The $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park is an important stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve. Since producing its first Kentucky Derby winner in 1983 with Sunny’s Halo, the 1 1/8-mile race has churned out half a dozen additional Kentucky Derby champs, including fan favorite Smarty Jones in 2004 and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015.
The 2023 Arkansas Derby is coming up on Saturday, and the 11-horse field contains several proven Road to the Kentucky Derby alumni. #6 Angel of Empire was a deep-closing winner of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Crescent City Ford at Fair Grounds. #7 Rocket Can battled to victory in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. #8 Reincarnate was narrowly the best against a strong field in Santa Anita’s Grade 3 Sham Stakes, and #10 Red Route One has recorded top-three finishes in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, and Grade 3 Southwest Stakes.
That’s a strong field, no doubt. But one of the most formidable Arkansas Derby entrants might be a horse making his stakes debut, #4 Two Eagles River.
Never out of the trifecta in five starts, Two Eagles River has held his own against tough rivals. It’s arguably unfair to peg him as inexperienced just because he hasn’t contested a stakes. The fact is, Two Eagles River already has faced and defeated stakes-caliber competition.
Consider a six-furlong allowance optional claimer contested at Churchill Downs last fall. Two Eagles River battled gamely down the homestretch to finish second by a neck against Victory Formation, who returned to win the Smarty Jones Stakes. Finishing 1 1/4 lengths behind Two Eagles River in third place was Lugan Knight, the next-out winner of the Jerome Stakes.
Then in January, Two Eagles River finished third in a one-mile allowance optional claimer at Oaklawn Park. The winner was Verifying, runner-up in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes last year.
Most recently, Two Eagles River stepped forward with a giant run in another one-mile allowance optional claimer at Oaklawn. After securing the early lead for the first time in his career, Two Eagles River bounded away down the homestretch to dominate by four lengths over Disarm, who returned to finish second in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby last week.
Clearly Two Eagles River is talented enough to compete on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. His victory over Disarm was particularly sharp, as Two Eagles River set a decent pace before finishing seriously fast, running his final two furlongs in :12.26 and :12.16.
Two Eagles River is progressing in the right direction for red-hot trainer Chris Hartman, who has won with 32% of his starters at Oaklawn this meet. One more step forward can place the son of Preakness winner Cloud Computing in the hunt for victory on Saturday.
Among the other key contenders, Reincarnate appears particularly strong. He led from start to finish in the Sham and counted among his beaten rivals next-out Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Newgate and the two-time Grade 1-placed National Treasure.
Reincarnate subsequently traveled to Oaklawn for the Rebel Stakes, where he ran into early trouble and dropped nearly a dozen lengths off the early pace. This was a complete and unprecedented change in running style for the normally speedy colt, but Reincanate handled the challenge with aplomb, rallying steadily and gaining a lot of ground down the homestretch to finish third by 2 1/2 lengths Assuming Reincarnate enjoys a clean trip in the Arkansas Derby, he can secure a position near the head of the pack and challenge for first prize.
One longshot worth supporting is #3 Harlocap. True, he faded after pressing the pace to finish sixth in the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds, but the Risen Star pace was fast, and late runners swept the top five finishing positions. Harlocap finished clearly best of the speed horses and may improve if he catches a slower pace on Saturday.
So how should we bet the Arkansas Derby? We’ll build exacta and trifecta tickets around Two Eagles River and Reincarnate, counting on one to win and the other to finish in the top three. We’ll also use Harlocap, Angel of Empire, and Red Route One.
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$10 exacta box: 4,8 ($20)
What to say at the betting window: Oaklawn Park, 12th race, $10 exacta box 4,8
Wagering Strategy on a $40 Budget
$8 exacta box: 4,8 ($16)
What to say at the betting window: Oaklawn Park, 12th race, $8 exacta box 4,8
$2 trifecta: 4,8 with 4,8 with 3,6,10 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Oaklawn Park, 12th race, $2 trifecta 4,8 with 4,8 with 3,6,10
$2 trifecta: 4,8 with 3,6,10 with 4,8 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Oaklawn Park, 12th race, $2 trifecta 4,8 with 3,6,10 with 4,8
Good luck, and enjoy the race!
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- Figure out how much each bet will cost in advance with our Gambling Calculator, presented by NYRA Bets.
Gary & Mary West Stables Inc.