Hall of Fame trainer D Wayne Lukas…Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens…the legendary ownership of Calumet Farm…its safe to say if horses felt pressure, Oxbow would certainly be feeling it right now. On Saturday he’ll carry the banner of Hall of Fame connections into the Arkansas Derby. While the human connections will certainly garner a lot of attention, we shouldn’t forget about the horse. Oxbow has been as consistent as any Kentucky Derby prospect this year, never finishing worse than fourth in three preps. Poor post positions and wide trips hurt him in both the Risen Star and Rebel Stakes, but his second place finish in the latter of those two races secured him a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
In his last two races it could be argued that Oxbow moved too soon, so the change to Gary Stevens could add more than just sentimental value. The patients and experience of Stevens will be useful, although his post position did not improve as he drew the ten hole once again. Oxbow has faded in the stretch in two straight races, he’s bred to get just about any distance. With the breeding and racing experience on his side, Saturday could be his break out party.
Oxbow should go off as the favorite, but as always there will be a major threat coming from the West Coast out of the barn of Bob Baffert. Den’s Legacy runs for local Arkansas owners Westrock Stables, and will be returning to Arkansas for the second time as he finished a solid third in the Rebel Stakes last time out. He’s been described as a “lunch pale” horse by many, as he shows up and runs hard every single time. He’s never blown us away with overwhelming talent or speed, but with his breeding he should be able to outlast a lot of others that are on the Kentucky Derby Trail.
While Den’s Legacy is a proven commodity for Baffert, War Academy enters as the wild card. Last year Bodemeister entered this race with a lack of experience but a ton of raw ability, and left the field in the dust winning by 10 lengths before becoming the Kentucky Derby favorite. You can’t expect War Academy to produce that kind of performance, but he is entering the race with a ton of hype. HRTV personality Jeff Siegel has already said War Academy will be his Arkansas Derby pick, and believes he could be something special. He obviously deserves attention based on connections alone, but the class test will be a stiff one.
The Lukas runners have dominated the attention this meeting at Oaklawn, but there is one other three-year old horse that the local punters and even a few trainers are raving about. Texas Bling continues to grow and develop into a big time horse, and according to several locals his workouts have been fantastic. But wait there’s more good news for Texas Bling…Calvin Borel has signed on to ride. Borel has found himself without a Kentucky Derby mount very late in the game, but with a little luck this horse could be it. Texas Bling finished second to Will Take Charge in the Smarty Jones, and fourth to him in the Rebel Stakes. If he continues to improve, perhaps the winners circles will be filled with Texas orange this Saturday.
The Arkansas Derby will be broadcast on NBC Sports this Saturday, along with the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland. Both races are worth 100 Derby points to the winner.