Arkansas Derby Week kicks off with a nine race Thursday program that is highlighted by a $50K starter allowance in the 8th race today. While David Cabrera has opened up a six race lead in the jockey standings, the trainer race between Asmussen and Diodoro is starting to heat up. They’re only separated by three victories going into this week of action.
I’ll be covering this exciting meet on the ITM Blog, along with posting some updates and thoughts from time to time on Twitter @EricSolomon718. Feel free to reach out!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||8||3,8||2,9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||7||5,7,8||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||7||4,7||6||DBL, PK3, PK4|
A solid optional $25K claiming/$20K starter allowance race at 5 and ½ furlongs kicks off the week of racing in Hot Springs, Arkansas. There’s as many as five horses that could be gunning for the lead here, which should set things up nicely for the morning line favorite, Admirably (#2). He was claimed by Potts from Diodoro when he won an optional $20K claiming/$16K starter allowance race here two weeks ago. He wheels back quickly and gets the services of the leading rider, David Cabrera, who has started to pull away from the pack in the jockey standings. Cave Run (#7) has run some of his better races on this course when there is a strong early pace in front of him. I suspect that he will get that scenario this afternoon, making him a viable alternative if the favorite doesn’t have his best stuff while starting for his new barn. Of the speed runners, the one I will cover my bases with is Town Champ (#4). He loves the local oval, winning five of 11 times and finishing second another four. He’s been second in his last two starts when facing claiming company. This field is comparable to the group he saw earlier this month, so I feel he can be competitive, as long as this pro rates kindly.
$6,250 claimers restricted to horses that have not won a race in six months, sprint in the second half of the early double. I’ll try Time Heist (#8) on top here in hopes that by dropping in class he can regain his best form. He’s struggled in his last two tries against open $6,250 claimers. Both of those fields were stronger and deeper than this time restricted group. He was on a nice roll in 2020 and 2021, hitting the board in 16 of 19 starts from April 2020 to December 2021. Two of the three races that he finished off the board, were losses by less than two lengths. There’s no sugar coating that his last two races were bad, but his past success gives me hope that he can turn the corner, and that’s a gamble that I’d be willing to make if his odds stay at or above his 10-1 morning line figure. Americain Joey (#3) hasn’t won a race since shipping to major circuits from Ohio last fall. He is taking a drop in class after facing starter allowance company and higher priced restricted claimers of late. His races have been consistently faster than many of his rivals here, but I’ll proceed with some caution as he’s struggled to be close to winning since coming here. Both Dixie Street (#2) and Top Brass (#9) are shipping here from the Fair Grounds and Sam Houston, respectively. Both are coming off wins with lesser rivals. Dixie Street beat $5K time restricted state bred claimers last out when Top Brass defeated time restricted open $5K claimers. While many are dropping into this spot, they’re moving up, but having the recent victories in a field where many haven’t won in a while is intriguing. I’ll cover with both on deeper tickets.
I don’t love wagering on horses that have lost twenty straight races, but that’s where I ended up in this $12,500 N3L claiming contest. Sports Fan (#1) is dropping in class after a series of races where he drew wide posts and was forced to lose a decent amount of ground. The last time he was drawn inward, he was second, beaten only a length with $25K N3L claimers at Remington. He ran a decent 4th with better last out and makes his second start since being claimed by Broberg. I think he could wind up sitting the right trip, especially if Restoring Hope (#6) opts to run in this race instead of the optional claiming/allowance race that he is also entered in on Saturday. With him in this field, he adds to the early pace scenario, where there are three others that want to be out on the lead. With a ground saving trip and a decent pace in front of him, the stars might be aligning for Sports Fan. I thought the last race from Tiz McNamara (#7) was strong, when clearing the N2L condition. The runner up from that race returned a winner, so he beat a decent field for that level. This is a decent jump in class, but there’s some spotty form with some of the shorter prices in this race. He’s looked good since joining Scott Becker’s barn after the extended year plus layoff and still could move forward again. On deeper plays, I’ll come back and cover with both A.K. Safari (#4) and Restoring Hope. I feel both are vulnerable for different reasons. A.K. Safari ran a monster race under ideal conditions last out with softer at the Fair Grounds. This is a decent step up and I see him as a bounce candidate, However, I respect just about anything that Chris Hartman has been sending out lately. Restoring Hope hasn’t won a race since 2019, but this is probably the right level of competition for him at this point in his career. There’s a $70K purse difference between this race and the race that he’s cross-entered in on Saturday. He obviously fits better here, but I have no clue as to which race he’ll be running in.
I’m not in love with most of the horses with experience in this maiden special weight race, so I’m rolling with the two seemingly well-meant first time starters here. Sleepless Dream (#5) is the longer price of the two, making her debut for Jason Barkley. Barkley has had a quiet meet, but his three year old daughter of Mastery looks like she can run a bit. Her AM drills are solid enough to make me think that she belongs with these. Dance It (#3) is sent out for the first time for leading trainer, Steve Asmussen. Whisper Hill Farms paid $500K for her at the Keeneland September Sale in 2020. She was working well at the Fair Grounds since joining Asmussen’s barn there. This Tapit filly looks like she could be any kind, but I’m a little weary of taking too short of a price on her. For as many races as he wins, Asmussen doesn’t have great numbers with debut runners and his numbers drop when the horses are debuting in route races. Salute The Flag (#6) is the morning line favorite and the one horse with racing experience that I think is worth using in this race. She was a strong second behind Tap for Me last month when going two turns for the first time. She’s bred to go two turns, and certainly makes sense. However, she’ll be a short price for a filly that has three losses and has never looked like she was going to win any of those races.
Arkansas bred $16K-$12.5K maiden claiming fillies and mares go six furlongs in this mid-card contest. War Music (#7) is coming back off a dull try with $20K state bred maiden claimers last out when going two turns. John Ortiz and Relyu Gutierrez have teamed up to win 30% of their races on this oval since 2021. She drops in class and should sit the right trip just off the cheap speed. Mazie G (#8) may be part of that cheap speed here, but she could be trending in the right direction. Her last two starts were significantly better than her first two efforts. There isn’t a ton of other speed signed on, and Navigationalbeacon (#11) isn’t as sharp from the gate as she was in her only career start last summer, she could get a loose lead. Under those circumstances, she could be tough to run down with David Cabrera riding. She’s Hamazing (#5) has pretty much hit the same Beyer number in her three career starts. She is cutting back two turns after idling on the lead at the top of the stretch and finishing second, beaten 4 and ½ lengths. After sending out 21 starters thus far, this might be the best chance that trainer Jaime Gonzalez has had to get off the duck for this meet.
The Late Pick-4 starts with a $10K N3L claiming race for fillies and mares traveling six furlongs. My Boss Lady (#7) is a fairly consistent filly who usually runs her race when she is at the right level of competition. Her only clunkers of late have been in races where she was completely overmatched. I’ll need to get at least 4-1 on her though, as her achilles heel is the starting gate. Leading rider, David Cabrera, will be tasked with getting her away cleanly, something that she has really struggled with. She closed a good amount of ground last out with a better group at 17-1. If she breaks well, she will be tough. Living for Today (#4) looks to win her third straight race at the meet while moving up in class. She’s been claimed for $10K in her last two, so I wouldn’t be shocked if someone else plucks her out of this race again for the same price tag, Diodoro is closing in on Asmussen in the trainer standings, and this is the kind of horse that he wins with. Beauty Day (#6) rebounded nicely last out with better after a very dull effort in her first start off the layoff two starts back. Her last win came on this oval with $10K N2L claimers last January, and she was third at this condition last March. She’s been facing tougher and returns to this level for the first time since. I’m against the morning line favorite. Into Classic (#2) for Rene Amesuca. He’s done well with his new acquisitions, but has struggled with horses off the layoff. Canchari, who is only winning at 6% at the meet, riding for Amescua for the first time on this Southern California invader isn’t a great sign.
Open $20K claimers are going 1 mile and 1/16 here. While Roaming Union (#5) is the deserving favorite in this race based off his first two starts at this meet, however, I think he might be a touch vulnerable in this spot. Casse wheels him back in 11 days and drops him back to the $20K claiming level. He’s got caught late in his last two, beaten both times by Kershaw, who is definitely a solid runner. The presence of Bear Alley (#1) is what concerns me for him in this spot though. I think he’ll keep him from setting an easy pace, which could soften him up for a horse that can come from off the pace. V.I.P. Who (#3) is coming out of a starter allowance race that was about as deep as this spot. He’s been second in all three starts at this meet, but he knows how to win, coming to town on a three race win streak at the end of last year. He’s been first or second in his last eight races, and he’s never finished worse than second in his eleven career races at one mile or longer. He’s a real solid runner, and I think 7-2 is great value on him here.
The Thursday feature is a competitive $50K starter allowance at 1 mile and 1/16. The two favorites on the morning are definitely going to be tough, but if he runs, I’m interested in seeing the encore performance from Incorruptible (#6). He was a dominating winner in a sprint last week, easily beating $30K-$25K N2L claimers. This is a big step up in class and he’s going two turns for the first time. However, he really looks like the lone speed horse in this race, so I’m thinking that he could get a very easy lead, seeing as how he’s set the pace in his last two six furlong efforts. We know he’s in good form, and even though Cabrera opted to ride the favorite, Leading West (#7), Reylu Gutierrez is certainly a good backup plan. Leading West is certainly a player here, after running five straight solid races in a row, all hovering around the same Beyer numbers. He dueled with Signofthecross last out, narrowly losing at the end. That one came back to be a game second to Kershaw on 3/20. When the pace isn’t too fast, he’s proven that he has enough tactical speed to lay close to the front end, which has served well in the past. Tiz Rye Time (#9) had been knocking on the door, but finally broke through when he shipped here from Gulfstream and returned to face $50K N2L claimers. Perhaps the lightbulb has gone off, because he was running some very competitive races in Kentucky last year.
The nightcap is another six furlong, state bred $16K-$12.5K maiden claimer, however, this one is for the boys. Three of the fourteen that are entered Moonshine Surfer (#9), Justdennis (#13), and Vision of Elias (#14), are cross-entered in a $16K state bred maiden claimer at the same distance tomorrow. I don’t think that field is any deeper than this field, and there are less runners, so I would think all three would defect from this race. I made Peripatetic (#1) the lukewarm pick in a spot where I’d like some coverage. He’s going to need to work out a trip from the rail, but I think there’s some cheap speed to contend with in here. His last wasn’t bad, and now he drops slightly to this level for his third career try. Mammoth Spring (#6) might be the best of the speed in the early stages. He was on the lead before fading late in the same $20K maiden claiming event. He took a decent step forward from start one to start two, and he can run back to his last, he might be too good for these. Moonshine Max (#11) might fall into the cheap speed category, but at least he had an excuse last out. He was forwardly placed before being checked hard and subsequently retreating. He’s making his second start off a three month layoff and his third career try overall. I think there’s room for him to improve. Hardscrabble (#10) is the first time starter in the group and there’s always the chance that the debut runner is more talented than their rivals. His works aren’t great though, and I’d be a bit hesitant taking him at short odds.
Favorite Bet Today: Early Pick-5 ($18 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
We’ll start the week with a modest Pick-5 using the short priced, Admirably (#2, R1) as a single in the opener. I think he’s just better than that group, but I will back up with some deeper plays. After that, I think there’s a few vulnerable favorites that we might be able to take down in this sequence.
Race 1: 2
Race 2: 3,8
Race 3: 1,7
Race 4: 3,5,6
Race 5: 5,7,8