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The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes winner Magnum Moon is back looking for another big win, as well as national recognition, in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby. The event has lured nine 3-year-olds to the entry box and will go off as the 11th on a 12-race program. Local post time for the race will be 6:18 PM CT on Oaklawn’s final day of the meet.
Magnum Moon drew post position six for the race and was named the 8-5 morning line favorite. The colt will look to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fifth win in the Arkansas Derby. Pletcher has dominated at Oaklawn Park recently, winning the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and the Grade 2 Rebel last year, and of course the Rebel again this year. Pletcher’s last Arkansas Derby win came in 2014 with 40-1 shot Danza.
The Rebel runner-up Solomini is also back for the Arkansas Derby and will break from post five. Flavien Prat will have the mount once again as the colt looks to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a third win in the race. His last win came in 2015 with a horse by the name of American Pharoah, the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown. Like American Pharoah, Solomini will wear the silks of Zayat Stables, who co-own the horse with the Coolmore trio of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith.
The Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip also comes to Oaklawn Park for the race after scratching last weekend from the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes. The Rodolphe Brisset trainee won the Tampa Bay Derby over Flameaway, a horse that came back to finish second in the Blue Grass last weekend. He drew post eight and seems likely to improve with this being his second race off of the layoff.
Trainer Steve Asmussen will have three starters in this year’s races, including the consistent Combatant. He’s finished on the board in four straight Kentucky Derby prep races but has yet to break though with a win. Owner Winchell Thoroughbreds’ racing manger David Fiske hopes that things will be different this weekend.
“I think he’s been a little disadvantaged, just with the pace scenarios and his placement in the starting gate,” Fiske said. “I think the circumstances have kind of conspired against him, going all the way back to the race at Remington (the Springboard Mile) last fall.”
The complete field for the 2018 Arkansas Derby from the rail out: Beautiful Shot, Machismo, Tenfold, Dream Baby Dream, Solomini, Magnum Moon, Plainsman, Quip, and Combatant.
#6 Magnum Moon – Let’s not forget about Magnum Moon! Justify has overshadowed him as “the horse that can break the curse of Apollo,” but Magnum Moon could be very capable of doing that as well. In just his third lifetime race (like Justify), Magnum Moon won a Kentucky Derby prep race (the Rebel). He wasn’t quite as brilliant as Justify and earned a 97 Beyer speed figure compared to Justify’s 107, but this is a very capable horse that could continue to improve with more racing. He’s very fascinating this weekend and could stamp himself as one of the top few betting choices in the Kentucky Derby with a win. As long as he doesn’t regress, he should pick up a win here, but with any regression at all, he’ll be hard pressed to beat the likes of Solomini.
#5 Solomini – This is a hard-trying colt that brings it every time. Even Baffert admits that the horse is not going to “wow” you, but you have to run well to beat him. He’s hit the board in every single race of his career and has been asked to run in some very tough spots. He was pinned inside for most of the Rebel and never really had a chance to make up much ground once Magnum Moon got the jump on him. He still battled on well to finish second ahead of Combatant. He should run better here with this being his second race off the layoff, and hopefully he gets a little cleaner trip. If Magnum Moon regresses, then this will be the horse that beats him.
#8 Quip – He pulled off a big upset last out in the Tampa Bay Derby at odds of 19-1, stalking the pace before holding off Flameaway by a length. His only career loss came in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, where he got a very poor trip. From a speed figure standpoint, he needs to grow, but he’s steadily improving with each race, and it’s logical that he’ll run his best race ever here. It also flatters him that Flameaway came back to finish second in the Blue Grass last weekend. He’s the logical choice if you want to play against the two big favorites in this race.
#9 Combatant – I’ve called him this year’s version of Lookin At Lee so many times that it’s starting to get old. That’s the best way to describe him, though, as he’s hit the board in the Springboard Mile, the $150,000 Smarty Jones, the Southwest, and the Rebel, but has never been a threat to win any of those. How can we expect anything but more of the same here? He’ll come with a run, as he is an honest, hard-trying horse, but hitting the board seems to be his ceiling.
#3 Tenfold – This colt is on the improve for Asmussen, but now, he must face big-time horses in just his third lifetime start. Is he ready for a challenge like this? From a speed figure standpoint, he has some improving to do. No matter which figures you look at, he’ss behind horses like Magnum Moon, Solomini, and Quip, but with a moderate amount of improvement, he could be right there with them. His allowance victory over Navistar was fairly impressive last time out over this track, and Victor Espinoza has signed on to ride. He is a logical alternative to the “Big 4” in this race.
#4 Dream Baby Dream – He certainly improved in his last race to finish second in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, but that doesn’t erase what has been an average Oaklawn meet for him. He’s finished third in three allowance races and wasn’t really ever a threat in any of them. He needs to prove thay he can win at Oaklawn, and this competition will be the toughest that he’s faced yet.
#1 Beautiful Shot – Trainer Keith Desormeaux will take one last shot with him after a non-effort in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes last time out. In his two career graded stakes starts, he’s failed to show up with much of an effort, but he will be making his second start off the layoff here. Perhaps we will see improvement, but I’m not sure if it will be enough.
#2 Machismo – This might be the craziest entry of all time. Machismo wheels back just seven days after running last weekend in the Blue Grass where he finished last, beaten by over 20 lengths. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he makes an impact here.
#7 Plainsman – He broke his maiden at Oaklawn Park in January but has since failed in three straight allowance attempts. It’s interesting that his connections are taking a shot with him in this race, but perhaps the added distance will help. He still seems to be a longshot.
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