Two…that’s two…for the price of one. To borrow a phrase, ‘Double your pleasure, double your fun.’ There’s no Kentucky Derby Saturday--COVID 19 saw to that--instead we’ve got two versions of the Arkansas Derby—where 22 original entries necessitated a ‘split’ of the race into two divisions. It’s a unique opportunity to see if, on the first Saturday in May 2020, two derbies can ease the postponement pain of one.
While the racing world licks wounds over a delayed 2020 Kentucky Derby, trainer Bob Baffert licks chops at the prospect of winning both divisions of the Arkansas Derby—he’s got the favorite in each race which is worth $500k and a full rack of 170 Kentucky Derby starting points each.
For much of the winter, consensus lists of top Kentucky Derby prospects have included Tiz the Law and four or five alternating ‘Bafferts.’ Saturday, two of those ‘Bafferts’—Charlatan & Nadal—hope ‘Simon sez’ to take one giant step forward toward the Derby winner’s circle.
Here’s one man’s humble horse-by-horse opinion of each division of the Arkansas Derby, followed by suggested wagering strategies. Please note ‘Odds’ are compliments of Santa Anita Morning Line Maker and Xpressbet contributor Jon White.
Oaklawn Park—Race 11--Arkansas Derby Grade 1 (First Division)
1. Charlatan Baffert/M. Garcia 3/5
Two starts—six furlongs and one mile, two romping wins with triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures! This son of Speightstown hasn’t seen the hind end of a competitor yet. And he’s not likely to experience that Saturday, either. Drawn on the rail, expect jockey Martin Garcia to let Charlatan roll from the gate. There doesn’t appear to be much competing speed so they should be able to control the early pace. Charlatan is the fastest in here, is drawn well, has controlling early speed and is trained by one of the all-time greats. What’s not to like besides his extremely short price? He is by Speightstown and that sire is not especially known for producing distance runners, but there always are exceptions to the rule and this one seems ‘exceptional’ in many ways.
2. My Friends Beer O’Dwyer/D.Cannon 30-1
He’s often in the money, but a player would need to guzzle a lot of his friend’s beer to expect him to win.
3. Mo Mosa Maker/Carmouche 50-1
OK, in this case make it mimosas instead of your friend’s beer.
4. Gouverneur Morris Pletcher/Velazquez 5-1
He’s a bit of a puzzle to this handicapper. He ran well to win first out and to be second to a freakish Maxfield in the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. At three, he won a Tampa Bay allowance race at a very short price, where he was ridden hard from around mid-turn home. That led to an uninspiring fourth, five and one-quarter lengths behind division leader Tiz the Law. Everything considered, ‘The Gouv’ seems a grinder that needs to be asked for his best. He’d surprise me with a win, but he’s talented enough to hit the board. Don’t see much early speed in this race to help a grinder’s victory charge.
5. Jungle Runner Asmussen/T.Baze 50-1
Off some disappointing races it’s hard to imagine him as ‘King of this Jungle.’
6. Shooters Shoot Eurton/Talamo 12-1
This son of Competitive Edge has some early speed. Doubt if he’ll outrun 1-Charlatan early, but he should find a comfortable stalking spot into the first turn. He’s sharp, comes off back-to-back wins—a maiden score at Santa Anita and an allowance tally at Oaklawn, both at a mile. Three back, he was second to Charlatan in a six-furlong Santa Anita sprint, beaten nearly six lengths. He added a nice one minute five-furlong breeze for this. Don’t see him turning the tables on Charlatan, but an in-the-money finish is possible.
7. Wrecking Crew P.Miller/Prat 20-1
Following victory in a five-horse maiden race at Del Mar in July, this ridgeling son of Sky Kingdom has faced Grade 1 or Grade 2 foes, exclusively, in five starts. He’s managed a pair of seconds and a third in those races. His last two races have been poor, so he requires a real turnaround to be a factor in here.
8. Anneau d’Or Wright/J.J.Hernandez 8-1
Before the season, this horseplayer was high on this colt’s 3-year-old chances. Off a freshman year that included a Golden Gate mile turf romp and a pair of graded-stakes second-place finishes, the sky appeared to be the limit. In his first start at three, this son of Medaglia d’Oro laid a huge even-money egg in the Gr. 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. So, where are we now? Which Anneau d’Oro shows up Saturday? Will it be the one that finished second to champion Storm the Court in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then was beaten a mere head by Thousand Words in the Gr. 2 Los Alamitos Futurity, or will it be the colt that checked in ninth of 11 in the Risen Star? Since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hasn’t been a very productive race and Thousand Words hasn’t continued to improve, and since this fellow hasn’t done anything at three, we’ll have to make him beat us in here. Probably will use him in exotics as a ‘sanity’ play.
9. Winning Impression Stewart/Leparoux 20-1
If it rains Saturday, this guy’s chances might improve. He’s got two wins over ‘sloppy’ surfaces. Unfortunately, he was disqualified from his latest triumph for drifting in. He’ll need to advance from that performance, but he’s in reasonable form and a big price, especially if it rains. Maybe a lower rung exotic inhabitant.
10. Crypto Cash McPeek/Lanerie 30-1
Here’s a real confirmed closer who’s passed at least one foe in the stretch in four out of five races. There’s not an abundance of speed in this race and the Oaklawn surface doesn’t really favor late runners, but this guy could pick up some tired critters late to round out exotic positions. Note a nice :59 2/5 work at Keeneland two works back. Also, trainer McPeek has a knack for having horses hit at big prices.
11. Basin Asmussen/R.Santana 6-1
Thought this one was the goods last out in the Oaklawn Stakes at nearly 7/2. Boy, was I wrong! Basin broke from the rail, saved ground in fourth most of the way, was shuffled a bit and then had no answer late. Positively, he was relatively close to an early hot pace and didn’t completely pack it in through the stretch…but still. Add that performance to a well-beaten third in the Gr. 2 Rebel Stakes and I sense a possible developing sophomore trend: close but no cigar. At two, he won two of three races (was beaten a mere nose first out), including the Gr. 1 Hopeful Stakes over a ‘sloppy’ Saratoga strip. The stable’s top jock takes over and you can expect Basin to be closer to the early pace, but an in-the-money finish is the best we see.
One to Beat:
#1-Charlatan is strictly the one to beat. Because he will be such a short price to win, players must find another way to use him—perhaps as a ‘free bingo square’ in a multi-race wager, or as the first or second leg of a daily double or as the anchor in the leadoff spot of an exacta, trifecta or superfecta.
Should Run Well:
#4 Gouverneur Morris—He’s clearly the second fastest in here and hails from a barn that does historically well in these ‘Derby prep’ races. His grinding running style just doesn’t inspire much passion.
#8 Anneau d’Or—Threatened to be a good one at two. Is 0-for-1 in fulfilling that promise at three. Bounce back here with a good one?
#11 Basin—Another with much promise at two and not much fulfilling at three. His last was just fair.
$2 Trifecta ($24)
Second: #4, #8, #11
Third: #4, #8, #9, #10 #11
$.50 Trifecta ($15)
Second: #4, #8, #9, #10, #11
Third: #2, #3, #4, #8, #9, #10, #11
Oaklawn Park—Race 13—Arkansas Derby Grade 1 (Second Division)
1. Finnick the Fierce R.Hernandez/M.Garcia 30-1
This guy is a trier who almost shocked the world at nearly 88-1 when second behind Silver Prospector in the ‘sloppy’ 2019 GR. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. A troubled third in that race, a head back, was eventual Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law. ‘Finnick will be a big price in here and will need to do much better than he ever has before. If it rains, he moves up a bit.
2. Saratogian Brisset/Talamo 50-1
Not quite ‘Spa Season.’
3. Storm the Court Eurton/Prat 12-1
He’s the reigning 2-year-old champ but is zero for two starts at three. He was fourth in the Gr. 2 San Vicente behind winner #5 Nadal and third behind another Baffert player Authentic in the Gr. 2 San Felipe. Both of those races were decent tries and a bit better than his 2-year-old races. While the BC Juvenile has not produced any standouts this year, this guy has shown improvement. He’s a possible win candidate and a definite in-the-money use.
4. King Guillermo Avila/Camacho 4-1
He upset the applecart last out with a stunning, nearly five-length victory at 49-1 in the Gr. 2 Tampa Bay Derby. That effort came out of nowhere and is almost too good to be believed. Going into the Tampa Bay Derby he had one win and a third in the Pulpit Stakes on the Gulfstream turf. With just three previous races, all at age two, he was eligible to improve but his forward jump was quite dramatic and, according to Thoro-Graph figures, on par with Arkansas Derby first-division heavy-favorite Charlatan’s initial performance. King Guillermo is not likely to run that well again, but he may not need to. Expect him to be kept close to the early pace if not on the lead, however, he won’t gallop along early as easily as he did last time. He could be used a bit defensively, but brave players will take stands against him.
5. Nadal Baffert/J.Rosario 6/5
Unbeaten in three starts, this son of Blame is not flashy and doesn’t win races by wide margins. He’s got speed and, like most Baffert runners, probably will use it. #4 King Guillermo, another possible speed horse, is drawn inside him. Nadal will attempt to outrun him into the first turn. #11 Wells Bayou also ought to show some speed from the outside, but probably will have to go faster than he prefers to keep up with Nadal. What happens out of the gate and in the first quarter mile will reveal a lot about how they finish in this race. If Nadal is able to clear this field in a reasonably comfortable fashion, he will be difficult to beat. However, if #4 King Guillermo or #11 Wells Bayou pressure him early, things could get interesting late. Nadal’s a fighter and has overcome pace-pressure to win before, but this is a mile and one-eighth against a much deeper bunch. Nadal has been working well at Santa Anita for Baffert with three bullets—two at five and one at six furlongs—and he won his only start over this track—Gr. 2 Rebel-- in the slop last out. He’s the one to beat, but he’s nowhere near as dominant as barn-mate Charlatan is in the other division.
6. Code Runner Asmussen/Elliott 50-1
He’s actually only finished first once in eight races; he was moved up to first via disqualification in another win. He doesn’t seem quite fast enough but is sharp. Still, he’s difficult to like.
7. Silver Prospector Asmussen/R.Santana 6-1
The most experienced runner in the field with nine starts, this son of Declaration of War had a troubled trip last out in the Gr. 2 Rebel Stakes when sixth behind #5 Nadal. Before that he won three of his most recent six starts—a maiden, the Gr. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and the Gr. 3 Southwest Stakes. He has a sparkling bullet :59 flat work at Oaklawn for a Hall-of-Fame trainer not known to work horses fast. He usually comes from off the pace but doesn’t need to be far back in the field. He has one race out of nine that appears fast enough to win this, but three of his last four races have come over ‘off’ tracks. His best was over a ‘fast’ surface. Plus, his closing style could be effective if things get hot up front.
8. Fast Enough Beccera/T.Baze 20-1
This Cal-bred son of Eddington has made just three starts—two wins and a third. The show effort came last out in the seven-furlong Gr. 2 San Vicente Stakes, just two lengths behind favored #5 Nadal. His first start, a maiden state-bred score at Santa Anita going four and one-half furlongs, and the Cal Cup Derby at a mile and one-sixteenth are his two wins. He will need to improve off what he’s previously done, but he’s only had three races, so there’s upside. He’s been away from the races since Feb. 9.
9. Taishan Baltas/Cohen 15-1
Here’s an interesting runner that appears to be improving. He’s already had four starts at age three and comes back relatively quickly from a third-place finish in the ‘sloppy’ Oaklawn Stakes at a mile and one-eighth. Last out, he chased a hot early pace, made a sweeping early move to the lead and then faded to third nearly four lengths behind the winner and over three lengths behind runner-up #10 Farmington Road. That effort appears worse than it actually was. Taishan also has finished behind #7 Silver Prospector and #11 Wells Bayou. Those past performance lines will guarantee a decent price on this guy. He should be racing around fifth early, ahead of the deep closers and get first run at the leaders. Top jock Rosario departs for the mount on Nadal and replacement David Cohen knows his way around the Hot Springs oval. Taishan’s chances seem much better than the possibly 15-1 or more offered on the tote.
10. Farmington Road Pletcher/Castellano 8-1
He’s never taken a backward step, according to Thoro-Graph figures, and is ranked just a bit behind favored #5 Nadal. Last out, blinkers were added and he finished in front of #9 Taishan in the Oaklawn Stakes where the hot early pace there favored his closing kick. Will he enjoy the same advantage Saturday? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s one reason they call it gambling. He only has a maiden win to his credit, but was a closing fourth in the Gr. 2 Risen Star, also at a mile and one-eighth. He’s been a bit unlucky in recent post-position draws—10 of 11 two back, 12 of 13 last out and 10 of 11 here. His connections are impeccable and further improvement is not impossible. He’s a legitimate in-the-money player.
11. Wells Bayou B.Cox/Geroux 6-1
This winner of three of five starts last out enjoyed a perfect, front-running scamper over foes in the Louisiana Derby at a mile and three-sixteenths. Jockey Florent Geroux asked him for speed out of the gate and rated him expertly. This time things will be a bit different early. If Wells Bayou is to take control of this race early, he will need to outrun #5 Nadal and #4 King Guillermo and that won’t be easy. His last two races fit figure-wise but this pace scenario is not as attractive. #7 Silver Prospector was able to nail Wells Bayou near the finish of the GR. 3 Southwest Stakes two races back. Don’t like this one much on the ‘win’ end, but he has to be respected in exotics as he’s been first or second in four-out-of-five.
One to Beat:
#5 Nadal—early pace battle decides everything. If he makes a relatively easy lead, he will be tough. If he sits just off #4 King Guillermo, he should be able to overhaul that one. If #4 King Guillermo and #11 Wells Bayou force him to go too fast early, the race will set up for an off-the-pace type.
Should Run Well:
#9 Taishan—Could outrun his huge odds. It appeared that he couldn’t get a mile and one-eighth last out, but that may have been a result of an early move into a hot pace. At a big price it’s worth taking a chance on the latter being the case. He should get first run on the closers.
Others Worth Attention:
#3 Storm the Court –‘Gotta knock the reigning champ out to win the crown. He’s been on the ropes twice this year, but still is in there fighting. Respect.
#7 Silver Prospector—If the pace gets hot up front, he will be running late.
#10 Farmington Road—Another who will be closing at the end. He’s made steady improvement for a trainer who’s great at developing young horses.
#4 King Guillermo— If he repeats his last race, he wins. Don’t think he will do that, because it was a huge effort and the pace picture doesn’t favor him this time. On the other hand, he has the fastest last race in here, has had plenty of time to recover, and has had only four career starts—two of them on turf. Lots of questions.
#11 Wells Bayou—He will not enjoy a pace advantage like he did in the Louisiana Derby. If he can overcome that hurdle, he fits for an in-the-money spot.
$.50 Trifecta ($25) –Comfortable Pace
First: #4, #5
Second: #3, #4, #5, #7, #9, #11
Third: #3, #4, #5, #7, #9, #10, #11
$.50 Trifecta ($22.50)—Hot Pace
First: #7, #9, #10
Second: #5, #7, #9, #10
Third: #3, #4, #5, #7, #9, #10, #11
Great Luck. Stay Safe. Race On!