Mucciolo’s Sophomore Spotlight: Arkansas Derby, Lexington Previews
Arkansas Derby (G1):
This rapidly growing Derby prep has often been most important in recent years and a big field of 12 will contest the Saturday feature at Oaklawn Park. I have some question marks around the pair of favorites in the $1 million test and will focus on the Steve Asmussen-trained UNTRAPPED for the top prize. Son of Trappe Shot made a big middle move to reach contention and poke a head in front before being outfinished in the local prep, the Rebel S. (G2), and gives the impression of a horse due for a big breakthrough. Untrapped has been consistently good in his lifetime with improvement coming since stretching out three races back and the combination of Mike Smith and blinkers on for the first time is enough for me to side in his corner.
Although only third when making his seasonal debut in the Holy Bull (G2) in early February, champion CLASSIC EMPIRE is the most talented runner in the field and he needs a big performance to advance on to Louisville for conditioner Mark Casse. The reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) star is a classy son of Pioneerof the Nile who ran into a strong top pair while clear in third last time and has been flattered by that duo as each is among the leading Kentucky Derby contenders at this posting. Colt is reportedly training in well after a few minor setbacks and I think he is clearly the one to beat on ability alone, though is he fit enough? As for the Kentucky Derby, I will tackle that issue later down the road.
MALAGACY has been super sharp from a trio of wins to start his career and proved versatile taking the Rebel (G2) in fine fashion last out. The Todd Pletcher pupil has the speed to overcome this dreadful post, as well as the form to stay on his winning ways, and he would not be a surprise in the very least in a field that is more quantity than quality. Chestnut son of Shackleford remains a bit of a question mark distance-wise, though a big win from this slot will change my mind about the ultra-talented colt. This outfit has dominated the prep season and I could never discount this one with regular pilot Javier Castellano showing confidence and coming out to stay in the silks.
While there are some nice sophomores in the field, if anyone outside of that aforementioned trio wins this, well, I will simply say “uncle.” Maiden SONNETEER made a big run in the Rebel to be a late second but is still winless from nine lifetime races. CONQUEST MO MONEY is surely a nice colt but has never run outside of Sunland Park and has to validate his 99 BRIS Speed figure last time with another big performance. PETROV is a consistent one but I still have questions as to how far he wants to run for conditioner Ron Moquett.
Lexington S. (G3):
This race is unlikely to produce much from a Derby standpoint, though it could be a nice betting option and a steppingstone for some hoping to peak later in this season. I think trainer Steve Asmussen has a chance to win both graded races for sophomores and will tab RESILIENCY in the $200,00 Lexington S. at Keeneland. Dark bay son of Malibu Moon is two-for-four lifetime and gives me the impression of an improving horse with a pretty high ceiling. $250,000 yearling buy did move forward in a decisive allowance tally at Fair Grounds second off the shelf last time and the more ground, the better, for the Kentucky-bred with his grinding running style. Resiliency has trained well since and I will be a bit surprised if he is not in the top two or three at the finish with Florent Geroux riding.
Trainer Bob Baffert knows a thing or two about three-year-olds in general, so for him to ship sharp maiden winner WEST COAST in for this one from the West Coast, I have to take attention. $425,000 son of Flatter has just a pair of runs under his belt and doesn’t give the impression of a Triple Crown type to me, though the colt has a load of talent and could evolve into a real nice one I would imagine. He makes a lot of sense to me in this field.
NO DOZING did not yet progress this season after a very good juvenile campaign, but the Arnaud Delacour charge might be a good fit at this level. Son of Union Rags tired after making a solid middle move in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) most recently and simply might be best with this type for the time being.
This is the trio that I see having the biggest impact in this field – and later down the road.