Racing Festival of the South: Grade 1 Arkansas Derby Preview

CUPID - The Rebel Gr II - 56th Running - 03-19-16 - R10 - OP - Credit Coady Photography
Coady Photography

The Pace Scenario

Speed – Discreetness, Unbridled Outlaw, Cupid

Stalkers – Cutacorner, American Pioneer, Dazzling Gem, Gray Sky, Gettysburg

Closers – Creator, Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, Luna de Loco

The key to the race from a pace standpoint will come down to the tactics of Discreetness and Unbridled Outlaw.  Both have shown signs of speed, but both have also sat off the speed as well.  If one of them or one of the normal stalking types decide to go it could give trouble to Cupid from the 10 hole.  However, if they let Cupid get clear going into the first turn it could be very hard to make up much ground on him.  It’s a riders race…tactics will determine the pace.


#1 Discreetness – Things have definitely gone wrong since his win in the Smarty Jones Stakes. He has had back to back non efforts, and I don’t think him drawing the rail is going to help matters here. He has been taken back to make one run in his last two starts which didn’t turn out well so perhaps he will change tactics here and go for the lead. Don’t think it will matter much.

#2 Cutacorner – Might as well take a shot, but just doesn’t seem to be good enough to get the job done against this class level. Will have to run his best race ever by a wide margin.

#3 Creator – I’ve labeled this horse as one of my sleepers for the Kentucky Derby so obviously I expect him to run a very solid race in this spot. Last time out in the Rebel Stakes he was dead last on the backside, and rallied to finish a solid third while gobbling up the ground. Trainer Steve Asmussen has mentioned that they’d like to try to get him more involved in the race early which is a good idea, and if he can finish with the same sort of kick while doing that he would be very tough to beat. Wanted to pick him on top but just couldn’t do it. Dangerous…

#4 Suddenbreakingnews – It’s a now or never moment for him in the Arkansas Derby. His turn of foot is huge as we saw in the Southwest Stakes, and he was getting ready to uncoil that run of his again in the Rebel Stakes before running into traffic trouble. With his running style that is always likely to happen so that is the worry once again in a large field. He’s good enough to get it done, but is going to need a perfect ride.

#5 American Pioneer – Can his talent overcome his complete lack of experience? He broke his maiden on Rebel Stakes day in only his second lifetime start so this is going to be a tall task today. You could argue that his maiden win was the most impressive of the meet though, and you have to love the fact Bejarano has come in to ride. He’s the wildcard of the race.

#6 Unbridled Outlaw – Ran better than I thought he would in his 2016 debut against older horses so there is some cause for optimism. He’s got some back class that makes him a logical contender here, but at the same time I’m just not sure he’s up to this level. Especially with this being his second race off of the layoff. Maybe one to look at next time out.

#7 Dazzling Gem – He was my pick to win the Louisiana Derby, and even though he didn’t run badly he was still a little disappointing when he was a non-threatening third to Gun Runner. He had missed some training leading up to the race which could explain the average effort, or perhaps he’s just not up to this level. We’ll find out more this Saturday.

#8 Whitmore – Has done nothing wrong in his two runner-up efforts in stakes races at Oaklawn Park this meet…just has had some tough luck. Suddenbreakingnews came from nowhere to beat him in the Southwest, and then Cupid was able to hold off a huge move from Whitmore in the Rebel Stakes. His critics will say that he is becoming a hanger, but I very much disagree. Without a late decision by Baffert to send Cupid to the Rebel Stakes Whitmore would have won the race and would be a heavy favorite in this spot. I don’t know if he can turn the tables on Cupid here, but expect him to run another good race.

#9 Luna de Loco – Call me crazy but I still like this horse quite a bit. Followed up a really bad Southwest Stakes effort with a nice allowance win so now he’s back against the big boys in this one. He’s going to have to run much better, but perhaps the experience he’s gained will help out in this race. To me he’s still developing and this might be too steep for him, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him hit he board.

#10 Cupid – It’s not Oaklawn Park, it’s Baffert Park and I believe he gets the job done here once again with Cupid. The outside draw is a little worrisome for Cupid, but he probably has enough speed to get into a good position going into the first turn. He’s shown he can go wire to wire or sit off the speed and win so that will be a big benefit to him breaking from the outside. I just don’t see enough factors changing for him in the Arkansas Derby for his rivals to turn the tables. Chalk up another victory at Oaklawn Park for Bob Baffert.

#11 Gray Sky – You can never count out The Coach…but Gray Sky winning would certainly be a big surprise. He hasn’t been bad in really any of his career starts, but he lacks a closing punch that is needed to get the job done at this level. Will most likely be around at the top of the stretch, but can’t see him hanging around at the end.

#12 Gettysburg – 6-1 morning line on this horse?? That’s insane as he’s coming off of a second place effort to Collected in the Sunland Festival of Racing Stakes. Collected came to Oaklawn for the Southwest Stakes and didn’t run well, so you would think Gettysburg would be closer to 15-1. The Pletcher factor makes this horse at least noticeable, but I’d be shocked if he wins.

Bubble Watch

Who is already in: Cupid is the only horse in the race that has a starting gate position locked up for the Kentucky Derby.

Who is on the bubble: The stakes couldn’t be higher.  Creator, Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, Discreetness, and Dazzling Gem look to be in a good spot if they finish in the top three.  Anything lower than that and they could be in trouble.

Who really needs to win: Cutacorner, American Pioneer, Unbridled Outlaw, Luna de Loco, Gray Sky, and Gettysburg all need first or second place finishes to make their way into the Kentukcy Derby starting gate.

Top Picks and Betting Strategy

It’s all about Cupid here for me.  I’ll place a win wager on him as well as single him on top as I just don’t see many factors that lead me to believe they can turn the tables on him.  Underneath I like a bunch of horses: Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, Creator, Dazzling Gem, and American Pioneer.  I’ll play trifecta’s with them underneath and maybe one small one with Creator on top.  I’ll also bet a small across the board wager on Creator as I believe he is the improving horse in the race.  Good luck and have fun on Arkansas Derby Day!

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