Kentucky Derby legitimacy at stake for Cupid; Keeneland Saturday thoughts

Profile Picture: James Scully

April 16th, 2016

Eleven of the 12 contestants in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (G1) need a strong showing to ensure themselves a berth in the Kentucky Derby field, with only 2-1 morning line favorite Cupid assured a spot via his 50-point prize for winning the Rebel (G2).

A maiden winner two starts previously at Santa Anita, Cupid vaulted up Kentucky Derby rankings after the Rebel, posting a 1 ¼-length decision in his stakes debut, but questions remain about his legitimacy as a serious contender for the 1 ¼-mile Run for the Roses on May 7.

Sire Tapit has produced a winner of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (G1), but 2014 victor Tonalist hailed from a mare by Pleasant Colony, a terrific source of stamina. Cupid is out of the Beau Genius mare Pretty ‘n Smart, who raced strictly in sprints, placing in the 7-furlong Railbird (G2). She’s already produced three sprint stakes winners, bringing doubt to Cupid’s effectiveness at longer distances.

But in Cupid’s defense, the gray colt has certainly performed at a much higher level in a pair of two-turn races than he did losing his first two starts in sprints. He’s been praised for an efficient stride, one built for longer distances, and encouraging stamina influences can be found deeper in his female family, with his second dam a daughter of the accomplished Northern Dancer sire Vice Regent and the third dam by Secretariat.

The late-blooming Cupid will be stretching out to 1 1/8 miles in the Arkansas Derby and needs to keep moving forward in order to prove he belongs among the upper echelon of Kentucky Derby.

I like Cupid’s chances but if looking to spreading in multi-race wagers, a few improving types offer appeal.

Creator and Dazzling Gem will be making their second stakes attempt, finishing third in the Rebel and Louisiana Derby (G2), respectively, and I won’t be surprised to see either one continue to show more with a victory if Cupid falters. The same goes for American Pioneer, who exits a superb 3 ¾-length score in his second career outing, a March 19 maiden special weight at Oaklawn, and should receive a favorable trip with his tactical speed.

I’ll be at Keeneland Saturday and here are some thoughts on the program:

Race 5: Hollywood Critic (#1) received a nice tightener following a 10-month layoff, finishing a game second in a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint at Fair Grounds, and can carry his speed all the way today in his second turf start. The one-mile trip is within his scope and like the rail draw for the front-running gelding. And Hollywood Critic adds the hottest jockey on the grounds, Luis Saez, who has won more than twice as many races as any jockey compiling a 34% win rate (12-for-35).

Race 8: Miss Ella (#7) returns for Graham Motion, who wins at a 20% clip from extended layoffs and is off to a good start at Keeneland, winning two of seven races. The classy filly finished second to Lady Shipman when making her turf debut last August and brings good tactical speed to the Giant’s Causeway. Miss Ella will be rallying from just off the pace with Drayden Van Dyke.

Race 9: Taking a stand against the top 2 betting choices – Collected must overcome the far outside post with plenty of speed to his inside and Swipe could be a race short off the long layoff -- and recommending the chances of Synchrony (#5) for Donnie Von Hemel. Tapit colt ran well in his final two starts of 2015 and returned this year with an encouraging third in the Smarty Jones, but he found himself too far back during the early stages of the Southwest (G3) and wound up being freshened off a disappointing sixth-place effort. Connections could’ve opted for the 9-furlong but wisely opted to keep Synchrony at 1 1/16 miles in a less competitive Lexington (G2) field. The chestnut can rate in midpack behind a hot and contested pace before offering his best.

Good luck today!

Cupid photo courtesy of Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography