HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (OAKLAWN) -- Den's Legacy and War Academy, who will represent Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on Saturday, arrived on the grounds Wednesday and each went to the track before the break Thursday morning to check out their new surroundings and gallop 1 ¼ miles.
Even though War Academy has only had three starts, all in Southern California, and didn't hit the board in his lone stakes try in the San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita in his second time out on February 17, he raised his game to a new level when he traveled two turns under Mike Smith last time out in an $80,000 allowance/optional claiming race. The effort was impressive enough to install him as the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Arkansas Derby field of 10.
"War Academy certainly is getting a lot of buzz," said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert's top assistant. "He's a Giant's Causeway colt, he's a good looking colt, and he's hopefully going in the right direction now. We couldn't be happier with him. But, he's untested. We'll find out on Saturday."
The colt will carry the famed navy and orange colors of Michael Tabor, John Magnier and Derrick Smith as he tries to earn enough points to gain a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby. He currently has no points in the standings, but could secure his spot by living up to all of the hype because the winner of the Arkansas Derby will gain 100 points while the place and show horses will get 40 and 20, respectively.
Den's Legacy earned 20 points to date and ranks in 18th place for one of the 20 spots in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. An improvement from his third in the $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2), which was the final Oaklawn prep race for the Arkansas Derby, is what Baffert had in mind when he sent the son of Medaglio d'Oro back to Oaklawn.
"Bob chose Arkansas for both of them because that's been our route to the Derby and we've been successful here," said Barnes, who accompanied Bodemeister last year when the Baffert-trainee cruised to a 9 ½ length win in the Arkansas Derby. "Den's Legacy is possibly getting a little overshadowed by his stable mate. He kind of had an inside trip in the Rebel. Robby (Albarado) said it was just tight the whole way. This time he drew a little more to the outside, so hopefully he'll have a cleaner trip this time."
Albarado retains the mount on Den's Legacy, who will break from post #5 and is 6-1 on the early line. War Academy keeps services of Smith.
Mike Repole's Overanalyze galloped 1 ¼ miles on Thursday morning as trainer Todd Pletcher continued to tighten the screws on the son of Dixie Union. With only 10 Kentucky Derby points to date, he's standing on the outside looking in and on Saturday needs to show much more than he did while fading to fifth last time out in the Gotham Stakes (G3).
"We were kind of hoping for six or seven," assistant trainer Ginny DePasquale said of his draw for the No. 9 post in the 10-horse field . "In the Kentucky Derby, you'd love to have the 10 to 12 post, but not here. In his past races, he's run on the front end and come from behind, so we'll have to play it by ear, see how he breaks and hope for a clean trip."
Overanalyze is the third choice on the line at 4-1 and he will be partnered for the first time with Rafael Bejarano, who takes over for the sidelined John Velazquez.
Falling Sky arrived on the grounds at 4:30 a.m. Thursday after vanning from Churchill Downs and once he was settled in, he was hand-walked around the paddock. Reynaldo Abreu, John Terranova's assistant, planned to send him out on the track to stretch his legs on Friday.
The son of Lion Heart and grandson of 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, who was purchased privately by an ownership group headed by James Covello before his victory in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in February, is 10-1 in the morning line. His connections think his odds might be generous.
"He's going to run his race. He always tries hard and we like his chances," Abreu said.
Nevertheless, the Arkansas Derby will be put up or shut up time for Falling Sky, who has 20 points and is precariously placed at 19 for one of the 20 Kentucky Derby berths.
"It absolutely is time for him to step up," said Abreu. "This is going to be the third time he'll run for us and now we need to see if he's good enough. He needs to earn that right to go on to Kentucky."
Abreu has been with Terranova for four years, but has worked in the past for Pletcher, D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito and thus has been involved with plenty of their Kentucky Derby starters over the decades. He recognizes a horse, who has that certain something special when he sees it.
"Falling Sky does have it," he acknowledged. "This horse has got a lot of talent. He's a little bit of a handful sometimes, but he loves to train and he loves his job. He'll get the mile and an eighth distance on Saturday, for sure."
Martin Garcia picks up the mount for the first time and is expected in Hot Springs on Thursday to get acquainted with the colt.
Frac Daddy galloped 1 ½ miles on Thursday morning after walking through the paddock under tack and schooling there during Wednesday's races. The Ken McPeek trainee drew post No. 8 and is 15-1 in the line.
"Victor (Lebron, who will ride him on Saturday for the first time) has been on him the last three days and they are getting a long great," said Phil Bauer, McPeek's assistant at Oaklawn. "He's hitting the ground pretty good and we're happy with him. We're also happy with our draw. He broke his maiden from post 12 at Churchill Downs, so he's been out there and seen it from there before."
Bauer and Frac Daddy were together at Churchill Downs during the 2012 fall meet but then the colt went to the Florida division to race at Gulfstream Park over the winter.
"I hadn't seen him until he got here," said Bauer. "He was long and lanky as a two-year-old, and he seems to have filled out a little and grown up some."
Mike Langford's Carve galloped once around the racing strip on Thursday morning and was scheduled to school at noon in the paddock. Trainer Steve Asmussen, who is due to arrive on Friday to saddle the son of First Samurai and grandson of A.P. Indy in the Arkansas Derby, and the crew expect a better effort than his sixth place finish in the Rebel last time out.
"He's trained really well out of the Rebel," said assistant trainer Darren Fleming. "This will be only his fourth career race and he's learning every time out. But this is not an easy spot for him."
Langford, a commercial real estate developer from Jonesboro, Arkansas claimed the gelding from breeders Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider when he was entered in a $30,000 claiming race for his first start here on January 25.
"Steve and I both landed on this horse at the same time," said Langford, who was at the barn. "I called Steve and he already had his eye on him. We liked his breeding, among other things."
Carve, who will be ridden by Oaklawn's leading jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., drew the rail this time out and is 20-1 in the line.
"He didn't really have a chance in the Rebel because he was back too far," Langford said. "We're hoping he'll be a lot closer to the pace this time."
Divine Ambition, who was a late addition to the field on the morning of the draw, was scheduled to leave trainer Darren Miller's stable in Kentucky Thursday evening and arrive at Oaklawn early Friday morning.
He finished second last out in the $75,000 Rushaway Stakes on the Polytrack at Keeneland at 1 1/16 miles and will switch back to dirt in the Arkansas Derby.
"It's hard to say how he's going to take to the Oaklawn surface, but he has won on the dirt at Gulfstream, Calder and Tampa, and then on the Poly, so he seems to be able to take his track with him," said Miller, who will not be on hand to saddle the gray/roan son of Divine Park. "Bu,t he has to step up his game if he's going to move on to the Kentucky Derby. Absolutely."
Brian Hernandez, Jr., who will be in town to ride Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned earlier on the card in the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2), has picked up the mount on the 20-1 choice on the line.
Trainer Danele Durham was sitting in her car by the barn housing Texas Bling on Thursday morning, listening to the Beatles' recording of "Let it Be."
"He's doing fabulous, just fabulous. This song is perfect because sometimes you just have to let it be," she said.
Texas Bling, 20-1 in the morning line, galloped 1 ½ miles on Thursday and Durham said she would take it easy with him right up to the race.
"I like to run my horses fresh," said Durham, who has 24 in her care, mostly for Texas Bling's owner and breeder the Hall's Family Trust. "He couldn't be any better. This is shaping up just like a story book."
The tale will have a very happy ending for Durham, who has yet to win a graded stakes race or even run a horse in a Grade 1 event.
"This is my first time running in the Arkansas Derby and I'm very excited," she said. "To win a Grade one would be very, very nice."
Heaven's Runway, owned by the Hot Springs-based husband and wife cardiologists Dr. K.K. and Dr. Devi Jayaraman, galloped an easy 1 ½ miles on Thursday morning and will jog and walk on Friday.
"He worked real good in his last breeze and galloped out real strong. He gets better every week and I'm not just saying that. Sometimes horses go backwards but this one is moving forward. He's fitter and better than ever before," said Bill Martin, who conditions the Jayaraman's homebred son of Run Away and Hide out of the Awesome Again mare Heavens Passport along with his brother, Joe Martin.
Israel Ocampo has been named to ride the 30-1 shot for the first time in what will be the colt's ninth start.
"He's kind of a speed horse and Joe and I felt like he fits him better and will be able to get him to relax a little more," said Martin.