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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

Win Willy, the upset winner of last month’s Rebel Stakes, and Old Fashioned, the beaten favorite in that race, head a field of 10 for the 73rd running of the $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. The mile-and-an-eighth fixture for three-year-olds anchors Oaklawn’s prestigious Racing Festival of the South.
The Arkansas Derby will be telecast live on ESPN2 from 6:00-7:00 p.m. (ET) on “NTRA Racing to the Kentucky Derby”. Also on the telecast, via same-day tape, will be the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, run earlier on Saturday at Keeneland.
Win Willy shook the racing world with his last-to-first rally to capture the March 14 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 14.The gray son of Monarchos was making his first start around two turns in the Rebel. The win marked the third score in a row for the Mac Robertson trainee and placed him in the middle of the national picture of horses headed for the Kentucky Derby. Cliff Berry, who brought his mount to victory in the Rebel, has the return call on Win Willy, who was 56-1 in his win in the Rebel. For Saturday, however, he is pegged as the 7-2 second choice in the Arkansas Derby morning line.
Filling the role as favorite once again will be Old Fashioned, the gray son of Unbridled’s Song who was considered a top favorite for the Triple Crown races until his upset in the Rebel. Prior to that race, Old Fashioned had won all of his four starts, the last three by a combined margin of 26 lengths. Chasing a quick pace by Silver City in the Rebel, Old Fashioned had no response when challenged by Win Willy in the final furlong, but was still eight lengths clear of the rest of the field.
Trainer Larry Jones has selected jockey Terry Thompson to replace Ramon Dominguez on Old Fashioned for the Arkansas Derby. Jones has enjoyed considerable success with Thompson at Oaklawn and the rider, well in front in his quest for the local crown, is expected to try to get the talented horse to rate kindly and have more punch for the longer distance of the Arkansas Derby.
Local observers have been impressed by what they’ve seen of Papa Clem in training over the Oaklawn oval in recent weeks. Second in both the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, the son of Smart Strike could very well set the pace under jockey Rafael Bejarano and be tough to catch.
The complete field for the Arkansas Derby, in post position order, is: Captain Cherokee (jockey: Aaron Gryder, morning line odds: 20-1); Papa Clem (Rafael Bejarano, 6-1); Flat Out (Julio Garcia, 10-1); Poltergeist (Quincy Hamilton, 20-1); Ziegfeld (Jon Court, 12-1); Flying Private (Israel Ocampo, 6-1); Summer Bird (Chris Rosier, 30-1); Old Fashioned (Terry Thompson, 9-5); Win Willy (Cliff Berry, 7-2); and Danger to Society (Cornelio Velasquez, 6-1).

Hold Me Back, winner of Turfway Park’s Lane’s End Stakes, the undefeated Charitable Man and Mafaaz (GB), winner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park in England last month, headline a field of 11 horses entered for Saturday’s Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
The 1 1/8-mile Toyota Blue Grass is the final Grade I prep for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. A total of 19 horses that ran in the Toyota Blue Grass have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, with Street Sense in 2007 the most recent.
Hold Me Back, installed by handicapper Mike Battaglia as the 3-1 favorite on the morning line, has won three of four career starts, including an allowance score here last fall. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Hold Me Back made his 2009 debut in the Lane’s End. Kent Desormeaux, who rode Hold Me Back to victory in the Lane’s End, has the mount Saturday and will break from post position 10.
Charitable Man, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, has yet to start in 2009. Sidelined by a saucer fracture in a shin after winning the Grade II Futurity at Belmont Park on September 13, Charitable Man will break from post position nine under Alan Garcia, who has been aboard for the colt’s two victories. Charitable Man is 4-1 on the morning line.
Mafaaz (GB) is already guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate by virtue of his neck victory in the Kentucky Derby Challenge at Kempton Park over Polytrack on March 18. A winner of two of three career starts, Mafaaz made his 2009 debut in the Kentucky Derby Challenge for trainer John Gosden. Richard Hills has the mount on Mafaaz, who will break from post five and is listed at 12-1 on the morning line.
Second choice on the morning line at 7-2 is Theregoesjojo, who is trained by Ken McPeek. Third in the Grade I Florida Derby behind Quality Road and Dunkirk in his most recent start on March 28, Theregoesjojo will break from post position three under Calvin Borel.
The remaining Toyota Blue Grass starters seek to enhance their graded stakes earnings, which is the criterion for determining Kentucky Derby starting berths should more than 20 enter.
One horse that does not need to worry about graded earnings is Terrain. Second in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last fall, Terrain has graded earnings of $410,830, most of any Toyota Blue Grass starter. Trained by Al Stall Jr., Terrain made his 2009 debut in the Grade II Louisiana Derby with a third-place finish. Listed at 6-1 on the morning line for the Toyota Blue Grass, Terrain will break from post position six and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who sent out the 1-2 finishers in last year’s Toyota Blue Grass in Monba and Cowboy Cal, respectively, will be shooting for his third victory in the race when he sends out Join in the Dance. Runner-up in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) in his most recent start, Join in the Dance will break from post position two under John Velazquez. Join in the Dance is 10-1 on the morning line. Pletcher’s other Toyota Blue Grass winner was Bandini in 2005.
The complete field for the Toyota Blue Grass, from the rail out, is: Patena (jockey: Robby Albarado, morning line odds: 10-1), Join in the Dance (John Velazquez, 10-1); Theregoesjojo (Calvin Borel, 7-2); Cliffy’s Future (Jesus Castanon, 20-1); Mafaaz (GB) (Richard Hills, 12-1); Terrain (Julien Leparoux, 6-1), Loch Dubh (Jamie Theriot, 50-1); General Quarters (Eibar Coa, 15-1 ); Charitable Man (Alan Garcia, 4-1); Hold Me Back (Kent Desormeaux, 3-1); and Massone (Garret Gomez, 12-1).