The Arkansas Derby once again manages to draw a talented full field of eleven. In the gate Saturday will be Southwest and Rebel Stakes winner #5 SECRET CIRCLE (5/2), San Felipe Stakes winner #11 BODEMEISTER (9/5), Delta Jackpot winner #9 SABERCAT (15-1), Rebel Stakes runner up #7 OPTIMIZER (6-1) and the runner up of the Sunland Derby, #6 ISN’T HE CLEVER (6-1).
SECRET CIRCLE’s only blemish in six starts was a second place effort back in January in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. His wins in the Rebel and Southwest were a testament to how much of a fighter this horse is. Both were hard fought wins to the wire while visibly tiring. Whether or not he wants to go nine furlongs remains to be seen, but you have to like what he has accomplished on the racetrack so far.
The morning line favorite is BODEMEISTER, but I expect he and SECRET CIRCLE to vie for post time favoritism. He’s a lightly raced horse with only three starts, and at a short price, there are just too many questions for me. It looks like he’s going to be on the lead or pressing it which could leave him vulnerable. I find it a little interesting that Baffert ships him in here rather than staying at Santa Anita. Come summertime I think he will be a major player, but he lacks the seasoning that other contenders have in the race.
If you’re looking for alternates at a bit of a price, turn your attention to SABERCAT, OPTIMIZER, and ISN’T HE CLEVER. While SABERCAT had absolutely no excuse for his poor effort in the Rebel, it was his first start of the year and his connections (Asmussen/Nakatani) win at a 28% clip. OPTIMIZER and ISN’T HE CLEVER were both very game in defeat last time and will look to legitimatize those efforts to become major contenders.
Personally I think SECRET CIRCLE will get the dream trip. There is plenty of pace with BODEMEISTER and ISN’T HE CLEVER. SECRET CIRCLE can just draft in fourth or fifth place and pick them up in the stretch.