you he likes it here on the derby trail – 6 for his last 7 – but the Grade 1 challenge was the stopper. So it’s up to Secret Circle and morning line favorite Bodemeister to keep things sizzling in Hot Springs.

Secret Circle has been a great horse thus far on the Kentucky Derby trail. He entered his 3-yr-old season with questions lingering around his ability to compete in the derby prep distances of at least 1 1/16 mile. That of course was only until he began answering them one race after another. The Southwest and Rebel wins proved his distance progression but it’s now up to his performance in the 1 1/8 Mile Arkansas Derby to get the attention of anyone who isn’t convinced. He’s made his case to me already so I expect to see a horse that will move on to Churchill Downs.

Handicapper Advantage: Class Act – In his career he’s earned over $800,000 in 6 lifetime races – 5 wins, 1 2nd. He’s traveled very well too. Besides winning near Baffert’s home base in California, Secret Circle has won twice at Oaklawn, once at Churchill Downs.

And then there’s Bodemeister, the favorite who will face the task of breaking from the far outside in the 11 horse field. Bodemeister would be a unique horse in any year on the Kentucky Derby trail. Unraced at age 2, he began his racing career at Santa Anita in January with a 2nd place finish in a MSW race before breaking his maiden in February. From there it was straight to the G2 San Felipe Stakes. Unable to derail the likes of Creative Cause, a 2nd place finish was still a huge performance. Owned by Zayat Stables, the son of Empire Maker is a highly regarded colt that is already considered Kentucky Derby ready by many. But there’s one giant obstacle that needs to be addressed: Graded Stakes Earnings. With only $60,000 to his name, Bodemeister cannot afford to finish worse than 2nd. To avoid the qualification bubble, Bodemeister will have to win. In his previous 3 races Rafael Bejarano was up so Saturday marks the first time that Mike Smith will be in the irons.

Handicapper Advantage: Experts are right so far –I had a lot of questions about his chances in the San Felipe so I was surprised by his odds. But I missed it, Bodemeister achieved – $3.40 to place, $2.80 to show.

Alright enough about Bob Baffert, he still has to win this race before he earns anymore than he’s already received. Let’s take a look at the horses in the field that pose the biggest threat of pulling out another Baffert stopper. Based on the morning line odds, Isn’t He Clever is the leading candidate. Isn’t He Clever ships in from the West Coast and after 3 Kentucky Derby preps produced a 1st, 2nd and 4th place finish. Isn’t He Clever got his graded stakes career started with a 4th place finish in the G2 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita before moving on to Sunland Park and the Borderland – 1st and the G3 Sunland – 2nd. .

While his $188,000 in Graded Earnings has him on the bubble, I have to give the edge to three different horses. First is Optimizer trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Optimizer returns to face Secret Circle after he was left chomping at the bit trying to catch him down the stretch in the Rebel. Going 6 wide to do it may have failed the bid but a hard charge that ended with a 2nd place finish by only 1 ½ really recharged his derby hopes. I like what I saw and expect him to be in the mix.

Handicapper Advantage: Jon Court – Optimizer’s jockey will be going for his 3rd straight Arkansas Derby win (Line of David ’10, ArchArchArch ’11)

Jake Mo is back for more at Oaklawn. After finishing 2nd to Castaway in the First Southwest Stakes Division he returned with a 4th place effort in the Rebel. Although he finished out of the money he still finished ahead of three other Arkansas Derby entries – Najjjaar 6th, Sabercat 8th, Atigun 11th. Couple his experience against the field with his recent 5F workout on 4/8 – 1 minute flat – and you got a horse that may be ready to make his splash on the Derby trail.

Cozzetti arrives in Arkansas from South Florida and after a 3rd place finish in the G2 Tampa Baby Derby on Mach 10. Trained by Dale Romans, Cozzeti will break along the rail from Post Position 1. Prospective, winner of the TB Derby, is a legitimate derby contender so his strong finish behind him should be considered. He’s trending like a distance runner that is lightly raced, only 2 races this year, so he should be fresh and ready to go.

Not highlighted but not to be overlooked are Todd Pletcher’s quiet attempts to join Gemologist in the Kentucky Derby – Raconteur and StatFinally Sabercat who lost his ranking on a number of lists after a confusing 8th place finish in the Rebel is looking to bounce back into the derby picture with a big effort on Saturday.

G1 $1 Million Arkansas Derby | 1 1/8 Mile | Dirt | Race 11, Post Time 5:45

PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Cozzetti (KY) J. Lezcano D. Romans  15-1
2 Stat (KY) J. Velazquez T. Pletcher  10-1
3 Najjaar (KY) C. Borel D. Peitz  15-1
4 Jake Mo (KY) M. Berry A. Milligan  30-1
5 Secret Circle (KY) R. Bejarano B. Baffert  5-2
6 Isn’t He Clever (KY) R. Albarado H. Dominguez  6-1
7 Optimizer (KY) J. Court D. W. Lukas  30-1
8 Atigun (KY) T. Thompson K. McPeek  30-1
9 Sabercat (KY) C. Nakatani S. Asmussen  15-1
10 Raconteur (KY) D. DeCarlo T. Pletcher  15-1
11 Bodemeister (VA) M. Smith B. Baffert  9-5

What is extra intriguing about the Arkansas Derby is the final push for Graded Stakes earnings. Outside of Secret Circle and Sabercat the remaining 9 are all in desperate need of additional earnings. There’s no way around it though, the Arkansas Derby winner is going to the Kentucky Derby and there’s no guarantee that the horses that finish 2nd or 3rd will be in. Instead they will join the traffic on the bubble and wait until all of the Kentucky Derby preps are completed before they receive the confirmation of their fate. It’s pretty fun to watch so good luck to all of our Arkansas Derby contenders. We wish you and your connections a safe trip and all the best on a potential entry into the 138th Kentucky Derby.

Written by: Little Brink

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