Arkansas Derby Preview

VOL. 16 - NUMBER 5
Thursday 4/14/16


In 2015 the Arkansas Derby was a "final workout" for the 3-Year Old of the Century American Pharoah and as expected the payoffs were as short as they could be.
Now we move to a full and contentious field of 12 sophomores and it appears as though once again the Arkansas derby will return to its traditional scenario...which is big surprises, high win payoffs and healthy exotics.

The Grade 1 mile and an eighth Oaklawn Park feature is the final opportunity for Derby hopefuls to get qualifying points with all 12 entrants Triple Crown nominated.

Off his solid Rebel Stakes win here CUPID has been installed as the 2-1 ML favorite. Trainer Bob Baffert has often used the Arkansas derby as his final Kentucky Derby Prep.

That a Baffert horse should be established as the ML favorite is almost compulsory. Last year of course it was American Pharoah who was the sixth straight post-time favorite for Baffert in the Arkansas Derby. American Pharoah went off at 1-9 last year, Bayern finished third at 3-2 in 2014, War Academy did not finish the race at 9-5 in 2013, Bodemeister was the winner at 2-1 in 2012 and The Factor checked in seventh at 4-5 in 2011.

Can Cupid win this year's Arkansas Derby? Perhaps, but when Baffert doesn't command the race the prices are off-the-charts.

Between 2010 and 2014 we had winners like Danza (2014) $84.60, Archarcharch (2011) $52.40 and Line Of David (2010) $36.80. Over that 5 year period the Average Exacta payoff was $327.48 and the Average Trifecta payoff was $3,376.92.

And as good as Cupid is at this point in his career he is not yet American Pharoah, Bodemeister or arguably even Bayern. So how does the race shape up? Let's take a look.

DISCREETNESS (10-1) - The son of Discreet cat made it 4 of 6 lifetime when he opened his 3-year old campaign with a promising 9-1 triumph from just off the pace in the one mile Smarty Jones Stakes her in mid-January. In his last two, however, he was sluggish early in the Grade 3 Southwest and Grade 2 Rebel and never factored. He'll need a big form reversal to grab even a minor award on Saturday.

CUTACORNER (50-1) - The Jack Van Berg trainee was an allowance winner here January 21 but was 9th at 23-1 in the Southwest and 8th at 57-1 in the Rebel. He is one of just a few in here who look in too deep.

CREATOR (10-1) - The Steve Asmussen trained son of Tpit needed six starts to break his maiden but during that span was always competitive. After the Maiden breaker here he jumped right into the deep end in the Grade 2 Rebel and ran a solid rallying third behind Cupid and Whitmore who are signed on again on Saturday. His progress and breeding for 9 furlongs suggest further improvement and given how slowly Asmussen usually works his runner the 5 furlong breeze in 1:00 3/5 on April 4 speaks volumes. Could take another step forward.

SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (5-1) - The late running son of Mineshaft came from the clouds here to win the Southwest two back and in the Rebel was sent off the 2.7-1 favorite and after getting steadied at the 5/16ths pole regrouped for a mild rally inti 4th. The Donnie Von Hemel trainee has turned in a pair of sharp half mile drills since the Rebel and a return to the Southwest performance would not be a surprise.

AMERICAN PIONEER (8-1) - Trainer Wayne Catalano has won with 30% of his starters at the current Oaklawn meet and gets very adventuresome with this last out MSW winner. The son of Awesome Again will be making career start number three but was a length beaten second in his debut by Dazzling Gem, who will be going here following a good third in the Louisiana Derby in that one's last. The colt was ridden out in his maiden breaker here 4 weeks back and his 5 furlong and 7 furlong breezes heading in were strong. Rafael Bejarano will take the mount and with further improvement there is no telling how good he might be.

UNBRIDLED OUTLAW (10-1) - The Dale Romans trained son of Unbridled's Song is looking for career win number two in start number six. The colt exits an optional allowance/claiming second over the surface in his final prep but at least that good effort was against older runners. The breeding is there and under Corey Lanerie there should be the usual early pressing interest. This is another tough one to gauge.

DAZZLING GEM (12-1) - Another lightly raced contender the son of Misremembered joins the outside runner Gettysburg as the only two in the race who have run at the 9 furlong distance. The Brad Cox (25% at the meet) trainee pressed the pace and held on for third in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby despite being bumped at the quarter pole three weeks ago. This is just career start number 4 and the connections seem determined on getting the qualifying points for the Kentucky derby. Cox switches to west coast jock Joe Talamo and the colt crowds the contention pool.

WHITMORE (9-2) - The Pleasantly Perfect gelding enters her after a pair of strong runner-up performances in the Southwest and Rebel. Leading New York based rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. who took the reins for the first time in the Rebel returns and the Ron Moquett trainee has turned in solid pair of half mile breezes heading in. If he runs back to his previous two and gets in position in the lane could finish it all this time.

LUNA DE LOC (30-1) - The second of two Steve Asmussen trainees the son of Malibu Moon is a lightly raced Calumet colt who bounced back from a dreadful performance at 37-1 in the Southwest to claim his first allowance level laurels here in his most recent. The connections will give it one more try vs the big boys and have tabbed Joe Bravo to replace Ricardo Santana, who remains with Asmussen's other runner Creator. The colt would need to pick it up considerably to even grab a minor piece.

CUPID (2-1) - Bob Baffert's annual Arkansas Derby favorite made short work of the Rebel field as he shipped in from Southern California following his belated maiden breaker in career start number three in his prior. His sustained speed could be a strong asset in a race that doesn't have much of it but if the likes of Unbridled Outlaw, Dazzling gem and longshot Gray Sky to his outside mix it up0 with him it could set up for any number of the proven closers. The son of leading sire Tapit shipped back to his home base at Santa Anita following the Rebel and has turned in 3 strong drills since. Quick trips back and forth aren't always a plus but Baffert has done this often enough to overlook. He has earned his favoritism but as has been the case with Baffert's runners in this race he will definitely be a short priced underlay. Regular ride Martin Garcia remains.

GRAY SKY (30-1) - The longshot son guessed it, the ubiquitous still eligible for non-winners of two lifetime after eight starts. But he made a rush towards the leader (Cupid) from his outside 10 post in the Rebel and got within 1 ½ lengths of the Rebel wire-to-wire winner (who was comfortable from post 3 in that race) and though the colt once again draws outside he draws next to Cupid and might hook up with that one right out of the gate. He looks a bit outclassed but any time you get any angle with a Wayne Lukas longshot you should take a deeper look than you usually would at a 30-1 shot.

GETTYSBURG (6-1) - If it is a derby Prep we need a Todd Pletcher Triple crown nominee representative and this son of Pioneerof The Nile is the one. The colt is the second of only two runners to have gone 9 furlongs and he has done it twice, gaining his MSW win in wire-to-wire fashion at Gulfstream in January and when second in a minor Stakes race at Sunland Park 27 days ago. He had a covered trip from the rail in the Tampa bay Derby and was an even 5th as the 8-5 favorite behind the well regarded Destin and if he can get early position from just off the pace under John Velazquez who will replace Javier Castellano, who interestingly remains at Keeneland to ride Collected, who was the winner of the aforementioned Sunland Park minor Stakes race, in the Lexington Stakes for Bob Baffert.
It bears repeating that the Arkansas Derby is traditionally a solid value race for win and exotic bettors and things look the same in 2016.


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