Classic Empire Headlines Grade 1 Arkansas Derby

David Schwab

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 2:05 PM UTC

Wednesday, Apr. 12, 2017 2:05 PM UTC

The final major graded prep race of the season ahead of next month’s Kentucky Derby takes horse bettors to Oaklawn Park this Saturday for the running of the $1 million Arkansas Derby. American Pharoah won this race in 2015 on his way to Triple Crown glory.

This year’s Arkansas Derby field is stacked with a couple of highly talented 3-year olds looking to follow in American Pharoah's footsteps by taking that first Kentucky Derby step with a victory in Saturday’s featured event on Oaklawn’s racing card. The following three would be my top play for a trifecta bet in this year’s Arkansas Derby.

Arkansas Derby At Oaklawn Park

The Arkansas Derby is a Grade 1 stakes race for 3-year old thoroughbreds and it will be contested on the dirt track at Oaklawn over a distance of 1 1/8 miles. The total prize purse up for grabs is $1 million.

This deep nine-horse field is led by Classic Empire, who comes into this race ranked 23rd by Horse Racing Nation with a rating of 8.28. Expectations were running high for this Kentucky-bred colt heading into this season after he won both the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park as a 2-year-old. His 3-year old campaign got off to a disappointing start with a third-place run in the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park behind Irish War Cry and Gunnevera.

Trainer Mark Casse is confident that his top Kentucky Derby contender can reclaim his spot as the best 3-year old in the nation with a victory on Saturday, and I tend to agree. The horses he lost to last time out are also two of the best in the nation in what is shaping up to be a great field for the main event at Churchill Downs come May 6.

My second choice for Saturday’s race would be Malagacy fresh off his stirring victory in this year’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 18 at a distance of 1 1/16 miles. He edged out both Sonneteer and Untrapped, who are also expected to be in the field for this race. This could be famed trainer Todd Pletcher’s top Kentucky Derby prospect and he comes into Saturday’s main event ranked 285 by HRN with a rating of 7.34.

The son of Shackleford with a progeny that goes back to Storm Cat is undefeated in three runs as a 3-year-old after remaining idle as a juvenile. This will be a true test to see if he can join the list as one of the early favorites heading into Louisville later this month.

Untrapped would be a solid pick as the Show horse for this race, but I am looking to stretch the odds a pick by adding trainer Keith Desormeaux’s Sonneteer as my third choice. He comes into this race unranked and rated just 5.34 by HRN, but I believe that is about to change based on his recent performance in the Rebel Stakes. That run was not a fluke ,and he does have what it takes to keep pace with the top colts in this race.

The son of Midnight Lute has had a very active racing career with six finishes in the money in nine events. He is still looking for his first victory, but his best runs have been at a longer distance of 1 1/16 miles, including a fourth-place finish in the ungraded California Derby at Golden Gate in late January to kick off his 3-year-old campaign.

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