2018 Arkansas Derby Expert Picks with Odds and Betting Predictions
The last of the major Kentucky Derby prep races for 2018 takes place at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. In the last 15 years this has become a very important stop on the road to the Triple Crown. And I literally do mean the Triple Crown - American Pharoah won this race in 2015 as his last stop before his historic three wins to step into history forever. Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones parlayed a win here into two Triple Crown wins. Curlin in 2007 and Creator in 2016 both won a Triple Crown race following their victories in Arkansas. And we have had near misses, too - Bodemeister won at Oaklawn and was then second in two Triple Crown races in 2012, and last year Classic Empire was fourth in the Derby and second in the Preakness after winning here. So, the winner of this race needs to be taken seriously.
Before we get into the analysis of this field, there are two pieces of business to take care of. First, there is another prep race that typically doesn't matter but does this year - the Lexington at Keeneland. It offers only 20 points to the winner, so it isn't enough for horses to get into Derby contention by itself. But My Boy Jack, who is on the Derby bubble after finishing third in the Louisiana Derby, is heading into that race to secure his Derby position. He should do it given the field he faces. And he won't be relevant at Churchill if he does.
Second, it's worth noting that this race shows us just how dangerous and addictive Derby Fever can be. Machismo is a long shot in this race, and he deserves to be. He has virtually no chance. He took four tries to break his maiden, then he was an underwhelming fourth in the Fountain of Youth. He's well enough bred but has done nothing of interest so far. So why are we talking about him at all? He ran just last weekend in the Blue Grass. And he was awful. He got into some mild trouble early, handled it poorly, tired badly down the stretch, and wound up 12th. He needs to regroup and drop down several steps in class, but instead he's back here a week later to try again. Stupid. But that's what the Derby does to people.
Here is how the class of the nine-horse field sets up (Horse, jockey, trainer, morning line):
Magnum Moon, Luis Saez, Todd Pletcher, 8/5: Pletcher is having a truly incredible year on the road to the Derby this year - even more than normal. He has won the Holy Bull, the Rebel (With this colt), the Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby and Wood Memorial. He already has as deep a group going to the Derby as he has had - which is saying something - and this still could be his best horse. But he is very lightly run. He's looking to join Justify as top favorites looking to beat the Curse of Apollo - neither horse ran as a two-year-old, and no Derby winner has debuted at three since Apollo back in 1882. He's wildly talented, and he beat Solomini last time out, so he is one to watch. He'll figure in my betting, but at this price I look to go elsewhere up top.
Solomini, Flavien Prat, Bob Baffert, 2/1: Things have not gone as well for Baffert as for Pletcher this year. His Justify is an absolute freak and the likely Derby favorite, but Solomini could be just his second Derby entrant after what looked like a loaded stable a while back. This son of Curlin has run only once this year - a second to Magnum Moon in the Rebel. You can argue whether he is fresh or too raw. He's been working great (though what Baffert horse doesn't?) and has visibly matured. We need to see improvement, but I expect we will. He is my top pick.
Quip, Florent Geroux, Rodolphe Brisset, 9/2: I wasn't that impressed with his Tampa Bay Derby win at the time, but last weekend that race suddenly looked stronger - runner-up Flameaway ran second in the Blue Grass, and fourth-place finisher Vino Rosso won the Wood Memorial. He was coming off a big layoff in that race, so I look for a step forward here. I think he's a factor, but I won't bet him on top of exotics.
Combatant, Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, 6/1: This is a son of Scat Daddy, the prematurely-deceased stallion whose final crop of three-year-olds is burning hot - Justify and Mendelssohn are both sons as well. This colt has run in three prep stakes this year at Oaklawn already and has two second-place finishes and a third to show for it. I expect more of the same - he's good, but not quite good enough. Useful on the bottom end of exotics at this price.
Tenfold, Victor Espinoza, Steve Asmussen, 10/1: He's an unbeaten son of Curlin, but he is making his stakes debut here after just two starts - the first in February. He likes the track and I love the breeding. This is a lot to ask, though. Partly I am cheering against him just because two Curse of Apollo contenders is already enough to deal with in the Derby. But he seems to be the best - at least potentially - of the Asmussen group in this race (the trainer also has Dream Baby Dream at 15/1), and he'll be part of exotics for sure. He is one to watch at this price.
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