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Post Time: Last chance to dance in Arkansas Derby

The Arkansas Derby is the last of the 170 point races to qualify for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. The first four finishers will attain 100-40-20-10 points, respectively, on the road to Louisville. Currently the 20th ranked horse, Untrapped (6-1), has 34 points; so a top-3 finish on Saturday could vault many of the horses into the Derby.

The $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby will be run at 1 1/8-miles at 7:18 p.m EDT at Oaklawn Park, the signature race of the meeting held in Hot Springs. The morning line favorite is the 2-year-old champion Classic Empire (8-5) who currently sits in 21st place in the point standings and will need a top four finish to qualify to run for the roses.

The second choice has already earned a gate in the Derby through his 50-point Rebel win, in the main prep race for the Arkansas Derby. Malagacy (2-1) is one of five Todd Pletcher-trained horses currently in the top 20 on the Derby leaderboard.

It’s been a strange prep season with no clear cut favorite stepping forward to claim that role in Louisville. A win by Classic Empire could change all of that.

Here’s a look at the entries for the Arkansas Derby (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):

1 – Rockin Ruby (O’Neill, Gutierrez, 12-1). These connections pulled the upset at Keeneland last weekend at big odds with Irap. They’ll be looking to double down with this $100,000 son of Midshipman who hasn’t missed the exacta in three career races. After breaking his maiden impressively, winning by 11 at Del Mar, he’s been beaten twice late. First time around two turns against much tougher competition. Intriguing.

2 – Classic Empire (Casse, Leparoux, 8-5). Last year’s Juvenile champ has had a tough spring working through a foot abscess, missing a start after suffering the injury in the Holy Bull. Has a beautiful Derby pedigree and if he steps up here, you’re looking at your Derby favorite. So many question marks to bet him at the short price in here.

3 – Silver Dust (Morse, Lanerie, 20-1). Currently sits on the bottom of the qualifying list with one point earned in a fourth-place finish at Oaklawn in the Southwest. Trainer puts the blinkers on this son of Tapit who sports a solid workout on Apr. 7. Bad start in the Rebel could overshadow a solid effort finishing only 3 ¼-lengths behind Malagacy.  Using underneath.

4 – Petrov (Moquett, Santana, 12-1). The Rebel is the first time this son of Flatter has missed the board, but he only lost by two lengths in finishing fourth behind Malagacy, Sonneteer and Untrapped. Could see him liking the longer distances and Ron Moquett has earned a berth in the last two Derbies, so watch out. Contender.

5 – Grampa’s Dream (Hartman, Canchari, 30-1). Son of Shackleford earned a chance at competing against graded company with a maiden victory last month on the local track. Steps into deep waters against this group, but you can’t blame his connections for taking a shot. Pass.

6 – Lookin at Lee (Asmussen, Contreras, 15-1). Sitting on 12 qualifying points, earned in four different races. Son of Lookin at Lucky hasn’t shown much improvement over the local preps and is facing much of the same competition.  Add Classic Empire to the mix and this horse will likely be on the outside lookin in when it comes to the Derby.

7 – Sonneteer (Desormeaux, Desormeaux, 15-1). The longshot place horse at 112-1 in the Rebel is the pride of venerable Calumet Farm. Was his performance in the local prep a fluke or an indication of good things to come on the Derby trail? I’m leaning towards the former as the son of Midnight Lute had a perfect setup to close into second place.

8 – Rowdy the Warrior (Von Hemel, Quinonez, 30-1). This son of Warrior’s Reward had one win in nine tries on the Midwest circuit and hasn’t shown the type of speed necessary to move forward on the Derby trail. Trainer Von Hemel was successful on last year’s trail, but this one is no Suddenbreakingnews.

9 – Untrapped (Asmussen, Smith, 6-1). Sitting on the bottom of the point standings at 34, the Arkansas Derby could solidify a spot in Louisville with a top four finish. Big Money Mike Smith flies in from California to ride the son of Trappe Shot was had contended on the trail, but still only has a maiden win on his resume. Asmussen puts the blinkers on, which could be the difference. Ran second to Girvin in Louisiana and his decent third in the Rebel was due mainly to a wide trip.

10 – One Dreamy Dude (Van Berg, Franco, 50-1). Legendary trainer Jack Van Berg looks to return to the Derby for the first time since 1994. His lone Derby win came in 1987 with Alysheba. The bad news is that One Dreamy Dude is still a maiden with mediocre speed figures. A win in the Arkansas Derby would be the shock of the century.

11 – Conquest Mo Money (Hernandez, Carreno, 15-1). New York-bred leaves New Mexico for the first time after a surprisingly good second-place finish in the Sunland Derby to garner 20 points. A top three finish likely gets him in the Derby for little-known trainer Miguel Hernandez. Has improved in every effort, but the outside post could prove troublesome. Interesting.

12 – Malagacy (Pletcher, Castellano, 2-1). The son of Shackleford took advantage of a clean trip to win his third straight for Pletcher. He’s already in with the 50 points he earned in the Rebel. Pletcher loves his high cruising speed, but could be compromised by the outside post.

Post Time Outlook:  1 – Untrapped ; 2 – Malagacy ; 3 – Petrov; 4 – Silver Dust

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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