It's just about last call for Kentucky Derby contenders this weekend with preps
in Arkansas and Kentucky.
The Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes highlight a schedule that also finds several Breeders' Cup champs back in action -- including Horse of the Year and Breeders' Cup Mile winner Wise Dan and Classic winner Fort Larned, who will try again to get his season started after dumping his rider last time out.
Overseas, Black Caviar is set to go again, provided the rain doesn't make too much of a mess of the Randwick course, and Nakayama Racecourse in Japan hosts the first leg of that nation's Triple Crown. And the Audemars Piguet QE II coming over the horizon in Hong Kong is shaping up as quite the international tussle.
Look quickly because they'll be running fast!
This is it, for all intents and purposes, for 3-year-olds hoping to make it to the Kentucky Derby. Those without enough points to crack the Churchill Downs starting gate on May 4 need to put in a good showing Saturday in either the $1 million, Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park or the $750,000, Grade I Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland -- or lower their sights.
Only one of the 11 entrants for the Arkansas Derby -- the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Oxbow -- already has enough qualifying points to be sure of a Derby slot. California trainer Bob Baffert, who has suffered a series of setbacks on the Triple Crown trail, has two in this field who need more points -- Den's Legacy, who languishes at 19th on the list and probably needs a third-place finish or better, and late-developing War Academy, who likely needs a top-two finish to make it to Louisville. The race looks like a tossup with at least half the field having credentials that could support a win bet. Among those are Falling Sky, Overanalyze and Frac Daddy, all of whom already have earned Derby points. Despite his lack of experience, War Academy was installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite for this 9-furlong test.
Fifteen are entered for the Blue Grass, which also has a lot of horses "on the bubble" for the Kentucky Derby -- with the added wrinkle that the race is run over Keeneland's all-weather surface. In this bunch, Uncaptured is No. 15 on the Kentucky Derby priority list and Java's War is No. 17. Java's War, who finished a late-closing second behind Derby favorite Verazzano in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby last month, has shown an affinity for the surface by running third in the Grade I Dixiana Breeders' Futurity last fall. West Hills Giant was second to Vyjack in the Grade III Gotham Stakes back in March. Uncaptured won four straight on the Woodbine all-weather track last fall and was second to Black Onyx last month in the Grade III Spiral Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather. He was installed as the morning-line favorite. Charming Kitten has been good on the dirt but ran poorly in his only race at Keeneland. Balance the Books won the Grade III Bourbon Stakes over the course last fall. Rydilluc has won three in a row on the turf in Florida, including the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes in his last outing.
After these races, only the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 20 and the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs the following weekend offer Derby qualifying points -- and minor points, at that. So most of the field for the Run for the Roses should be set by Saturday night.
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