Trainer Todd Pletcher already holds a very strong hand heading into the GI Kentucky Derby, but he’s got one more ace up his sleeve in the form of GI Arkansas Derby favorite Magnum Moon (Malibu Moon). The ‘TDN Rising Star‘ will look to take his fourth trip to the winner’s circle Saturday in as many tries while adding to Pletcher’s already record four wins in Oaklawn’s signature event. The Robert and Lawana Low colorbearer bested a field that included Machismo (More Than Ready) sprinting first out at Gulfstream Jan. 13, and followed up with an easy two-turn Tampa optional claiming score Feb. 15. He was extremely impressive showing good stalking speed and a strong late kick in the GII Rebel S. here Mar. 17, reporting home 3 1/2 lengths to the good of 11-10 Solomini (Curlin).
Solomini is as due for a break-out win as just about any horse in training. Second to Bolt d’Oro (Medaglia d’Oro) in the GI FrontRunner S. in September and ahead of that one but behind Good Magic (Curlin) when runner-up in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Bob Baffert pupil crossed the wire in front of stablemate McKinzie (Street Sense) in the GI Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 9, only to be placed third behind next-out GIII Lecomte S. winner Instilled Regard (Arch) in what was a controversial DQ. He was simply outrun on the day by Magnum Moon last time, and will need to pick it up for connections who own two Arkansas Derby trophies themselves with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile) and the brilliant Bodemeister (Empire Maker).
Rebel third Combatant (Scat Daddy) is one of three signed on for the meet’s leading trainer Steve Asmussen and, like Solomini, has been knocking on the door in stakes company for quite some time. “I think he’s been a little disadvantaged, just with the pace scenarios and his placement in the starting gate,” David Fiske, racing manager for co-owner Winchell Thoroughbreds, said. “I think the circumstances have kind of conspired against him, going all the way back to [his second in the Springboard Mile at] Remington last fall.”
Fiske added, “Hopefully, he can catch a break. I was telling somebody [that] if he were to run third and pick up $100,000, he would have almost half-a-million dollars next to his name and still be eligible for non-winners of two.”
The Winchells and Asmussen will also be represented by two-for-two Tenfold (Curlin), who followed up a very impressive 5 3/4-length debut romp with a hard-fought optional claiming tally Mar. 18.
‘Rising Star‘ Quip (Distorted Humor) bypassed the GII Blue Grass S. last week after his owners’ likely Derby favorite Justify (Scat Daddy) stayed at home for a romp in the GI Santa Anita Derby rather than shipping here. He made his seasonal debut a winning one in the GII Tampa Bay Derby Mar. 10, and was flattered when runner-up Flameaway (Scat Daddy) returned with a similar effort in the Blue Grass and fourth-place Vino Rosso (Curlin) grabbed the GII Wood Memorial S.