Using History to Handicap the 2019 Arkansas Derby

Gambling
Horses break from the gate in the 2018 Arkansas Derby. (Coady Photography)

The last major prep race on the Road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is the $1 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 13 at Oaklawn Park, an event best known in recent years for producing 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

If you’re planning on betting the Arkansas Derby, studying the last ten renewals of the race could be worth your time. Using history as a guide can help identify trends and tendencies to aid your handicapping, allowing you to sort through the contenders and determine which ones best fit the historical profile of a typical Arkansas Derby winner.

So without further ado, let’s dig in and take a look at the data….

Any Running Style Can Win

No particular running style boasts a distinct advantage in the Arkansas Derby. The last ten years have seen three gate-to-wire winners, but also four winners who rallied from the back half of the field. Naturally, the pace is a factor in determining which running style is most likely to prevail; Magnum Moon won on the front end last year, but did so while setting by far the slowest pace in the last ten editions of the Arkansas Derby.

Year

Winner

Position after first 1/2-mile

½-mile & ¾-mile times

2018

Magnum Moon

1st by 0.5 lengths (9 starters)

48.60, 1:13.39 (fast)

2017

Classic Empire

7th by 2.5 lengths (12 starters)

46.92, 1:11.16 (fast)

2016

Creator

12th by 14.25 lengths (12 starters)

46.33, 1:10.61 (fast)

2015

American Pharoah

2nd by 3 lengths (8 starters)

45.99, 1:10.54 (fast)

2014

Danza

4th by 2 lengths (8 starters)

47.71, 1:12.29 (fast)

2013

Overanalyze

7th by 3.5 lengths (10 starters)

47.64, 1:12.57 (fast)

2012

Bodemeister

1st by 1.5 lengths (11 starters)

46.55, 1:11.36 (fast)

2011

Archarcharch

9th by 6.25 lengths (13 starters)

46.53, 1:11.22 (fast)

2010

Line of David

1st by 3.5 lengths (9 starters)

46.26, 1:10.75 (fast)

2009

Papa Clem

5th by 3.5 lengths (10 starters)

46.19, 1:11.15 (fast)

Don’t Be Afraid to Bet Longshots

Creator at 11.60-1. Danza at 41.30-1. Archarcharch at 25.20-1, and Line of David at 17.30-1. Double-digits winners have been just as common as victorious favorites in the last ten renewals of the Arkansas Derby, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box if you’re against the favorite. Also noteworthy? Eight of the 20 horses to finish second or third in the Arkansas Derby since 2009 did so at double-digit odds.

Bob Baffert Isn’t Unbeatable

The Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has a reputation for being nearly unstoppable with his Oaklawn Park shippers, but although he’s won two of the last ten editions of the Arkansas Derby, that doesn’t mean that his runners are necessarily unbeatable. Seven other Baffert runners have been defeated in the Arkansas Derby since 2009, including Solomini (third at 2.80-1 in 2018), Cupid (tenth as the 0.80-1 favorite in 2016), Bayern (third as the 1.60-1 favorite in 2014), War Academy (did not finish as the 1.90-1 favorite in 2013), and The Factor (seventh as the 0.80-1 favorite in 2011).

Out-of-State Shippers Frequently Win

Somewhat surprisingly, only four of the last ten editions of the Arkansas Derby have been won by horses coming out of a race at Oaklawn Park. Classic Empire and Danza prepped at Gulfstream Park, Bodemeister and Line of David prepped at Santa Anita Park, Overanalyze came out of a race at Aqueduct, and Papa Clem wrapped up his preparations at Fair Grounds.

The remaining four winners – Magnum Moon, Creator, American Pharoah, and Archarcharch – all used the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn as a springboard to the Arkansas Derby, though notably, Magnum Moon and American Pharoah were based in other states and shipped in to Oaklawn for both races, leaving Creator and Archarcharch as the only true Oaklawn-based Arkansas Derby winners over the last ten years.

A Last-Out Victory Isn’t Critical

It shouldn’t be surprising given the number of recent upsets in the Arkansas Derby, but only three of the last ten winners (Magnum Moon, American Pharoah, and Line of David) entered the race off of a victory. The other seven were all beaten in their prep run, though six of them did finish in the top three. The one exception was Overanalyze, who won the Arkansas Derby after finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct six weeks prior.

Country House (Lauren King/Coglianese Photo)

Conclusions

Recent history suggests that the Arkansas Derby isn’t a particularly “trendy” race; the main takeaway is that you shouldn’t be afraid to play against the favorite (and against Bob Baffert) if there’s a longshot you like.

Granted, there’s no strong reason to play against such well-regarded Arkansas Derby contenders as Improbable, Long Range Toddy, and Omaha Beach – they all won or placed in the two divisions of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn last month, and chances are strong that one of them will prevail.

But if you want to carefully follow the narrow trends of history, why not consider Country House? Trained by Bill Mott, this late-running colt finished fourth in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds three weeks ago, and he figures to start at double-digit odds, making him a perfect match for every trend outlined above. At the very least, Country House (who did well to finish second in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford two starts back) could be a live longshot to include in the Arkansas Derby exacta or trifecta.

Good luck, and enjoy the race!

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