American Pharoah No Lock in Arkansas Derby


The Truth Or Else is a consistent performer that could spring the upset on Saturday. (Photo by Coglianese Photo)

The Grade 1, $1-million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park is the last of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" races offering 100 points to the winner and an all-important 40 points to the runner-up. The latter, at this point, nearly assuring a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs in three weeks if the connections decide to run.

According to some, the race is for second place as the race is the final prep for American Pharoah. He has won three straight stakes races in easy fashion including the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park last month. Still, there is potential for some horses and their trainers to be content with winning the battle and worrying about the war later, meaning these horses may use everything they have to try to secure a spot in the Derby starting gate and hope to still have something left in three weeks.

That group consists of Rebel second-, third- and fourth-place finishers Madefromlucky, Bold Conquest and The Truth Or Else as well as Mr. Z, who finished third in the Southwest Stakes before a ninth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby last month. Far Right won the Southwest after capturing the Smarty Jones Stakes and skipped the Rebel in the hope of running well in the Arkansas Derby and still being fresh for the Kentucky Derby.

Main Contenders:

The Truth Or Else proved he belonged with the top 3-year-olds in his first start of the year in February (following three months off) in the Southwest Stakes. In that race, The Truth Or Else rallied from 11th and last and made the lead with an eighth of a mile to run but found himself just a bit short of 100 percent fit. He missed by three-quarters of a length at the end, earning a career-best 105 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. Three weeks later in the Rebel Stakes, The Truth Or Else was in fifth with a quarter of a mile to run, just over two lengths from the front, when jockey Calvin Borel made his usual run for the rail. However, there was no room to run and he had to angle the colt out for a clear path. By that time the race was over and Borel just rode the horse out to the finish line, saving something for the Arkansas Derby. With blinkers added for the race, The Truth Or Else has worked much better in the morning recently and with the rail draw, the jockey's nickname Calvin "Bo-Rail" may come into play leading to an upset win or at least an effort good enough to get the points needed to make it into the Derby starting gate.

Madefromlucky is a fast-improving colt from the barn of North American leading trainer Todd Pletcher, who already has one of the favorites for the Derby in Carpe Diem, easy winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes last weekend. Madefromlucky won two in a row in December and February, the latter shortly after moving to the Pletcher barn. Then, although six lengths behind American Pharoah in the Rebel, he improved again to a career-best 98 speed figure. With John Velazquez riding the colt for the third straight race and with Madefromlucky stretching back out to the mile and one-eighth distance of his last win, and with likely improvement, he is another with a look at posting the upset if American Pharoah doesn't run his best.

American Pharoah won both the Del Mar Futurity and Front Runner Stakes last summer and fall and was expected to be the favorite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile but injury kept him out of the race. He returned off a lengthy 5 ½-month layoff in the Rebel as if he hadn't been away at all, dominating by six lengths with a 108 speed figure. Having earned a 115 figure last year in the Del Mar Futurity and likely to improve off his Rebel effort in his second start off a layoff, American Pharoah will be the prohibitive favorite in the Arkansas Derby. However, as his spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate is assured, winning here is no sure thing particularly as Bridget's Big Luvy and Mr. Z both have the same "early" running style as American Pharoah. As such, American Pharoah may be forced to come from off the pace, something he's never done before, or he could be forced to battle on the early lead on fast fractions, which will help horses coming from behind like The Truth Or Else, Madefromlucky and Far Right.


Photo by Coady Photography

Far Right won both the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes but skipped the Rebel. His trainer stated it was his intention to train to the Arkansas Derby and hope to have a fresher horse than most for the Kentucky Derby. Far Right is 23rd on the points list so he needs to at least get third in the Arkansas Derby to make his trainer's plan a success. Far Right won the Southwest with a career-best 106 speed figure, improving off a 96 figure in the Smarty Jones, which came off a two month layoff. He's been away about the same time coming into this race, so he has every right to fire nicely but again with the goal being just getting to the Derby, Far Right doesn't have as much probability to win here as the other three contenders.

The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Bold Conquest (101), Bridget's Big Luvy (101), Mr. Z (107) and Win the Space (93).

My selections:

The Truth Or Else


American Pharoah

$1-million Arkansas Derby

Saturday, Oaklawn Park, Race 11, 7:18 p.m. ET

1 1/8 miles, dirt, 3-year-olds






Morning Line


The Truth Or Else

Calvin Borel

Kenny McPeek

Harold Lerner



Mr. Z

Ramon Vazquez

D. Wayne Lukas

Zayat Stables



Bridget's Big Luvy

Angel Cruz

Jeremiah Englehart

Tom O’Grady




John Velazquez

Todd Pletcher

Cheyenne Stables & Mac Nichol



Bold Conquest

Ricardo Santana, Jr.

Steve Asmussen

Ackerley Brothers Farm



American Pharoah

Victor Espinoza

Bob Baffert

Zayat Stables



Far Right

Mike Smith

Ron Moquett

Harry T. Rosenblum & Robert V. LaPenta



Win the Space

Kent Desormeaux

George Papaprodromou

Kretz Racing


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