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.


Fountain of Youth

Today’s focus on the Derby Trail will be the Fountain of Youth from Gulfstream Park.Its a Kentucky Derby points race and a key race for Derby seeking 3YO’s. Post time is 6:09 ET and its race number 14, closing out of the day of a loaded Gulfstream card. It’s 8.5 furlongs, spelling trouble for horses on the far outside. Only 10 entrants today, so the bias won’t be so bad.

The race marks the return of Breeders” Cup Juvenile Champion Good Magic, which he won as a maiden.Trained by Chad Brown, he is the likely favorite and is more than capable of beating this field, especially with the scratch of Free Drop Billy. The risk, as always, is how he comes back from the layoff.

Strike Power is the second choice, having won the Swale and his maiden impressively. Stretching out is a question for this son of Speightstown, who has made his trade as a sprint sire. That might depress the price and create a bit of value in this horse.

The rest of the field has a few interesting horses. Storm Runner won a first-level allowance at Gulfstream, never an easy feat. He’s been running with a win over the track. He’s run a ton over this distance, including twice this year, suggesting he’s in condition.  It’s his second time over this surface. I dought he’ll be 15-1, but anywhere around 8-1 is worth a shot. Peppered is making his seasonal debut about a terrible effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. But before that, he finished second in the Grey. If he takes to the Gulfstream Dirt and improves off the layoff, he might offer some value at a small bet at 30-1.

Gotta Go finished second in the swale and has won at a mile (1 turn) at Churchill Downs. Anything past is a question, but he should be able to get today’s distance. A good performance makes him a contender for the win spot.

Analysis:  I left out horses with little chance, including the last out maiden winners entered straight in this stake.This is Good Magic’s race to lose. If he is on his game, he’ll win by open lengths. To try to beat him, both Strike Power and Storm Runner are decent options. I’ll be betting Storm Runner and hoping for a good price.



H. Allen Jerkens Stakes

Always fun to handicap a race type you don’t see that often. Here are some key points on the Jerkens, named for a great horseman:

  • We’ve got a 2-mile route on the Gulfstream Park turf course. Yes, I typed that right — 2 miles…a full 1/4 of a mile longer than the Marathon and the distance of the Belmont Gold Cup. We’re looking for a horse with stamina — and an easy lead could be carried a long way.  All the horses in the field except 2 are turf horses. The horses are El Kurdo and Infobedad. Heavy stamina tests are much more common on turf. And 2 miles is quite a stamina test. We really don’t know who is going to be able to do it, but we can use clues to help us get there (have they done it before?).
  • The race is relatively new, so it’s not graded, even though it was a purse of 100K. I’d treat it as a GIII — it drew a decent field.
  • The real test is the distance and trying to project the speed. Infinite Wisdom has dominated a 1 5/8 miles on the lead, although he’s recently been off form after that performance. He should enjoy the extra ground with the right trip.
  • Bullards Alley is coming out of the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf, where he earned a great speed figure. He’ll be the favorite as he brings his high turf speed. He ran great in the 2-mile Belmont Turf Cup. Showed great stamina in that race, and has to be the favorite here.
  • El Kurdo comes from Ecuador, where he’s been a consistent winner. But he was a bit slow on his state-side debut…enough so, that I’m going to pass on him on the turf try.
  • Infobedad is the only American dirt horse with distance experience. His last race was a 2nd in the GII Marathon. But he’s going dirt-to-turf and hasn’t exactly been interchangeable in the past. Still, he has the distance pedigree for this — certainly worth a look if he floats over 8-1.


Lots of turf horses in a quality field. If you are an expert at estimating distance, this is a race for you. For me, I’m going to stay away from the heavy favorite in Bullards Alley, and bank on Infinite Wisdom getting the lead and taking them all the way around. Hoping for 9/2 or better.

Good luck at the races!