These days, the ‘Run For The Roses’ is all about accumulating enough points to guarantee entry into the field on the first Saturday in May. You have to earn your right to run by doing well in key races beforehand. It’s a good system.
With only three weeks left before the big day, Saturday’s G1 Arkansas Derby is probably the last feasible qualifying round prior to the big one.
Classic Empire, who emerged top American juvenile male following a decisive Breeders’ Cup win last season, has been battling to hold on to his top spot. A foot abscess following by an issue with his back cannot have helped.
But he clearly needs to win, or figure in the placings this weekend, to gain the necessary points to qualify.
“If he doesn’t pick up any points, he doesn’t deserve to be in the Derby,” was trainer Mark Casse’s blunt appraisal.
Classic Empire has drawn gate 2, which must give him every chance. He can take up a handy position on the pace, then move forward to challenge when jockey Julien Leparoux thinks appropriate.
But if there is a potential trouble-maker in the ‘saloon’ — isn’t there always one ? — it is the unbeaten Malagacy, who continues to please trainer Todd Pletcher as he progresses through the ranks, chalking up three from three along the way.
The snag here is that Malagacy has drawn 12, the outside gate. That challenge is going to provide the necessary evidence to say whether or not he is good enough for the Derby. I expect him to make a lasting impression.
At Keeneland, the Godolphin mare Dickinson has a solid chance in the G1 Jenny Wiley Stakes, in which she faces seven rivals, including Lady Eli. Dickinson has won six from 13 starts — and comes to this off the back of a G2 victory at Tampa Bay Downs.