Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
For the most part, Mother Nature has sat out the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep season.
Only a handful of prep races were contested on wet tracks, helping the cause of Triple Crown handicappers, provided the sun is a star attraction on May 7.
Conversely, if Mother Nature decides to visit Louisville on the first Saturday in May and turn Churchill Downs into a sea of peanut butter-like goo, there’s a limited amount of reliable information for handicappers to base their opinions.
Looking over the roster of expected Kentucky Derby starters, the key preps on wet tracks were the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, Smarty Jones Stakes, and Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which could wind up affecting five of the 20 starters.
But before delving into those races, let’s start at the top with the probable favorite, Epicenter. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he raced and won on a wet track, breaking his maiden last year on a track rated as good at a mile distance, at no less of a venue than Churchill Downs.
Being a son of Not This Time out of a Candy Ride mare, he also has a very promising wet-track pedigree, which should inspire his backers if raindrops begin to fall on Derby day.
The Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland featured two of the top contenders in Zandon and Smile Happy, who ran 1-2 on a good track in the Grade 1 stakes. Zandon’s 2 1/2-length victory after rallying from 11th bodes well for his chances on both a wet surface and the 1 ¼-mile distance. Smile Happy, who was second, has the added advantage of being sired by Runhappy, a son of Super Saver who won the 2010 Kentucky Derby on a sloppy, sealed surface.
A couple of late defections also allowed Ethereal Road to draw into the Kentucky Derby, albeit saddled with post-position 20. He finished seventh in the Blue Grass on the good main track and was third earlier in his career in a maiden race on a muddy track at Oaklawn. He was well-beaten in both races, however, and does not appear to be a Kentucky Derby entrant whose stock would improve with rain on May 7.
Classic Causeway, who is back in the Kentucky Derby picture despite an 11th in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farms at Xalapa, won the Tampa Bay Derby in his prior start on a track rated as good.
Barber Road was a troubled second on a sloppy track in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park, boosting his wet-track hopes.
The only other entrant with some wet-track form is Japan’s Crown Pride, who will be hoping for sunny skies. A winner of 3 of 4 starts, his lone loss was a sixth on a muddy track in the Hyacinth Strakes at Tokyo Racecourse.
As for the rest, most have pedigrees that indicate they should not be compromised by wet going. Three in particular who might welcome it are Simplification, who like Epicenter is by Not This Time out of a Candy Ride mare; Happy Jack, by Oxbow out of a Tapit mare; and Charge It, by Tapit out of the Indian Charlie mare I’ll Take Charge, who is a daughter of $2.4 million earner Take Charge Lady.