Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
Another Triple Crown trail filled with twists and turns winds down on Saturday with the running of the last major Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep race.
The Arkansas Derby, with a purse of $1 million, closes out the preps that award 100 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series and just might showcase another leading candidate or two for the Triple Crown.
A year ago, 2-year-old champion Classic Empire won the Arkansas Derby and later in the spring he finished second in the Preakness. Beyond that, Lookin At Lee, who was third behind Classic Empire in Oaklawn Park’s Grade 1 prep, was second in the Kentucky Derby.
Their successes came on the heels of the Arkansas Derby producing such stars as 2016 Belmont Stakes winner Creator, 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and 2007 Preakness winner and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.
Whether there’s another future champion in the field remains to be seen, but for now, let’s focus on the trends in the last 11 years that can hopefully point out a winner in Arkansas’ definitive Derby prep.
Classic Empire exited the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, making him the only horse in the 11-year span to use that race as a springboard to victory in the Arkansas Derby.
That left the Rebel at Oaklawn Park as the key prep for the Arkansas Derby, with four winners in 11 years.
Horses who last raced at Santa Anita won on three occasions, twice in the San Felipe and once in an allowance race.
Gulfstream Park now has two wins, with an allowance race producing the other winner, and the Gotham at Aqueduct and Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds have one apiece.
In the 11-year sample, trainers Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, and Steve Asmussen have each won the Arkansas Derby twice.
Classic Empire, the betting favorite, continued the trend of polar opposites in the odds of the winning horse. The 2016 2-year-old champ made it five winning favorites as opposed to four who were 11-1 or higher. Two of them went off at 25-1 and 41-1, with the longest of the two being Danza, the 2014 winner who was trained by, believe it or not, Pletcher.
Current form plays an important role in the outcome as horses who finished first, second, or third in their last race have recorded a combined 10 wins. Of those 10, three won their last race, three were second and four were third.
As for running styles, there’s been a good mix. Two of the 11 were front-running winners (Bodemeister in 2012 and Line of David in 2010) and two more were second after the opening half-mile, and five of the 11 have been third or better after a half-mile.
Two deep closers have been victorious since 2007. Creator, who was 12th after a half-mile, prevailed in 2016, and Archarcharch rallied from ninth in 2011.
And with that, it’s the end of the road … to the Derby in 2018.