2014 American Derby Preview

This year marks the 100th running of the American Derby.  The race has gone through many incarnations over the years, and run at several tracks: in addition to Arlington, it was run at both incarnations of Washington Park, as well as once at Hawthorne (1916).  It has been run on dirt, and it has been run on turf.  It has been run at distances as short as 1 1/16 miles, and as long as 1 1/2 miles.  In its dirt era, both Whirlaway and Citation followed up their Triple Crowns with wins in the American Derby.

Today, the race is a GIII race at 1 3/16 miles over the turf.  The race has been run at this distance since 1992, and is the second leg of the Mid-America Triple.  The Triple consists of the Arlington Classic (GIII), the American Derby, and the Secretariat Stakes (GI), run on Million Day.  There will be no sweep this year; Istanford, who won the Arlington Classic (GIII) on May 24, will not race.  There has not been a sweep of all three since 1997, when Honor Glide completed the sweep.  The last time a three-year-old parlayed a win in the American Derby into a win in the Secretariat was in 2005, when Gun Salute won them both.

Arlington Park -- GIII American Derby -- 1 3/16 miles on the turf -- Race 9 -- post time 4:55 CDT

The pace in this race should be moderate.  Our Channel will likely be the one to set the early fractions; the only other horse in the field how shows a strong affinity for the lead is Ghostly Wonder, who may be able to push the pace briefly early, but is highly unlikely to want a mile, much less nine and a half furlongs.  The connections of Hesinfront have finally acknowledged what his breeding and his past performances scream: his best chance to live up to his name at the wire is as a turf router.  He has not stretched past 1 1/8 miles yet, but all three attempts at nine furlongs have been strong.  Twice he has been winning by an expanding margin late, and the other was a close third in which he was gaining late.  This War Front colt should have no problem handling the distance, and should be charging to mow down Our Channel late.  Local jockey Channing Hill has the mount; he is 10 for 35 on the turf this meet, and few jockeys perform over the Arlington turf as strongly and consistently as he does.   Schoolofhardrocks, after trying the Triple Crown trail on the West Coast, has found the turf to be more to his liking.  In his first start on turf, he finished second beaten just 1/2 length in the Desert Code Stakes, at six and a half furlongs over the Santa Anita turf.  Next time out he stretched all the way out to 1 1/8 miles in an allowance optional claiming race, and won by daylight.  The son of Rock Hard Ten is bred for distance, he has a string of long, strong workouts leading up to this race, and he has plenty of speed to contend here.  Divine Oath will be stalking a few lengths back early, and has plenty of speed to pounce on the leaders as the field makes its furious dash for home.  He was fourth in the Penn Mile last out.  Chasing near the back of the tightly bunched pack early, he was closing up ground well late.  He was running with plenty of energy after a mile, well enough to suggest that his best distance may well be longer.  His only start past a mile was the 1 1/16 mile Lexington Stakes (GIII), in which he finished second behind a horse whose form has recently been validated in a big way: Mr. Speaker.

Selections:

#9 Hesinfront (8/1)

#4 Schoolofhardrocks (3/1)

#2 Divine Oath (7/2)

(With the rain in the forecast, consider #7 Our Channel (6/1) more heavily if the turf softens.  It was a close call between him and Divine Oath for that last spot in the top three.  The softer the turf gets, the better the resume of Our Channel looks.)

Longshot:  #8 Chief Barker (8/1) has not quite run back to what he has done in England yet in two starts in America, but he did show improvement between his run in the American Turf (GII) on May 3 and his fourth-place finish in the Arlington Classic (GIII) on May 24.  He has put up a good string of workouts on the Arlington poly since that race.  He has not raced past 1 1/16 miles yet, but his breeding suggests distance aptitude: his sire Azamour's average winning distance is 9.7 furlongs.  The biggest question is the consistency of the turf.  His only attempt on firm turf was his first race after shipping here, so his ability to handle that is a question.  But, that is forgivable once, since it was the first race off an intercontinental ship.  However, if it rains between now and Saturday, that only helps Chief Barker since he is known to race well on good and soft turf.

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