LITTLE ROCK — A disturbingly low number and a deliciously high one add up to travel plans for some 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

LITTLE ROCK — A disturbingly low number and a deliciously high one add up to travel plans for some 3-year-old thoroughbreds.

Their destination: Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby on April 14. Their encouragement: A 92 speed figure and $1,000,000 in graded money.

Trainers aren’t saying much about making the trip, but they are well informed of both numerals, have seen replays of Secret Circle’s unimpressive victory in the Rebel last Saturday and expect him to be the Arkansas Derby favorite.

At this time of year, with many Kentucky Derby hopefuls in desperate need of graded earnings, trainers are playing a waiting game and keeping tabs on others. No one is eager to take on the Kentucky Derby favorites — Union Rags in Florida on March 31 or Hansen in New York on April 7.

Other than those two races and the Arkansas Derby, there are graded money events in Kentucky, New Mexico, Louisiana, California and Illinois with purses large enough that second place might be sufficient to secure one of the 20 spots in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.

The Arkansas Derby purse is unsurpassed, but Secret Circle’s speed rating — one of the lowest recorded by a Rebel winner in 20 years — is equally persuasive. So, too, the visual of the Rebel finish, including the fact that Secret Circle was almost caught by 27-1 shot whose only victory was on the grass.

Seeing the 1-mile Southwest in February and the 110-yard longer Rebel, the impression was the same — that Secret Circle had reached his max distance. Because he won both times, you have to consider the possibility that he’s one of those horses who thinks his job is done when there are no more horses to pass.

Trainer Bob Baffert alluded to that mental malady this week.

“He keeps shutting it down too early,” Baffert said. “He kind of pulls himself up and throws out an anchor. We can fix that with competition …”

Chasing Secret Circle in both of his Arkansas races, Oaklawn-based trainers Mike Lauer and Lynn Whiting would prefer not to see any new faces on April 14. Already, qualifying their horses for the Kentucky Derby will be difficult. Lauer’s Scatman was third in the Rebel and the Whiting-trained Cyber Secret was fifth. The former has $100,000 in graded earnings; the latter only $24,282. A third-place check of $100,000 in the Arkansas Derby should suffice for Scatman; Cyber Secret will need to finish at least second and bank $200,000.

Lurking in the Arkansas Derby background is the fast filly On Fire Baby. On March 10, she won a stakes race at the same distance as the Rebel and recorded a speed figure seven points higher than Secret Circle. That performance rekindled speculation that she could take on the boys in the Arkansas Derby and maybe the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Gary Hartlage left the door open, pointing out that she has enough graded earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby and that she has won two races at Churchill Downs.

“I’ve been training horses around here for 25 years and the last horses I’ve seen that trained like her were Curlin and Rachel (Alexandra) and I know that’s saying something, but she’s just so flashy,” Hartlage said recently.

Curlin was Horse of the Year in 2008 and Rachel won the honor in 2009.

Hartlage can hedge On Fire Baby’s next race until the last minute. The draw for the Arkansas Derby is April 11, the same day as the Fantasy for 3-year-old fillies.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is