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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, April 11, 2014 at 12:00 AM




California Chrome, by virtue of his sensational wire-to wire victory last week in the Santa Anita Derby, no doubt will be the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

And no doubt that the winner of the Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn Park will be the second choice.

Nine horses will go in the Arkansas Derby, but from here it looks like a two-horse race: Tapiture vs. Bayern.

The savvy linesmaker at Oaklawn established Tapiture at 9-5 and the unbeaten Bayern at 2-1, and that’s about right

Bayern, with Gary Stevens aboard, will be in front from the getgo, and Tapiture, with Joel Rosario aboard, will be stalking second or third. When they turn for home, Tapiture will come after Bayern, and we should see a rousing stretch duel to the wire.

If Tapiture wins, it will spark a media circus in Louisville. After all, he is trained by Steve Asmussen, the same Steve Asmussen who was torched in a New York Times article a month ago for animal abuse.

Steve has no use for the press to begin with, so you can imagine the chaos when the media descends on the barn every morning during Derby Week.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. First Tapiture has to beat Bayern, and that will be a tall order.

Bayern is the second coming of Bodemeister, who shipped from California to win the Arkansas Derby by a pole two years back, and went on to run second in all three Triple Crown races, 

It’s no coincidence that Bodemeister and Bayern hail from the Baffert barn, and Bullet Bob will tell you that Bayern is the superior horse. If so, he’ll blow away the field on Saturday.

The X factor in the race is, who else, D. Wayne Lukas. Strong Mandate, trained by Lukas, has a ton of speed, and if Lukas chooses to do so, he could take the starch out of Bayern.

Contrary to reports, Lukas and Baffert are not exactly best buddies, so it will be no surprise if Strong Mandate, a Grade One winner last year, buries Bayern. Or at least tries to.

"Strong Mandate is doing fine, Lukas told the Blood Horse. "I just hope he’ll get better racing luck racing luck this time."

Strong Mandate blew the start in the Southwest, and was beaten 10 lengths by Tapiture. Then in the Rebel, Strong Mandate was bumped around, and settled for third, beaten two lengths.

Stevens ships from the west coast to ride Bayern, and Luis Saez comes from New York to pilot Strong Mandate. No surprise there. Stevens and Saez are the regular riders for those two.

But Tapiture changes riders. Asmussen dumped jockey Santana after his Rebel second, and goes to Rosario, who won the Kentucky Derby last year with Orb.

More times than not the jockey change blows up in the faces of the connections, and it may happen here. Santana still rides most of the Asmussen stock, and he will win the Oaklawn riding title for a second straight year.

Rosario, on the other hand, will be getting on Tapiture for the first time.

This is just another handicapping factor for the players. My best advice will be to go on-line for my selections, or contact the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283). After all, I spent 15 years at Oaklawn, and know the ropes pretty well.

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The Arkansas Derby comes up strong, perhaps the strongest on the Derby trail.

Bayern and Tapiture look to be standouts, but there are several longshot possibilities in the field.

Besides Strong Mandate, you have two from Todd Pletcher: Danza, with Joe Bravo up, and Commisioner, with Mike Smith; Ride on Curlin (John Court). Knock em Flat (Luis Quinonez); Thundergram (Norberto Arroyo), and Conquest Titan, switching to Calvin

Borel, a three-time Kentucky Derby, has been searching for a Derby mount, and is running out of time. Conquest Titan, trained by Mark Casse, may be Calvin’s last Derby mount.

But they all have to catch and beat Bayern, a runaway winner of his two starts in California.

Bayern, who needs to run one-two to get to Kentucky, was pointed for the Rebel, but a foot bruise kept his home. Didn’t matter to Baffert. He won the Rebel anyway with Hopportunity.

That same foot bruise forced Bayern to miss the San Felipe, which was won by California Chrome. But he has been training sensationally in recent days so he appears fit for the Derby.

Clearly Baffert thinks so because he would not be going to the time and expense for the flight to Hot Springs.

As for Gary Stevens, he is looking for his first Arkansas Derby since 1990 when he won the race on Silver Ending. But what’s for 24 years? Gary also won the 1985 running on Tank’s Prospect -- for Lukas!

Bayern and Strong Mandate had the misfortune to draw the outside posts so the run to  the first turn should be a dandy.

Normally the outside posts are murder going two turns at Oaklawn, but I recall that Smarty Jones won the AD from the 11-hole a decade back.

But who knows? There may be another Smarty this time.

The Arkansas Derby will be run at 7:07 Central as the 11th race on Oaklawn’s 12-race closing day program.

Baffert, Lukas, Pletcher and Asmussen. Should be quite a race.

Join me for the Oaklawn & Keeneland Full Cards on Saturday. Just click here to sign up online or call my office at 1-888-612-2283.

Thanks for tuning in. Have a good (and profitable) weekend, and see you back here next Friday.

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