Using History to Handicap the 2021 Arkansas Derby

Gambling
Omaha Beach defeats Improbable in the 2019 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Road to the Kentucky Derby winds down on Saturday with the running of the $1 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Held over 1 1/8 miles, the historic race boasts an impressive roster of winners highlight by champions and/or classic winners American Pharoah, Creator, Curlin, Lawyer Ron, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Victory Gallop, and more.

If you’re planning to bet the Arkansas Derby, reviewing the recent history of the race is worth your time. Identifying historical trends and tendencies can be a big handicapping help, allowing you to sort through the contenders and determine which ones best match the profile of a typical Arkansas Derby winner.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s dig in and start handicapping!

Please note: For the purposes of historical handicapping data, we will consider Charlatan to be the winner of the Arkansas Derby’s first division in 2020. Although Charlatan was eventually disqualified due to a medication violation, this did not change the betting payoffs, and Charlatan was the horse bettors needed to play in order to cash winning tickets. Therefore, from a strictly handicapping/betting standpoint, historical data pertaining to Charlatan is more relevant than data involving the upgraded winner, Basin.

Favor pacesetters and speed horses

While it’s not impossible for late runners to win the Arkansas Derby, it’s much more common for speed horses to hold the advantage. Nine of the last 15 Arkansas Derby winners (60%) were racing first, second, or third after the opening half mile, including each of the last four winners. Furthermore, only two of the last 15 Arkansas Derby winners (13%) settled more than 3 ½ lengths off the pace after the opening half mile, so deep closers – the kind without any tactical speed – tend to be at a disadvantage.

Year

Winner

Position after first 1/2 mile

½-mile & ¾-mile times

2020 #1

Charlatan (later disqualified)

1st by 2 lengths (9 starters)

46.08, 1:09.68 (fast)

2020 #2

Nadal

2nd by 0.5 lengths (9 starters)

46.21, 1:09.85 (fast)

2019

Omaha Beach

1st by 0.5 lengths (11 starters)

47.50, 1:12.46 (sloppy)

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)

2008

Gayego

2nd by 0.5 lengths (13 starters)

46.61, 1:11.09 (fast)

2007

Curlin

3rd by 3 lengths (9 starters)

47.89, 1:12.64 (fast)

Favorites have been on a roll

You have to go back to 2016 to find the last time a favorite failed to cross the wire first in the Arkansas Derby, with Classic Empire (1.90-1), Magnum Moon (4-5), Omaha Beach (1.70-1), Nadal (9-10), and Charlatan (2-5) all generating short-priced win payoffs. All told, favorites have crossed the wire first in 12 of the last 18 editions of the Arkansas Derby, a success rate of 67%.

Double-digit longshots succeed more often than mid-range longshots

If you want to oppose the Arkansas Derby favorite, you’re better off thinking outside the box than betting the second or third wagering choice. Over the last dozen years, four double-digit longshots have visited the Arkansas Derby winner’s circle: Creator (11.60-1 in 2016), Danza (41.30-1 in 2014), Archarcharch (25.20-1 in 2011), and Line of David (17.30-1 in 2010). During the same timeframe, only two non-favored runners have prevailed at single-digit odds, so “go big or go home” seems to be the right strategy when playing longshots.

Be sure to bet Bob Baffert

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won the Arkansas Derby three times since 2012, saddling Bodemeister, American Pharoah, and Nadal to blowout victories. Baffert also saddled the above-mentioned Charlatan, so for betting purposes, Baffert trainees have prevailed in four of the last 10 editions of the Arkansas Derby.

Indeed, if we count Charlatan’s performance as a victory for bettors, then Baffert’s Arkansas Derby record since 2012 stands at an impressive 10-4-2-2. That’s 40% winners and 80% in-the-money finishers, including a 1-2 finish from Bodemeister and Secret Circle in 2012. If you’re excluding Baffert trainees from your exactas and trifectas, you’re missing out on winning tickets more often than not.

Out-of-state shippers frequently prevail

Horses based outside of Arkansas have enjoyed much stronger success in the Arkansas Derby than local runners. Since 2010, Creator and Archarcharch have been the only Oaklawn-based runners to reach the Arkansas Derby winner’s circle, with runners based in California and Florida generally dominating the proceedings.

That said, it’s not uncommon for out-of-state shippers to use Oaklawn’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes as their final prep for the Arkansas Derby. Indeed, five of the last seven horses to cross the wire first in the Arkansas Derby exited the Rebel, with Nadal, Omaha Beach, Magnum Moon, and American Pharoah all winning both races.

Favor sons of top-class, long-winded stallions

The data is clear: 11 of the last 15 Arkansas Derby winners were sired by stallions who won at least one Grade 1 race running one mile or farther. Elite class and two-turn stamina are essential traits for winning the Arkansas Derby, and stallions who demonstrated these tendencies themselves are the most likely to sire winners of Oaklawn’s signature race.

Concert Tour (Coady Photography)

Conclusions

If recent history is any indication, Concert Tour is going to be very difficult to defeat in the 2021 Arkansas Derby. After all, Concert Tour a perfect match for the typical profile of an Arkansas Derby champion:

  • He has plenty of speed – he’s set or tracked the pace in all three of his starts.
  • He’s bound to be favored in the wagering.
  • He’s trained by Bob Baffert.
  • He’s based in California.
  • He enters off a runaway victory in the Rebel.
  • He’s a son of Street Sense, who won the 2007 Kentucky Derby.

Any way you slice it, Concert Tour is a historical standout in the Arkansas Derby, and we’re eager to bet him on top of all our tickets.

Good luck, and enjoy the race!

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