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    The Road to the Kentucky Derby makes its final stops this weekend, rounding out the Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series with the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and the wild card Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. The Arkansas Derby will award the winner 100 points in Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby point system* to earn a spot in the May 2 Kentucky Derby (G1). The Lexington Stakes’ 10 points may allow the winner to sneak into the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

    Arkansas Derby

    American Pharoah, Zayat Stables’ multiple grade one winner, has been installed as the 1-2 morning line favorite in a field of eight. After finishing fifth in his first start, trainer Bob Baffert entered the Pioneerof the Nile colt in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and American Pharoah dominated in a wire-to-wire victory. He followed it with 3 ¼-length win in the FrontRunner Stakes (G1) three weeks later. Making his second start for the year, American Pharoah enters the Arkansas Derby off a 6 ¼-length romp in Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes (G2) Mar. 14.

    With Brisnet speed ratings of 99 and 103, there’s not many horses in the field that can match American Pharoah’s speed. Mr. Z has earned a speed figure of 100 in the past and would be the most likely competitor eager to challenge American Pharoah for the lead. Reigning Kentucky Derby winning jockey, Victor Espinoza, will be in the irons as American Pharoah breaks from post six.

    When trainer D. Wayne Lukas’s Mr. Z made his 11th lifetime start in the Louisiana Derby (G2) Mar. 28, I stressed that he’d need to do more than hit the board, as he had in seven previous stakes races, and I was hopeful that new rider and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux would make it happen. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and Mr. Z finished ninth, beaten 20 lengths. With his last chance at Kentucky Derby points, Mr. Z will need to finish within the top four in the Arkansas Derby in order to make the May 2 Kentucky Derby. A fourth place finish would elevate him to 19th place, assuming no newcomers finish in front of him Saturday, on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 24 points. Jockey Ramon Vazquez will try to make it happen from post two.

    A long shot worthy of mention is trainer Jeremiah Englehart’s Bridget’s Big Luvy. At odds of 20-1, this son of Tiz Wonderful may not get much attention, but he enters the race off a 2 ½-length win in the Private Term Stakes, earning a Brisnet speed figure of 98 over a muddy track. His only other win came in a six-furlong maiden win, also in the slop.

    After a 25-length defeat in the Hutcheson Stakes (G3), Englehart discovered Bridget’s Big Luvy wasn’t sweating normally and, after consulting with other trainers, began adding a Budweiser to Bridget’s Big Luvy’s dinner. The adult beverage seemed to help and as Englehart put it on a national conference call earlier this week, “He's one for one with the Budweiser.” Englehart has floated under the radar and surprised with a longshot in the past, i.e., Ria Antonia in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

    The field for the Arkansas Derby from the rail out is: The Truth or Else, Mr. Z, Bridget’s Big Luvy, Madefromlucky, Bold Conquest, American Pharoah, Far Right, and Win the Space. Post time for the 11th race on the Saturday card is 7:18 p.m. Eastern Time.

    Lexington Stakes

    Positioned as the wild card in the Kentucky Derby points system, Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes (G3) allows an opportunity for one last chance at Kentucky Derby points. Divining Rod and Tiznow RJ both have the potential to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate with a win in the Lexington Stakes. It’s unlikely that ten points, which will be awarded to the Lexington winner, will be enough for a horse to get into the Kentucky Derby. Divining Rod currently has 10 points and Tiznow RJ has seven.

    Trainer Arnaud Delacour’s Divining Rod finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) last out and has never finished off the board in four lifetime starts. However, he hasn’t won since breaking his maiden at first asking last November. He was beaten 7 ½-lengths in his last out, the Tampa Bay Derby, by Carpe Diem, who romped in Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes (G1) last weekend. Finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby, only 2 ½-lengths in front of Divining Rod, was Ami’s Flatter, who finished a well-beaten third in the Florida Derby (G1) Mar. 28. The achievements of his rivals speak to the class and capability of Divining Rod. The Tapit colt is owned by Lael Stables and bred by Mr. and Mrs. Roy Jackson, the same connections that produced 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

    Tiznow RJ has faced the likes of LeComte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) winner International Star and Sunland Derby (G3) winner Firing Line in the past, but won’t face as stiff of competition in the Lexington. The Steve Asmussen runner will likely set the early pace, along with Divining Rod. Regular rider Robby Albarado will pilot the son of Tiznow from post four.

    Don’t count out the Bob Baffert maiden winner, Fame and Power, who ships in from California. A horse that takes six tries to break his maiden may not be one to give much thought to when it comes to a stakes race, but as Baffert is known to do, he’ll drop a maiden into a stakes race and come out covered in roses. Irad Ortiz, Jr. will guide the colt from post six.

    The field for the Lexington from the rail out is: Diving Rod, Comfort, Quimet, Tiznow RJ, Henry Jones, Fame and Power, and Donworth. Post time for the 10th race on the Saturday card is 5:18 p.m. Eastern Time.

    FOX Sports 1 will host featured coverage of the Lexington Stakes from 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The Arkansas Derby can be seen as part of regular broadcasting on HRTV. For free PPs courtesy of Brisnet, choose Lexington Stakes or Arkansas Derby.

    The Kentucky Derby points system replaced the graded stakes earnings system as the determiner of Kentucky Derby entrants. In the first phase, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season that concludes February 16, the top four finishers in the pre-determined races are awarded points of 10-4-2-1, respectively. In the first leg of phase two, the Championship Series, the top four finishers in 8 pre-determined races are awarded points of 50-20-10-5, respectively. In the second leg of the Championship Series, the top four finishers in the 7 pre-determined races receive points of 100-40-20-10, respectively. The Apr. 11 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland is a wildcard race and offers points of 10-4-2-1, respectively.

    Photo: Courtesy Shutterstock.com/ j.wootthisak

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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