Whoever wins Saturday’s Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes will slip into the Kentucky Derby field without the burden of being the favorite, a label that probably will go to either Wood Memorial winner I Want Revenge or Florida Derby victor Quality Road.
That does not diminish the importance of Saturday’s preps. Both should answer several questions. After this weekend, the only race left with any Derby significance will be the Lexington at Keeneland on April 18.
Old Fashioned (9-5) is the favorite in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. We should see whether his late collapse in the Rebel was a sign of distance limitations or simply the result of going too fast too early. Rebel winner Win Willy surprised at 56-1 odds, but was his race real or fake? He was the only horse running in the stretch. Papa Clem is a Southern California shipper who improved the stock of all West Coast runners when he finished second to Friesen Fire in the Louisiana Derby. If he repeats that race, they’ll have to fly to catch him.
There might be even more questions in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. The favorite is Lane’s End winner Hold Me Back (3-1). He is 3-for-3 over synthetic surface (Keeneland uses Polytrack). A long shot who ran his best career races over Polytrack at Woodbine is Patena (10-1). He drew the rail and could improve dramatically after a dismal eighth in the Louisiana Derby over a sloppy track. Theregoesjojo (7-2), who ran third to Quality Road and Dunkirk in the Florida Derby, is a closer like Patena. The pair could be charging late.
I like Old Fashioned in the Arkansas Derby and Patena to upset in the Blue Grass. I expect Old Fashioned to relax better for Terry Thompson. Patena can save ground inside, then rally in the lane.
* TOURNAMENTS — Palace Station will host a DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship qualifier today. The South Point Finale will take place April 17 and 18. Two more NHC qualifiers will be at Santa Fe Station on April 17 and 18. The Orleans will host a Horseplayer World Series qualifier April 19.
* ALEX SOLIS — Jockey Alex Solis and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will appear at the Orleans race book at 9 a.m. Monday. Ralph Siraco of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show will host the event.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.