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Heading into this weekend’s final major prep races—the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes—the Derby picture seems crystal clear to me. Unless there is a crazy “off” track or something completely flukey happens, this year’s Kentucky Derby winner will be one of the following three horses: BIG BROWN, COLONEL JOHN or PYRO. Period, end of discussion. All three are outstanding horses—talented, consistent and in good hands. Like a phrase from one of Trevor Denman’s calls, “It will take something totally unforeseen” for one of these three not to win on May 3.

We’ve written about Big Brown’s tour de force in the Florida Derby, and Pyro, who runs in the Blue Grass, has been scintillating in his two wins this year. Now add Colonel John to the mix. The Eoin Harty-trained son of Tiznow overcame some traffic trouble on the far turn, then got out at the top of the lane and powered home to win the Santa Anita Derby in 1:48. He made up about three lengths in the final 1/8th, meaning he ran his final furlong in about 12 seconds, which is outstanding. He galloped out strongly past the wire, suggesting he will adore the 1 1/4-mile Derby distance. I’m not saying these colts will run 1-2-3 at Churchill, but I will feel very comfortable keying my exotic bets around them, confident that one of them will win and at least one of the others will hit the board.

NOTES: Last Saturday was one of those days we like to refer to as a “Sensory Overload Saturday”. The day was loaded with 14 graded stakes from around the country, including five Grade I’s and three Derby preps. Here’s a recap, starting with the other two Derby preps: the Wood Memorial was ugly, with the leaders staggering home like drunken sailors. TALE OF EKATI finally got to the wire ahead of WAR PASS, who appeared to be cruising on the far turn, then took an awkward step when changing leads and struggled through the lane. Can’t like any of these heading to Churchill…the Illinois Derby was meaningless, with RECAPTURETHEGLORY going wire-to-wire from the rail in a race where no one changed position. Previously unbeaten DENIS OF CORK was terrible, never firing at all. Scratch these seven from consideration…at Oaklawn, ZENYATTA remained unbeaten, rallying strongly from far back to crush last year’s Eclipse Award-winning mare GINGER PUNCH in the Apple Blossom. The huge daughter of Street Cry got a late start to her career but she’s simply a monster. TIAGO completed a huge day for the Moss-Shirreffs-Smith team when he outgamed HEATSEEKER an hour later in the Oaklawn Handicap, a race which certainly flatters the Big Cap…at Keeneland, the big matchup between COUNTRY STAR and PROUD HOPE fizzled when neither fired and longshot LITTLE BELLE took the Ashland. I’m starting to think nothing that happens over the Keeneland Polytrack matters…on the local front, trainer Carla Gaines is in the midst of an incredible run, winning with 11 of her last 15 starters (including six in a row at one point). Gaines sent out full-sisters TIZ ELEMENTAL and TIZ A BLEND to win back-to-back stakes on Sunday…for the third straight year, Santa Anita drew over 50,000 for its Derby day card.

Finally, we’ve harped on this before but nothing ever seems to change. On a day like last Saturday, when fan interest is at its peak and gamblers want to wager on (and WATCH) the biggest races, we once again stood by helplessly as the horses loaded simultaneously for the Wood and Ashland, both races starting at nearly identical times. Impossible to watch both at the same time, fans were forced to choose between the two. If the NTRA would do this one small thing, racing would be so much better off: mandate post times, particularly for major races, so fans/gamblers have a chance to enjoy the biggest events…it is such a simple concept but apparently too difficult to grasp for those in charge.

To view last week’s Premium Plays, click on the links below: Apr. 3Â Â Apr. 4Â Â Apr. 5Â Â Apr. 6Â Â Apr. 7

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