Arkansas Derby

This week, we’ll return to Oaklawn Park for the jewel of the meet — the Grade I Arkansas Derby. With 100 points to the winner, we will have reached the end of the qualifying for the Kentucky Derby (The 20 point Grade III Lexington at Keeneland will be run a few hours earlier). 9 horses will go 9 furlongs; I’ll discuss 5, from the favorite to those with several others with a chance to win. The heavy favorite will be Magnum Moon, who won the Grade II Rebel by 3 1/2 lengths. Another of Todd Pletcher’s army of 3YO’s, Magnum Moon has run faster than any horse in the race and is currently 3 for 3 and undefeated. Like Derby favorite Justify, he didn’t run at 2, debuting blazing fast on January 13 at Gulfstream Park (although not as fast as Justify). This lack of experience is probably the biggest knock on Magnum Moon, who already defeated many of these rivals in the Rebel. But he’s a deserving favorite, who has already likely qualified for the Derby.

Trying to beat Magnum Moon again is the Bob Baffert-trained Solomini. He has a strong second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and crossed the line first in the Grade I Los Al Futurity (he was dq’ed and placed third). He was the favorite in the Rebel before being beat by Magnum Moon. He’ll need a step-forward speed-wise (or a decline from Magnum Moon) to win this race. Quip shows up after a dominant return at 19-1 in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby, beating Derby qualifier Flameaway in the process. He likely has already qualified for the Kentucky Derby and is a bit of a wildcard. He’s just about fast enough to win (again if Magnum Moon is off his game) and could show some value as an unknown off that huge upset win in Tampa. Combatant is another who finished behind Magnum Moon in the Rebel, but did so unexpectedly at 8-1 with only 1 win from 6 starts. He’s run fast in those starts despite not winning and his last two dry track starts are competitively fast. Like all of the beaten Rebel participants, this son of Scat Daddy will have to improve to find the winner’s circle. Finally is the inexperienced Tenfold, who is 2 for 2 after debuting in February at Oaklawn. This Steve Asmussen-trained son of Curlin has been impressive but would need to move forward significantly in his stakes debut. His M/L is 10-1 and may go off nearer to 15-1.

Analysis: This is Magnum Moon’s race to lose, but there’s no money to made betting him to win. He can be a strong single in a P4 or P3. Unless he’s off his game, he’s likely to best Solomini and Combatant once again. Tenfold rates a longshot chance and is worth a small bet at high win odds. Quip is the wildcard and has the best chance to win should Magnum Moon falter.


Kentucky Derby Contender Profile: American Pharoah

American Pharoah is the likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby off the strength of his stellar Oaklawn preps, which build upon the foundation of his Eclipse-award winning 2YO campaign. Here’s his road to the Kentucky Derby.

Debut Maiden Race

This was the key maiden race of the summer at Del Mar, featuring upset winner Om, American Pharoah, One Lucky Dane, Calculator, Iron Fist, and Daddy DT. It’s American Pharoah’s only career loss.

Despite still being a maiden, American Pharoah went off favored in the Del Mar Futurity, where he was sharp and ultra-impressive.

Frontrunner Stakes

Next was the Frontrunner, his first distance test at two turns. Passed authoritatively.

Rebel Stakes

An injury sidelined him from the Breeders’ Cup, but Baffert trained him aggressively through mid-winter for American Pharoah’s return in the Rebel at Oaklawn.

Arkansas Derby

He then faced a tougher field in the Arkansas Derby, although it still wasn’t the deepest field. No matter who he beat, he was electric and solidified status as the Kentucky Derby favorite.

American Pharoah has been sensational on the track, and is undefeated around two turns. He has a knack for opening up through the lane, something that bodes well for the stamina test that is the Kentucky Derby. He showed a new dimension in the Arkansas Derby, rating a bit off the lead, which he’ll likely want to do in Kentucky.

Finally, while the competition at Oaklawn was not the deepest, American Pharoah beat plenty of quality horses during his 2YO Southern California campaign. However, it’s worth noting that he may have benefited from being separated from Dortmund, a bonus of both horses sharing a trainer in Baffert.

Arkansas Derby (GI)

With the move of the Blue Grass, the Arkansas Derby has been left alone as the only major Derby prep three weeks out. This year’s edition is led by American Pharoah, who was ranked #2 in the rankings prior to the final preps. He’s been simply scintillating in his three stakes starts and overwhelms this field on speed. Here’s his never-in-doubt win in the Rebel:

He’s 1/2 on the morning line and, like Carpe Diem last week in the Blue Grass, is a fair bet for those willing to play dominating odds-on favorites.  He’s run three triple-digit Beyers in his career; no one else in field has run one. In addition, he’s proven over Oaklawn track with win in Rebel (was over wet track, however).

Far Right is likely to get some support. Outside of the Rebel (in which he sat out), the winter at Oaklawn has belonged to Far Right. Here’s his Smarty Jones:

And his Southwest Stakes:

Both visually impressive closes to be sure, but significantly slower than the races run by American Pharoah. The hope for Far Right’s supporters is a blistering pace, which would tire the front-running American Pharoah in the stretch. Yes, ir’s likely that the pace will be stronger than the Rebel, but it’s still far more unlikely that it would be so strong as to slow American Pharoah enough to permit the closing Far Right to catch him.

As for the others, Mr. Z had no real excuse in his last. He’s already peaked — he’s not fast enough to win here, and now he’s gone off-form. For those looking for a longer shot play, the lightly-raced Madefromlucky could very well move forward as he tries 9 furlongs for the second time. It would take substantial improvement, but that’s not impossible for any 3YO, especially a well-bred Pletcher-trainee this time of year. to give Todd Pletcher his third straight Arkansas Derby (2013, Overanalyze; 2014, Danza).

Also, don’t forget about the Lexington Stakes from Keeneland, which offers 10 qualifying points to the winner (the Arkansas Derby offers 100). Both Tiznow RJ and Divining Rod have points already, and with a win, may come close to qualifying for the Derby, if there are defections from the top 20.

Good luck and enjoy the races!