Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has never won the prestigious Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park. But today he’ll have two chances to win the $1 million graded stakes race when he sends Bodemeister, the 9-5 morning line favorite, and Secret Circle (5-2) to the starting gate.
Of the two, Bodemeister appears to be more likely to win the 76th running of prestigious race and with only $60,000 in graded stakes earnings he’ll need to win in order to secure a berth in the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby.
Since his maiden debut in January, I thought that Bodemeister had the potential to be a classic champion. His Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile, a tool I use to measure classic potential, is a whopping 96.25. The only horse left on the trail with a higher profile is Alpha (97.50).
I like the way Bodemeister, in just his third start, finished a game second to Creative Cause in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park. In that race, Bodemeister showed a lot of talent for such an inexperienced colt and was only beaten by three-quarters of a length by a seasoned colt that has finished in the money of all the big stakes races on the west coast.
If Bodemeister continues to improve and move forward off of that performance in the San Felipe, he can win the Arkansas Derby – his breeding says he can do it.
Only time will tell.
Secret Circle has been a brilliant racer finishing second only once in six starts. But Secret Circle looked like he reached his optimum distance in his last race when he was almost ran down by a fast closing Optimizer in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park last month.
Eddington, the sire of Secret Circle, won the 9-furlong Calder Derby as a 3-year-old and finished third in the Gotham Stakes (G3), Wood Memorial Stakes (G1), Preakness Stakes (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1).
I expect Secret Circle to run another brilliant race today but he may be useful in the bottom of the exotics.
In seven career starts, Isn’t He Clever has only been off the board once and he boasts a 4-2-0 record. His worst performance was a fifth-place finish in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park on February 4. Later that month, He followed that effort with a 1¾-length victory in the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park.
In his last race, Isn’t He Clever narrowly missed winning the Sunland Derby (G3) by three-quarters of a length to a determined Daddy Nose Best. Another big move forward off of his last race and Isn’t He Clever can be competitive in today’s race.
Najjaar also has the breeding to be a classic prospect but so far he has not lived up to his breeding.
Darshaan, the damsire of Najjaar, won the 1984 French classic Prix du Jockey Club and he’s also the damsire of the classic champions Marienbard, Sendawar, High Chaparral and Darsi. As a sire, Darshaan sired the classic champions Mark of Esteem and Dalakhani.
Despite his breeding, Najjaar has been a slow developer, finally breaking his maiden on the fifth attempt when he made his 3-year-old debut in January at Oaklawn Park. Najjaar followed up that win with another victory on March 2 traveling the same route of ground at the same track.
In his last race, Najjaar finished sixth in the Rebel Stakes (G2) but was closing well and was only beaten by four and three-quarters of a length. The extra distance of today’s race may help Najjaar who will need to improve his game considerably if he is going make it into the Derby starting gate.
Optimizer is a young colt I liked last summer and thought he may have an impact on the trail but, for the most part, he struggled during his two- and three-year-old season.
However, with veteran jockey Jon Court in the irons for the first time, Optimizer showed a new dimension in his last race and narrowly missed winning the Rebel Stakes (G2) by three-quarters of a length.
This is the time of the year that young colts can show a lot of improvement on the Derby trail and I’ll be watching to see how well Optimizer looks in the post parade.
Court returns for today’s mount and if the pair repeats their performance of the Rebel Stakes, they can be competitive in today’s race.