Tuesday, May 03, 2011

SPORTS >> Archarcharch tunes for Derby

Leader sports editor

Even at the Kentucky Derby, Arkansans can’t escape the weather.

While central Arkansas, and specifically Jacksonville, has been gripped by heavy rains and flooding, the storm fronts are also affecting preparation for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s Churchill Downs.

Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch, owned by Jacksonville’s Bob and Val Yagos, has had to work out in the slop as he prepares for the 137th running of the $2 million race.

“They’ve had as much rain as we’ve had, so the track has been real muddy and real sloppy,” Bob Yagos said.

“So you’ve got to play to the track. You’ve got to take your workouts when you can get them.”

Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude, Blue Grass winner Brilliant Speed and Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go all went five furlongs in the mud Monday while Santiva and Nehro, who Archarcharch beat by a neck in the Arkansas Derby, had half-mile drills.

On a rare, clear day Friday, Archarcharch turned in one of the more impressive workouts, going five furlongs in 59.36 seconds and leaving stable mate Supreme Ruler in the dust.

Yagos figured Archarcharch, who has been doing two miles a day at a gallop, would maybe go top speed for a half mile on Thursday in preparation for the 1 ¼-mile race.

“And he doesn’t need a lot of workouts,” Yagos said. “He’s putting two miles a day in just at a gallop, that’s just as good as a workout. A workout puts a little muscle on him but he doesn’t need that right now, he just needs air in them to keep him fit.”

The rest of the Derby field includes Dialed In, (expected to be the favorite when the odds are announced today) Twinspired, Shackleford, Stay Thirsty, Animal Kingdom, Decisive Moment, Mucho Macho Man, Twice the Appeal, Soldat, Master of Hounds, Pants on Fire, Toby’s Corner, Comma to the Top and Uncle Mo.

Yagos is guessing Archarcharch, the only horse in the field coming in with two grades stakes victories, will go off at 10-1 or 12-1 odds after going off at 25-1 in the Arkansas Derby.

Archarcharch’s closing style may suit him for Kentucky Derby success, as the pace tends to break down and closers do well. The surface at Churchill Downs is similar to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, where Archarcharch won the Arkansas Derby.

“He’s got the highest speed figure coming out of this last race,” Yagos said. “He’s got a 98 speed figure. He’s been progressing. When he started running he was at an 88 speed figure and he’s progressed all the way to 98.

“In every race he’s getting better. He’s not backed up.”

The Kentucky Derby is the first leg of the Triple Crown. Two weeks after the race is the 1 3/16th-mile Preakness Stakes followed three weeks later by the 1 ½-mile Belmont.

There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Another Derby storyline involves veteran race announcer Tom Durkin, who is stepping down from calling the “fastest two minutes” in sports and blaming the stress of the job.