Papa Clem out dueled Old Fashioned in a stretch battle for the ages on Saturday in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. At times it appeared that Old Fashioned was fighting back and might find a way to get back in front for the win, but Papa Clem was not to be denied. The win makes Papa Clem a fast rising contender for the 2009 Kentucky Derby 3 Saturdays from now at Churchill Downs.
The son of Smart Strike (who also sired Curlin) finished the 1 1/8 mile Arkansas Derby in 1:49.01 and will now ship to Churchill Downs in preparation for the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Ever since making a rather dashing appearance in the post parade of the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in early February, the colt has been flying just below the radar compared to some of the more highly regarded 3-year-olds in the nation. If Old Fashioned was a consensus top 10 contender for the Kentucky Derby, than clearly Papa Clem, and his new found ability to relax, rate, and pounce are worthy of that same status now.
Old Fashioned was out in front early, setting quick opening fractions of :22.65 and :44.19. Ziegfeld chased the early pace in 2nd before being suddenly pulled up after the opening 3/4 of a mile. Papa Clem was surprisingly held back in 5th position during the early running, patiently waiting for the right opportunity to make his move. The decision to rate Papa Clem worked brilliantly as he struck the front as the field turned for home, setting off a stretch run that will go down as one of the more thrilling in Arkansas Derby history.
Longshot Summer Bird, who made a magnificent post parade appearance as a striking chestnut, ran well late to finish in third at odds of 26/1. My beloved Win Willy, despite getting solid early fractions to run at, was never able to materialize a real threat, but did manage to finish 4th, beaten by 3 1/4 lengths. It remains to be seen if they’ll still send him to the Derby. Technically he’s got more earnings than Dunkirk and though he’s easy to miss in the replay video, his running line does denote he made a mild rally. He certainly didn’t disgrace himself, although I was expecting better when I saw the early splits.
I’ll be diligently working on updated power rankings for the Kentucky Derby, and needless to say Papa Clem will be a fast riser when they are released tomorrow. Old Fashioned is likely still bound for the Kentucky Derby as well, and if they could ever get this horse to slow it down a bit, he might be a force to be reckoned with. His two defeats have not been by much. He sort of reminds me of Hard Spun back in 2007. I thought the both of them looked like tremendously gutsy competitors in the stretch and think the Derby would only be strengthened by the entry of each runner on the first Saturday in May.
With the Arkansas Derby in the books, the major Derby preps are now over. We’ve still got three weeks to ponder and question and will now begin paying close attention to the posted morning workouts for the contenders.
Hats off to trainer Gary Sttute and jockey Rafael Bejarano for a magnificent job with Papa Clem this Saturday. That stretch duel was exactly what we needed on a nationally televised broadcast. Hopefully some folks stumbled upon our sport and liked what they saw. I know I did from where I sat…then jumped…then screamed – in my living room. Thanks to Papa Clem and Old Fashioned for doing their part to help Take Back Saturday. Now let’s begin to look forward to what appears to be a very contentious 2009 Kentucky Derby.