Derby hopefuls fine-tune

Den’s Legacy and War Academy, who will represent Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in the $1 million Arkansas Derby 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 at Santa Anita in his second time out on Feb. 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 No. 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.

“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 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.”