Kellie Reilly picks the Arkansas Derby & Lexington for Kentucky Derby Dream Bet

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April 16th, 2016

The final round of the Kentucky Derby Dream Bet contest wraps up on Saturday. Just as Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirants are trying to capitalize on their last chances to score points, so are TwinSpires contestants trying to increase their gross winnings in hopes of moving up the leaderboard.

After getting off to a flyer with the 23-1 Oscar Nominated in the Spiral (G3), and Nyquist in the Florida Derby (G1), I was treading water in last Saturday’s preps. Flexibility was worst of all in the Wood Memorial (G1). Cherry Wine would have helped by holding second late in the Blue Grass (G1), but he couldn’t. Mor Spirit at least averted a total blank on the ledger by clunking up for the runner-up spot in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

Like a horse with an alternating pattern of good and poor races, I’m hoping to do better in Saturday’s finale featuring two Derby preps.

The Arkansas Derby (G1) (7:18 p.m. EDT), the last prep worth 100 Kentucky Derby points to the winner, largely shapes up as a rematch of the Rebel (G2). I was on Cupid that day, but the Bob Baffert pupil faces a more challenging task in his return trip to Oaklawn: he picks up seven pounds as the 122-pound co-highweight, breaks from a tougher post 10, and finds himself surrounded by speed. Given his rate of progress, Cupid might already be good enough to overcome all of that.

But there wasn’t a lot between Cupid and Whitmore (#8, 9-2) in the Rebel, and with a more favorable constellation of factors on Saturday, the tables could be turned. Whitmore turned in similar runner-up efforts in the Southwest (G3) and Rebel: spending a vast amount of energy to circle the field on the far turn, threatening in deep stretch, and stalling late. Before condemning him as a hanger, though, I think that he was simply being asked to do too much while hung out wide at that point in the race. If his big move can be deployed upon straightening, Whitmore can sustain it better.

Compare Suddenbreakingnews, an even deeper closer, who was more patiently handled before mowing Whitmore down in the Southwest. Trouble at a critical juncture prevented a repeat of that performance in the Rebel, but he regathered momentum to finish fifth and nearly caught Cherry Wine for fourth. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he runs a mighty race here with a clean trip, but like the long-suffering Mo Tom at Fair Grounds, he’s a hostage to fortune (and a co-highweight).

Whitmore might be more of a master of his own destiny. Trainer Ron Moquett was alluding to something like this – a more efficient deployment of his late kick – when commenting that jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. knows Whitmore better now. With a six-pound weight shift vis-à-vis Cupid in his favor, and a stronger end-to-end pace on tap, this could be his time.

As intrigued as I am by such obviously talented new shooters as American Pioneer (a late Triple Crown nominee) and Dazzling Gem (my pick in the Louisiana Derby [G2] in a fit of optimism), I’m just not sure if this is coming all a bit soon in their careers. American Pioneer is jumping straight into the cauldron off a maiden, and Dazzling Gem must move forward off a tiring third at Fair Grounds. Maybe I liked him one race too soon.

The Lexington (G3) (4:59 p.m. EDT) is less important from a Derby qualifying perspective, with just 10 points to the winner. Yet perhaps for that reason, it may offer a greater opportunity for a price play.

The leading players are Swipe, who is entitled to win as the perennial bridesmaid to Nyquist, and Collected, who’s cleverly cutting back in trip after wiring the Sunland Derby substitute. But both are question marks at cramped odds – Swipe because he’s making his first start back from surgery, and Collected because he’ll mix it up with a few other speedy types from the far outside post 10.

Of the rest, the most appealing is Synchrony (#5, 10-1). Cynics might suppose I’m on the same page with Scully and Hanson as a blocking tactic, so that they can’t catch me in our Brisnet league play with a big score on Synchrony.

The real reason has no Machiavellian angle at all. It’s mostly a loyalist pedigree play, since I’ve been interested in this son of Tapit and the terrifically versatile racemare Brownie Points for a while. And it’s partly a hunch that he’ll perform a lot better back at Keeneland than he did at Oaklawn.

A Pin Oak homebred trained by Donnie Von Hemel, Synchrony broke his maiden here decisively despite looking green and sticking to his left lead. He was still learning in his entry-level allowance win at Churchill, where he finally switched leads and wasn’t fully extended to edge Uncle Walter (the next-out third in the Lecomte [G3]). Synchrony took another step forward when a closing third in the Smarty Jones, but he threw in the most disappointing effort of his life when sixth in the Southwest.

For some reason, Synchrony wasn’t putting himself in as good a tactical position in Hot Springs. He easily kept within striking distance of a fast pace in his Keeneland and Churchill victories, so I suspect he’ll lie closer in the Lexington.

Good luck with your $15 win/place bets in both contest races!