We’ve reached the final 9-furlong prep race. Handicappers should savor this gumbo of low-budget locals, potential millionaires and interesting upstarts. This year’s Arkansas Derby doesn’t lack spice.

Juvenile champion Classic Empire returns from a bevy of minor aches and pains to assume the favorite’s role. Todd Pletcher’s lightly raced overachiever Malagacy might share that lofty position on the toteboard. Neither figures to grab the spotlight in the Hot Springs’ winner’s circle.

Classic Empire faces other speedsters as he stretches out to 9 furlongs off of just a short series of works. My pace and final figures show that he holds no advantage early or late over his most accomplished rivals. Hard work early combined with more distance late should leave him well short of victory this week.

Several months ago Malagacy drew a fever to escape his scheduled debut in a maiden claimer. Even after Malagacy‘s two runaway sprint wins proved Pletcher’s initial assessment to be wrong, the trainer expressed doubts about Malagacy‘s ability to stretch out and win around two turns. Internal fractions from his successful two-turn voyage last time out show a very slow quarter mile from the 6-furlong mark to the 8-furlong mark. He won’t catch a breath here as he stretches out further. I suspect Mr. Pletcher’s doubts will finally be realized.

That’s good news for bettors seeking better odds.

Sneaking into this race mostly unnoticed at 15-1 in the morning line is Conquest Mo Money. He ran a bang-up 2nd in the Sunland Derby, a race that produced the longshot winner of the Blue Grass Stakes last week. Look for lightning to strike twice. His slightly premature move after sitting midpack behind a blazing pace left him a bit short in the stretch. He fell victim to a horse who sat at the rear of the field, but that 9-furlong legging up should have him dead fit for this.

I’ll also take a shot at Doug O’Neill’s shipper on the rail, Rockin Rudy. He has been extremely competitive in his sprints and looks fully wound up and ready for a big effort at big odds.

THE BETS
$20 Win on Conquest Mo Money
$10 Win on Rockin Rudy