Mucciolo’s Sophomore Spotlight: Arkansas Derby & Lexington Recaps

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April 19th, 2017

Arkansas Derby (G1):

Champion CLASSIC EMPIRE cemented his status among the top in his division with a gutsy half-length tally in this big Kentucky Derby prep for conditioner Mark Casse. Son of Pioneerof the Nile was a bit headstrong early while in traffic, but pilot Julien Leparoux did a nice job of restraining him until the stretch run when the powerful colt came widest and gradually took command inside the final sixteenth.

Kentucky-bred is all class and this was a race he needed after a few setbacks this winter and spring. Classic Empire has headed to Louisville as one of the runners to beat and deservedly so, as the colt appears to have all the tools. I thought going into the Arkansas Derby that he almost had to win or run a big second against a field that was more quantity than quality, and the sophomore delivered. His training in the coming weeks will be vital in my opinion, as fitness is my lone fear.

CONQUEST MO MONEY outran his odds and pedigree in finishing a game second in his first voyage away from Sunland Park. Miguel Hernandez trainee was part of a swift tempo early on and never wavered late in getting nine furlongs in good fashion in a first try at the distance. His runner-up in the Sunland Derby (G3) last time was validated, but the son of Uncle Mo isn’t nominated to the Triple Crown and connections announced they will bypass the Kentucky Derby and point toward the Preakness on May 20.

Both LOOKIN AT LEE and SONNETEER made up ground late to finish third and fourth, respectively, while looking pretty good visually. The former showed some athleticism with a less-than-perfect voyage from well back and gives me the impression of a horse who can keep his motor going for 10, 11 or possibly 12 furlongs. The Steve Asmussen pupil may be a better Belmont Stakes prospect in June.

The latter is among the more talented maidens in the U. S. and deserves to break through with a win. Sonneteer could be another looking down the road to the Belmont with continued improvement for trainer Keith Desormeaux.

MALAGACY came up short late and the Grade 2 hero remains a high-class horse despite the finish. Todd Pletcher trainee, as was feared prior to this running, looks more of a fine miler-type and is not a Triple Crown contender in my eyes. With that said, we have not heard the last of this very talented colt.

UNTRAPPED again made a big middle move only to tire late, which leaves me a bit puzzled. Perhaps, the Asmussen charge might try the turf soon where I think he might have a future.

Lexington S. (G3):

SENIOR INVESTMENT made a seven-wide move entering the stretch and wore down the Bob Baffert-trained WEST COAST late to earn his first graded win for Kenny McPeek. Chestnut son of Discreetly Mine has been an improving sort this campaign who likes to finish, though he is not among my top sophomores at this posting. Sixth in the Louisiana Derby (G2), Senior Investment flattered the Fair Grounds runners some with this determined score.

West Coast was making his first appearance outside of the maiden ranks and California and the lightly-raced Flatter colt just missed, tiring inside the final furlong in a big showing from the widest post slot. He remains a fine prospect but is simply behind from a seasoning standpoint right now and West Coast’s peak could come in the summer and/or fall for a trainer who knows a thing or two about his three-year-old contingent.

It was good to see NO DOZING get back to form with a closing third, beaten only a neck, after a troubled trip. I posted previously that the Arnaud Delacour trainee might simply be a strong second-tier type of three-year-old and that’s still what it looks like to me right now. Let’s see if he can continue to move forward off this encouraging performance.

I tabbed RESILIENCY as an up-and-coming type for Asmussen, but he stopped pretty abruptly prior to the far turn and checked in last in a puzzling race. I have no idea why he was hard-ridden early to take the lead and am hoping he comes out of this race in good shape after the colt slammed on the breaks at the midway point of the race.