Standing against Classic Empire in Arkansas Derby that's not a must-win

April 14th, 2017

Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) is more about Classic Empire than anything. The reigning juvenile champion has the class and ability to get himself firmly back into the Kentucky Derby (G1) discussion after spending much of the winter and spring playing catch-up after battling a few infirmities. While a win would be welcome, the general purpose of this prep is two-fold: a) run a good enough race to secure additional points to get back into the Top 20 of the Derby Leaderboard, and b) get in shape to peak three weeks from now at Churchill Downs.

As was ultimately the case with McCraken in last week's Blue Grass (G2), I think Classic Empire, although the best horse in the Arkansas Derby, will probably be in need of one following an extended layoff. The champ hasn't run since finishing third in the Holy Bull (G2) in early February, and as the likely betting favorite I'm willing to take a stand against him on that basis.

Rebel (G2) winner Malagacy (#12, 2-1) drew a tough post in the 12 hole, but with sufficient speed and a reasonable amount of time before the first turn, I think he'll be able to establish a favorable stalking position. He enjoyed a good trip last month, and I envision him getting something similar this time.

Looking over and over this field, I simply wasn't convinced some of the other Rebel entrants are going to step up and run better. Petrov and Untrapped seem fairly well exposed at this point, while neither Lookin At Lee and Sonneteer look like the second coming of last year's deep-closing winner Creator.

Rockin Rudy is a tad interesting as speed from post 1. This is the same owner-trainer combo that brought you Blue Grass upsetter Irap last week, and Rockin Rudy is sure to be prominent from the start. If left completely alone, he could get brave at attractive odds.

As far as the $200,000 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland is concerned, this race awards Kentucky Derby points as well but will have virtually no affect on that race. I'll be going with a longer shot in here, Souper Tapit (#2, 10-1). The Tapit colt won at first asking two months ago at Fair Grounds, but fell far off the pace in his follow-up against allowance foes and made little impact.

Perhaps it's due to a dearth of two-turn allowance opportunities, but this placement seems fairly aggressive, and in some ways confident (or so I think). On pedigree, the colt's best should be ahead of him. He's out of Zo Impressive, who won the Mother Goose (G1) and placed in the Acorn (G1) and CCA Oaks (G1) at age three.

Both the Arkansas Derby and Lexington are the final races in $25,000 Kentucky Derby Dream Bet contest. If you're a final round qualifier, be sure to get your $5 Win/Place bets down on both races for a chance at great prizes.

FREE Arkansas Derby past performances from Brisnet are available here.

(Coady Photography)