First run in 1936, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby is a key prep race for the Kentucky Derby, featuring many horses that have gone on to win big races in America over the course of their careers. In the past 10 years, the race has produced such notable horses as Curlin, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Lawyer Ron. The 2012 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby (post time: 5:45pm Central; TV: CNBC) features two outstanding colts trained by Bob Baffert -- Secret Circle and Bodemeister -- looking to etch their name into horse racing history. Secret Circle already has a spot in this year's Kentucky Derby locked up, but Bodemeister is short on graded earnings (only $60,000 at this point) and desperately needs to finish no worse than second to have any hope of making the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
Let's take a look at the field for the 2012 Arkansas Derby.
1-Cozzetti (15/1): This colt hasn't done much since breaking his maiden over the slop at Churchill Downs last fall; he's lost his last three races by over 15 combined lengths. He closed somewhat well to finish third in the G3-Tampa Bay Derby but he's got a lot of ground to make up compared to his rivals in this race.
2-Stat (10/1): A lightly raced, steadily improving colt trained by Todd Pletcher that comes into this race off of an easy six-length win against optional claiming at Gulfstream Park. He was second to Union Rags, one of the top contenders for this year's Kentucky Derby, in last summer's G2-Saratoga Special. This will be Stat's first attempt at racing around two turns; his siblings are 9-2-1-3 all-time when routing.
3-Najjaar (15/1): Closed hard in the G2-Rebel to finish 6th, beaten 4 ¾ lengths at the wire. Based on this colt's running style and his pedigree (by Belmont winner Jazil out of a Darshaan (GB) mare (Hasheema (IRE)) this colt should get better as the distances get longer. He might be worth a shot in the trifecta or superfecta.
4-Jake Mo (30/1): He's spent all winter/spring at Oaklawn Park and finished 4th in the Smarty Jones, 2nd in the G3-Southwest and 4th in the G3-Rebel. He's consistent, and he seems to make a good account of himself every race, but he's yet to prove he can beat Secret Circle, let alone a colt like Bodemeister. On the positive side, he's 30/1 on the morning line and he's shown he can run a good race at the track. Might be the value play.
5-Secret Circle (5/2): Originally, most believed that this colt would be just a sprinter or miler, but he's proven this spring that he's got enough stamina to be effective at two-turns. However, the question still remains: how far does he want to run? Based on his performance in the Rebel, we may finally be reaching the fringe of his distance limitations. However, he's likely to find himself all alone on the lead in this race and that's a dangerous proposition for his rivals.
Secret Circle tends to drift out a bit in the final furlongs, something that might eventually come back to haunt him.
6-Isn't He Clever (6/1): Second to Daddy Nose Best in the G3-Sunland Derby in his last start, Isn't He Clever will race with the blinkers off for the first time in the Arkansas Derby. This colt has displayed a good deal of class this spring and appears to be peaking at just the right time.
7-Optimizer (6/1): This colt made a big closing move to finish second to Secret Circle in the G2-Rebel and will likely garner a lot attention from the bettors this time around. While his Rebel performance was very good, you can't help but be a bit dismayed by the fact that this horse hasn't won a race since his debut on Aug. 6, 2011 at Saratoga. He's got to be included in your trifecta and superfecta tickets, but his odds will likely be too short to seriously entertain a win bet.
8-Atigun (30/1): There are a bunch of reasons why it will be hard for Atigun to win this race. First, he has a history of breaking poorly from the starting gate. Second, he hasn't really run close to any of his top rivals over the past six months; he finished second to last in the G2-Rebel in his most recent start. Finally, he has yet to run a race in his career that's good enough to beat this field.
9-Sabercat (15/1): Winner of the G3-Delta Jackpot, a race that earned him enough money to guarantee a spot in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, Sabercat has raced just one time in 2012 when he finished eighth out of 12 in the G2-Rebel. He's a deep closer in a race without a ton of early speed; it might be an uphill battle for Sabercat.
10-Raconteur (15/1): Comes into the Arkansas Derby off a win in a minor stakes race at Laurel Park. Previously, he finished 12 lengths behind Hansen in the G3-Gotham at Aqueduct. He appears to be well out of his element in this spot.
11-Bodemeister (9/5): Lightly raced but supremely talented, Bodemeister ships in from Southern California after losing by three-fourths of a length to Creative Cause in the G2-San Felipe. Baffert takes the blinkers off for this race after Bodemeister drifted out a bit in the deep stretch last time. Given the wide post position and lack of speed to his inside, Bodemeister should be able to secure a perfect stalking position in the early stages behind Secret Circle and, perhaps, Isn't He Clever (depending on how much speed that colt displays).
The top three horses in the Arkansas Derby -- Secret Circle, Isn't He Clever and Bodemeister -- all like to run up on the lead in the early stages. Two of those three (Isn't He Clever and Bodemeister) are taking the blinkers off for this race, which should leave Secret Circle all by himself for the first six furlongs of this nine furlong race. Lone speed is dangerous at every track in America. At Oaklawn, with its short stretch run, it can be dominating.
Bodemeister is going to get a ton of play from the crowd and won't offer much value at even money or less. Isn't He Clever is also going to be a favorite of many players based on his big race at Sunland. Therefore, I'm going to stick with the horse that has done nothing wrong at Oaklawn this spring, Secret Circle, in the hopes that he can take this field gate-to-wire.
Givn me Secret Circle on top for the win, along with Najjaar, Stat and Bodemeister (depending on the will-pays) underneath in the exacta.