Hot Springs, Ark. (Friday, April 15, 2016) – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert bids for his third victory in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) when he sends out 2-1 program favorite Cupid in the 1 1/8-mile race Saturday at Oaklawn.
The Arkansas Derby, the country’s final major prep for the May 7 Kentucky Derby, headline Oaklawn’s 12-race closing-day program. Probable post time for the Arkansas Derby, the 11th race, is 6:18 p.m. (Central). First post is 12:35 p.m.
Three other stakes races are on Saturday’s card – the $150,000 Instant Racing for 3-year-old fillies, $150,000 Northern Spur for 3-year-olds and $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses. The infield is scheduled to be open Saturday, with only a 5 percent chance of rain and temperatures near 70 degrees at post time, according to weather.com.
The Arkansas Derby offers 170 points to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, including 100 to the winner.
Cupid returns from his Southern California base after winning the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby, the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 19. Baffert won the Rebel and Arkansas Derby last year with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and the 2012 Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister.
Asked if Baffert has the horse to beat – again – trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said, “I think so.”
“Replace the name here,” Von Hemel said with a laugh.
Cupid is scheduled to break from post 10 under Martin Garcia and carry equal top weight of 122 pounds.
Whitmore, runner-up behind Suddenbreakingnews in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15 and Cupid in the Rebel, is the 9-2 second choice in the program for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the return call on Whitmore, who is scheduled to break from post 8 and carry 118 pounds. He looked like a winner approaching the sixteenth pole in the Southwest before being caught by 2 ¾-length last-to-first winner Suddenbreakingnews (trained by Von Hemel).
The Rebel was a similar story. Cupid was a front-running 1 ¼-length winner after turning back Whitmore’s challenge approaching the sixteenth pole.
Moquett said a “good trip and good performance” are the ingredients necessary to turn the tables Saturday.
“I think the horse that wins this race will run the best race of his life,” Moquett said. “There’s about seven, eight horses that can win it and stamp their ticket.”
Suddenbreakingnews, the early 5-1 third choice, won the Southwest from post 13 and finished fifth in the Rebel after breaking from the extreme outside (post 14). The Mineshaft gelding drew better for the Arkansas Derby (post 4), said Von Hemel, who has given the call again to Luis Quinonez.
Von Hemel said. Suddenbreakingnews will carry 122 pounds.
Suddenbreakingnews may be closer to the pace Saturday, Von Hemel said.
“Could be,” Von Hemel said. “I think he has some versatility.”
The Arkansas Derby field from the rail out: Discreetness, Jon Court to ride, 122 pounds; Cutacorner, Alex Birzer, 118; Creator, Ricardo Santana Jr., 118; Suddenbreakingnews, Luis Quinonez, 122; American Pioneer, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Unbridled Outlaw, Corey Lanerie, 118; Dazzling Gem, Joe Talamo, 118; Whitmore, Irad Ortiz Jr., 118; Luna de Loco, Joe Bravo, 118; Cupid, Martin Garcia, 122; Gray Sky, Ramon Vazquez, 118; and Gettysburg, John Velazquez, 118.
Dazzling Gem (12-1) won his first two career starts at Oaklawn before missing the Rebel with a foot abscess. Trainer Brad Cox wheels back the lightly raced Misremembered colt following a third-place finish in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 26 at Fair Grounds. He earned 20 points for finishing third in the Louisiana Derby, which awarded 100 to the winner.
“He’ll be the only horse to run in a 100-point race twice,” said Cox, who trains Dazzling Gem for prominent Arkansas automobile dealer Steve Landers. “That’s a good thing. I guess maybe looking at it, top three, he’s going to be a Derby horse. If not, we’ll look at other things.”
Late-running Creator finished third, beaten three lengths, in the Rebel for six-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen.
Gettysburg (6-1) will try to give Todd Pletcher his fifth Arkansas Derby victory since 2000. In his last start, he finished second in the $415,000 Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes March 20 at Sunland Park. The winner, Collected, finished fourth behind Suddenbreakingnews in the Southwest.
Discreetness (20-1) won the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18, Oaklawn’s first of three major preps for the Arkansas Derby. Court and his father-in-law, trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs, teamed to win the 2011 Arkansas Derby with Archarcharch.