With the First Saturday in May just more than three weeks away, the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com” is winding down and Saturday’s Toyota Blue Grass (Grade I) at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby (GI) at Oaklawn Park will conclude the Second Leg of the Championship Series.
As part of the Second Leg of the Championship Series, points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby on a 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth scale.
The $750,000 Blue Grass, which attracted an overflow field of 15 Kentucky Derby hopefuls, is headed by Uncaptured (ranked No. 14 on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com” Leaderboard).
Uncaptured, owned by 2001 Kentucky Derby winner John Oxley, won three stakes races in Canada as a juvenile prior to coming to Churchill Downs last fall to sweep the Iroquois (GIII) and Kentucky Jockey Club (GII).
In his 3-year-old debut, Uncaptured finished second behind Black Onyx in the Spiral (GIII) at Turfway Park off a four-month layoff. With 30 points to his name, Uncaptured likely needs just a Top 4 finish to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) starting gate.
The main rivals for Uncaptured include Palm Beach (GIII) winner Rydilluc and Tampa Bay Derby (GII) runner-up Java’s War (No. 16).
Rydilluc, who has won his last three starts since switching to the turf, will race on a synthetic surface for the first time in the Blue Grass, which will be run over Keeneland’s Polytrack. With zero points, Rydilluc likely will need a Top 2 finish to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Java’s War, sixth behind Uncaptured in the Kentucky Jockey Club, finished second in the Tampa Bay Derby behind Verrazano, who won the Wood Memorial (GI) in his next start. With 22 points, Java’s War likely will need a Top 3 or 4 finish Saturday to stamp his ticket to Louisville.
Another horse to watch in the Blue Grass is Undrafted, who is owned by Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, who went undrafted out of college at Texas Tech University. A late nominee to the 2013 Triple Crown, Undrafted will need a Top 2 finish to earn a spot in Kentucky Derby 139.
The Blue Grass has produced 23 winners of the Kentucky Derby, most recently Street Sense in 2007. The last to complete the Blue Grass–Derby double was Strike the Gold in 1991.
The $1 million Arkansas Derby is headlined by War Academy, coming off an impressive victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance at Santa Anita on March 15, and Oxbow (No. 13), runner-up to stablemate Will Take Charge in the Rebel (GII).
War Academy, co-owned by 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Michael Tabor, is trained by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, who has won with 14 of his last 23 starters at Oaklawn Park. Baffert won last year’s Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister, who went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby behind I’ll Have Another.
Bodemeister was ridden in the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby by Mike Smith, who will be aboard War Academy on Saturday.
Baffert also will saddle Den’s Legacy (No. 18) in the Arkansas Derby. Den’s Legacy most recently finished third in the Rebel.
With 20 points, Den’s Legacy likely will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a Top 3 finish, but War Academy, who has yet to earn points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby,” will need to finish in the Top 2 to earn a Derby spot.
Oxbow, trained by four-time Kentucky Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas, won the Lecomte (GIII) at Fair Grounds prior to running fourth in the Risen Star (GII) and second in the Rebel. Oxbow currently sits “on the bubble” with 36 points and likely would firm up a Kentucky Derby spot with a Top 4 finish.
Oxbow will break from the outside in post 10 and will be guided by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. Lukas and Stevens teamed to win the 1985 Arkansas Derby with Tank’s Prospect.
Other top contenders in the Arkansas Derby include Overanalyze (No. 26) and Falling Sky (No. 19).
Overanalyze won the Remsen (GII) by a nose in the final start of his 2-year-old campaign and then finished a disappointing fifth as the 8-5 favorite in the Gotham (GIII) in his 3-year-old debut. He is trained by Todd Pletcher, who won back-to-back runnings of the Arkansas Derby in 2000-01, and likely will need a Top 2 or 3 finish to gain a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Falling Sky began his sophomore season with a narrow victory over Dynamic Sky (No. 25) in the Sam F. Davis and then finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII). With 20 points, Falling Sky likely would secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby with a Top 3 finish.
The Arkansas Derby has produced five winners of the Kentucky Derby, most recently Super Saver in 2010. The last to complete the Arkansas Derby–Kentucky Derby double was Smarty Jones in 2004.
The last two races on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” will be the Coolmore Lexington (GII) at Keeneland on April 20 and the Derby Trial (GIII) at Churchill Downs on April 27, Opening Night of the 2012 Spring Meet. As Wild Card races, points will be awarded to the Top 4 finishers in the Lexington and Derby Trial on a 20-8-4-2 scale.
10 THINGS TO KNOW
1. Live TV coverage of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com” continues Saturday. Coverage of the Toyota Blue Grass from Keeneland will air on NBC from 4:30 – 6 p.m. EDT and will be followed by a one-hour broadcast on NBC Sports Network featuring the Arkansas Derby from Oaklawn Park.
2. The Second Leg of the Championship Series on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby,” where points are awarded to the Top 4 finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale, concludes Saturday with the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby.
3. Uncaptured, morning-line favorite for the Blue Grass, likely needs a Top 4 finish to secure a spot in the Derby starting gate.
4. War Academy, morning-line favorite in the Arkansas Derby, likely needs a Top 2 finish to earn a spot in the “Run for the Roses.”
5. Four horses ranked in the Top 25 on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” Leaderboard – Uncaptured (No. 14), Java’s War (No. 16), West Hills Giant (No. 22) and Dynamic Sky (No. 25) – will compete in the Blue Grass at Keeneland.
6. Three Top 20 horses – Oxbow (No. 13), Den’s Legacy (No. 18) and Falling Sky (No. 19) – are scheduled to run in the Arkansas Derby and are looking to solidify a spot in Kentucky Derby 139.
7. Undrafted, owned by Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, will try to earn his way to the Kentucky Derby with a Top 2 finish in the Blue Grass. Welker, a five-time Pro Bowler, went undrafted out of college at Texas Tech University.
8. Jockey Joel Rosario, who rode Vyjack in the Wood Memorial, has committed to ride Florida Derby winner Orb in the Kentucky Derby, meaning Orb’s previous jockey, John Velazquez, officially will ride Verrazano on the First Saturday in May.
9. Jockey Javier Castellano, who won the Louisiana Derby aboard Revolutionary, is committed to ride Wood Memorial runner-up Normandy Invasion in the Kentucky Derby. Revolutionary and Vyjack both need riders for the Kentucky Derby.
10. Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary is scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs on Friday and Wood Memorial winner Verrazano is scheduled to arrive in Louisville on Sunday. Both colts will be stabled in Barn 34 for trainer Todd Pletcher.
#1 Dynamic Sky – out of stakes winner Murani
#5 Palace Malice – out of stakes winner Palace Runner
#7 Uncaptured – ½ to multiple stakes winner Dancing Raven
#8 Charming Kitten – full to stakes winner Queen’splatekitten
#9 Tesseron – out of stakes winner Cute Cognac
#10 Footbridge – out of stakes winner Thousand Islands-GB
#13 Rydilluc – out of stakes winner Swift and Classy and ½ to multiple stakes winner Gold Wonder
AE #15 Divine Ambition – ½ to stakes winner Window Boy
#3 Divine Ambition – ½ to stakes winner Window Boy
#6 Heaven’s Runway – ½ to stakes winner Holy Heavens
#9 Overanalyze – ½ to Grade I winner Meadow Breeze
#10 Oxbow – out of Tizamazing, a full sister to champion and Hall of Fame member Tiznow and multiple graded stakes winner Budroyale, and ½ to stakes winner Awesome Patriot