The stars are lining up properly for Arkansas-owned Untrapped and Oaklawn Park’s leading trainer.
After failing to garner sufficient points in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, the Steve Asmussen-trained Untrapped and Lookin At Lee were Nos. 21 and 22 on the list to qualify for the May 6 Kentucky Derby and chances were iffy at best that they would get one of the 20 spots in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
Circumstances have changed.
Both dodged a bullet when Conquest Mo Money owner Tom McKenna put animal above self. Instead of paying to run his first horse in the Kentucky Derby, the 81-year-old McKenna decided to wait and pay to play in the Preakness.
If McKenna had opted to run the Arkansas Derby runner-up in Kentucky, the colt would have been No. 12 in points, No. 20 Cloud Computing would have been first on the also eligible list, Untrapped would have dropped to second, and Lookin At Lee to a distant third.
Instead, the Asmussen runners remain the first and second alternates and Cloud Computing trainer Brad Cox is leaning toward passing on the Kentucky Derby. Cloud Computing made only the third start of his career when he finished third in New York on April 8. A final decision will be made after the horse works this weekend, but Cox mentioned that the colt is lightly raced and the Derby is a 1 1-4 mile grind. Also working in favor of the Oaklawn horses is that Cloud Computing owners have Practical Joke in the Derby.
In the four years since Churchill began using points earned in designated races to determine Derby participants, the only also eligible to get into the field was Frammento in 2015 and that year Sanford was scratched on the Thursday before the race.
Both Asmussen horses barely missed qualifying on their own.
Needing at least a fourth in the Arkansas Derby, Untrapped was sixth, beaten three lengths for the coveted 10 points. Owned by Mike Langford of Jonesboro, Untrapped has 34 points, enough to qualify any of the four previous years. Last year, Mo Tom was No. 20 with 32 points. Before that, the magic number was even less.
Prior to the Arkansas Derby, Untrapped was no worse than third in two stakes races in Louisiana and the Rebel at Oaklawn. On Saturday, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith encouraged a four-wide move into contention in the second turn and the colt had nothing left in the stretch.
Needing to finish at least second at Oaklawn, Lookin At Lee ran third, beaten a length and the footnotes in the Equibase chart say the colt “… began good gain three wide far turn, dove to the inside nearing the furlong marker, steered back out soon after, finished willingly to earn the show.”
Comparing the final times of 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire and 2015 Arkansas Derby winner American Pharoah is meaningless. On paper, they were four tenths of a second apart. Realistically, the margin would have been more than five lengths, according to the Beyer Speed Figures where two points equals roughly a length in a route race.
Two years ago, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah recorded a 105 Beyer at Oaklawn. Last Saturday, Classic Empire earned a 94.
A surefire method of picking winners does not exist, but something called a track variant produces a Beyer number that helps compare horses that have competed at different times and on different surfaces.
Although nothing special, Classic Empire’s 94 is better than the number for the winners of major Derby preps in California, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Only four 3-year-olds recorded speed figures of 100 or more this year and both Southwest winner One Liner (102) and San Felipe winner Mastery (105) are sidelined. In New York, Irish War Cry logged a 101 two weeks ago and J Boys Echo did 102 in March before running fourth in Kentucky a month later.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org