Scully’s Kentucky Derby Dream Bet picks for Arkansas Derby, Lexington

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April 15th, 2016

The Kentucky Derby prep season concludes Saturday with the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park and Lexington S. (G3) at Keeneland. They are also the last races in the final qualifying round for the $25,000 Kentucky Derby Dream Bet.

We’ve been playing along for fun at, making picks for all the contest prep races, and I’ll try to finish strong with a pair of winners.

In the Arkansas Derby, I won’t go too far out on a limb with Cupid. Trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, the late-blooming Tapit colt broke his maiden when stretching out to two turns in his third career start, a February 7 maiden special weight at Santa Anita. He registered a commendable 97 BRIS Speed rating for the eye-catching 5 ¼-length decision and jumped straight to stakes company last time in the March 19 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

Cupid missed the start in the Rebel, breaking a full stride behind his nearest rivals, and was hustled by jockey Martin Garcia to make up lost ground. The gray sophomore accelerated forward into the lead rounding the far turn and wound up showing the way on a clear lead. Cupid widened his advantage entering the stretch but lost focus momentarily, nearing veering into the inside rail as Garcia was forced to concentrate upon straightening his mount.

He quickly recovered but suddenly faced a serious assault from the fast-closing Whitmore, who threatened to blow past the pacesetter in deep stretch. But Cupid responded to the challenge like a seasoned professional, digging in gamely to reassert control, and won going away under the wire by 1 ¼ lengths.

Cupid’s Speed ratings continued to increase, earning a 99 figure, and he was back on the worktab 12 days later, breezing a half-mile at Santa Anita. He followed six days later with a 7-furlong drill and recorded one more move in advance of the Arkansas Derby earlier this week.

He’s proven versatile, winning from off the pace and leading all the way, and I think post 10 benefits Cupid; Garcia can allow other speed to go from the starting gate, keeping the improving colt in the clear for outside stalking trip. I expect him to win from just off the pace.

The Lexington marks the return of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) runner-up Swipe, who has finished second to Nyquist in his last four starts. And the Baffert-trained Collected is a serious win contender but the speedy colt will have to overcome the far outside post among 10 rivals.

I’ll take a contrarian stance against the two favorites -- the late-running Swipe could be a little short off the layoff and Collected must deal with plenty of speed to his inside – and have landed on Synchrony, who figures to rolling late.

A convincing maiden winner at Keeneland last October, Synchrony followed with a good-looking allowance score going 7 ½ furlongs at Churchill Downs in mid-November. He came back with a solid third in the Smarty Jones, encountering traffic issues on the far turn as he was forced to swing wide. But nothing went to plan next out in the Southwest (G3), with the chestnut son of Tapit dropping too far back in the early stages before rallying belatedly for sixth.

Trainer Donnie Von Hemel wisely regrouped after the disappointing performance and instead of pressing forward in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, he opted to send Synchrony for the 1 1/16-mile Lexington. That looks like a savvy move and Synchrony figures to settle into a good position in midpack before offering his best. He can post a minor upset.