Derby Day in Arkansas

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To horse racing fans, the first Saturday in May means one thing — Derby Day! Women in spring dresses wearing stylish hats, men in pastel colored coats and bow ties.

Not this year. At least not at Churchill Downs.

The home of the Kentucky Derby is currently shut down awaiting approval to start their spring meet, and the Kentucky Derby has been postponed until Sept. 5.

Oaklawn Park will fill the void on Saturday. The track moved the Grade I $750,000 Arkansas Derby from April 11 to May 2 after Churchill’s postponement.

There were 22 horses initially entered for the Arkansas Derby and Oaklawn president Lou Cella made the decision to split the Arkansas Derby into two $500,000 divisions.

Uncertainty rules horse racing industry

Churchill agreed to retain the original 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for each division, which means the top four finishers in each race will earn points on a 100-40-20-10 sliding scale.

A fever will force Shooters Shoot to scratch from the first division, while a shin injury to Fast Enough was discovered Tuesday morning before shipping from California, so he will be scratched from the second division. That leaves two fields of 10 for the Arkansas Derby. As usual, trainer Bob Baffert figures to have a big say in both divisions.

The first division goes as Race 11 and appears to have come up much softer than the second division. Undefeated Charlatan would have been excluded if the Arkansas Derby had not been split, as starting preferences are based on career earnings.

The Baffert trainee has earned $67,200 winning his first two career starts at Santa Anita, earning lofty 105 and 106 Beyer Speed Figures in the process. He is the only entrant in either division of the Arkansas Derby with triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures. 

A lack of seasoning, shipping for the first time, and ability to get the nine furlong trip are the big question marks for those trying to beat him. That may be easier said than done, however.

Gouveneur Morris was a non-threatening fourth in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, but his off-the-pace style may have been compromised by a soft early pace that day and he figures to get a much better pace scenario. 

Looking for a possible upsetter? Anneau d’Or was beaten just a head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November, but he failed to fire in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his three-year-old debut. The blinkers that went on that day come right back off Saturday, and horses seem to love or hate the Fair Grounds main track. Safe to say, it appears he hated it.

The second division of the Arkansas Derby goes as Race 13 and drew the Baffert-trained Rebel Stakes winner Nadal, Tampa Bay Derby winner King Guillermo, Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm the Court.

Nadal has only made three starts, but he is battle-tested after surviving pace duels to win the San Vicente Stakes and the Rebel. He has shown the ability to relax in subsequent morning workouts and is the one to beat. 

King Guillermo, owned by former Cleveland Indians catcher Victor Martinez, jumped into the Kentucky Derby picture posting a 49-1 upset in the Tampa Bay Derby. That was his first dirt win, but the way he ran away from the field suggests he may have found his calling on dirt. If he repeats or improves on that last win, he could be the biggest threat.

Wells Bayou was handed the Louisiana Derby on a silver platter when allowed to make an easy lead. That same trip is extremely doubtful, while Storm the Court chased home Nadal and another highly-regarded Baffert three-year-old in Authentic in his two sophomore starts in So Cal.

Upsetter? Silver Prospector ran poorly in the Rebel over a sloppy track, but his fast track win in the Southwest Stakes puts him in the hunt. He could rebound at a price.

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Oaklawn, Friday Race 9 – Venetian Harbor (No. 2). Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and champion two-year-old filly British Idiom is the headliner in Friday’s Fantasy Stakes, but So Cal invader Venetian Harbor is the one to beat.

Trained by Richard Baltas, Venetian Harbor was being pointed to the Kentucky Oaks, but that race has been postponed to Sept 4. She shipped early to Oaklawn, has two works over the track, and could simply give them the slip.

About the Author

Jon Lindo

Jon Lindo is a syndicated handicapper, long-time thoroughbred owner, and publisher of the Lindo Report. Jon is also a regular contributor to Race Day Las Vegas Radio show on KSHP 1400 in Las Vegas and Thoroughbred Los Angeles Radio show, heard in Las Vegas at thoroughbredla.com.

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