Kentucky Derby Countdown

American racing expert Peter Thomas Fornatale covers the two remaining recognised Kentucky Derby Trials, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn and the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland.


And then there were two.

Just two Kentucky Derby points races remain and both will be held on Saturday. We’ve got the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, and the decidedly less sexy but still relevant G3 Lexington from Keeneland.

The headliners for the Arkansas Derby are the upset winners of each division of the Rebel Stakes, Omaha Beach and Long Range Toddy. But the colt with the most star power is probably still IMPROBABLE.

Improbable only managed second in the Rebel and looked a little empty late, it’s true. But there were mitigating circumstances. That was a day when ground loss mattered at Oaklawn (it doesn’t always) and Improbable was very wide throughout while Long Range Toddy saved all the ground.

Improbable adds blinkers for this test as well, unusual in a Grade 1, but a move Bob Baffert has succeeded with plenty in the past (4 for 8 in the last five years according to Stats Race Lens with winners including Mubtaahij, Mastery, and Abel Tasman). It suggests to me that maybe Baffert thinks the seeming lack of finish late had something to do with his colt’s focus. It could also simply be that his preparations for his return to the races were inadequate (a byproduct of the unfortunate Santa Anita situation).

Showing two good six furlong works since, it’s now or never time. I’m making these excuses and happy to back him at the current 15-8 and probably a little bit lower but not at evens or less because it is also possible that he doesn’t want to go this far. The average winning distance for his sire’s progeny is only 6.5 furlongs, and he has to run half a furlong farther than he has before.

Should that price fall through the floor, or if backing the favorite doesn’t suit your punting personality, consider Galilean as an each-way alternative at double digit odds. He ran sneaky well last time after not breaking well and has an improving look. This is his second start off the layoff and we’ll see if he can live up to those California Chrome comparisons.

In the Lexington, I’m going to give our old friend SUENO one more shot. He’s currently 9-2 and offers some value at that price. He ran a strong middle portion of the race last time according to the sectionals, and was best of the speed horses. He could do better here with a more sustained bid from a bit farther back in a race where there appears to be plenty of early pace.

For more on these races, and ongoing coverage of the Triple Crown trail, click on the In the Money Players’ Podcast link below. And I’ll be back in the space with horse-by-horse previews of the Kentucky Oaks and Derby and a few weeks’ time. Until then, may you win all your photos.

Peter Thomas Fornatale is the host and creator of the In the Money Players Podcast. He is also the US correspondent for Sky Sports Racing.

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