HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) _ The morning-line is a good barometer of the competitiveness of the 11 3-year-olds in Saturday's $500,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

The favorite is Louisiana Derby winner Crypto Star, and he's a tepid 3-1. Three others are 9-2 or less. Phantom On Tour, who finally lived up to trainer Lynn Whiting's expectations with a victory in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn three weeks ago, is 4-1. So is Pacificbounty, who won the Golden Gate Derby in January and the El Camino Real Derby in March.

The 9-2 fourth choice is Stop Watch, beaten a head by Crypto Star in Louisiana.

Others with intriguing credentials are Direct Hit, Deputy Commander and Zede. Direct Hit, in his first race around two turns, led for a long time in the Rebel before Phantom On Tour went by him. Deputy Commander won a maiden race at Santa Anita in mid-March, but the time was fast and veteran jockey Eddie Delahoussaye gushed about his credentials. Zede has excellent connections _ owner Allen Paulson, trainer Bill Mott and jockey Jerry Bailey _ and won the Tampa Bay Derby in his last start.

Under the allowance conditions of the 1 1/8-mile race, Crypto Star, Phantom On Tour, Direct Hit, Pacificbounty, Zede and Brave Act will carry 122 pounds each. The others will carry 118.

Asked if Crypto Star should be favored, trainer Wayne Catalano said, ``very much so.'' He said the son of Cryptoclearance should have won his last four starts. He won a maiden race by 3 1/2 lengths and an allowance race by 10 and then finished second behind Open Forum in the Risen Star Stakes. Catalano pointed out that Open Forum got away with a dawdling half mile in 49 seconds and had something left for the stretch run. Despite the slow pace and being five wide, Crypto Star closed ground and only lost by a length.

He was 14 lengths behind in the Louisiana Derby, but still managed to catch Smoke Glacken. A half mile in 45 3-5 and six furlongs in 1:10 1-5 provided the perfect backdrop for Crypto Star's closing kick.

``He's not a push-button horse,'' Catalano said. ``You have to get him going.''

Catalano also said the presence of jockey Pat Day is a big plus. Day, who rode Crypto Star in the Louisiana Derby, could have ridden Ordway in the Wood Memorial. Day won 12 riding titles at Oaklawn before leaving the area a couple years ago.

W. Cal Partee purchased Phantom On Tour as a 2-year-old in Florida, just as he did 1992 Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee. Phantom On Tour was all out to win his first start of the year by a neck and then failed to threaten Smoke Glacken in the one-mile Southwest.

Whiting removed blinkers for the Rebel and the colt responded. Larry Melancon will ride.

Dean Greenman said his father, Walter, decided to get Pacificbounty out of California because he did not think the surface at Santa Anita would be conducive to the colt's late kick. He was 13 lengths off the pace at Golden Gate and six lengths off the leader at Bay Meadows.

``He will come home flying,'' Greenman said.

The Arkansas Derby is one of three major Kentucky Derby preps on Saturday. The others are the Wood Memorial and the Blue Grass.

Grindstone, second in the 1996 Arkansas Derby, won the Kentucky Derby three weeks later.