2019 Arkansas Derby Cheat Sheet

Racing
California-based Kentucky Derby contenders Improbable, Galilean, and Omaha Beach (left to right) are scheduled to start in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. (Eclipse Sportswire/Coady Photography/Eclipse Sportswire)

Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park is the last prep race for the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and thus offers the final chance for horses to accrue qualifying points for the 145th run for the roses.

The Arkansas Derby offers Kentucky Derby points distributed to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale, and a top-two finish virtually guarantees a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate on May 4.

The 1 1/8-mile race has been won this century by luminaries such as Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin, and American Pharoah, and this year’s renewal is similar to past editions in that it has attracted Kentucky Derby hopefuls from all around the U.S.

A competitive field of 11 is entered in the Arkansas Derby, which will be televised during a one-hour broadcast by NBCSN, airing from 7-8 p.m. ET. Post time is set for 7:43 p.m. ET.

Read on to get to know the entire field, presented in post-position order and with morning-line odds.


Eclipse Sportswire

1. Improbable (8-5)

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Starlight Racing

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $419,520

Earnings per start: $104,880

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: City Zip – Rare Event, by A.P. Indy

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A fixture on any list of top Kentucky Derby contenders over the past six months, this talented colt suddenly finds himself needing a top-three finish on Saturday in order to stay in the Derby discussion. He earned 10 qualifying Derby points in late December when romping in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, but then did not race for three months when Santa Anita Park’s winter meet fell into disarray. Trainer Bob Baffert shipped Improbable to Oaklawn to run in the first division of the split Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 16, and he nearly extended his career unbeaten streak to four only to be caught by Long Range Toddy at the wire, earning 15 more points. Improbable raced wide throughout, breaking from the far outside post, and the ground loss along with his time off may have cost him a victory. Improbable adds blinkers for the Arkansas Derby and draws the rail this time. Look for new rider Jose Ortiz to save as much ground as possible Saturday, sitting off projected leaders Gray Attempt, Omaha Beach, and Galilean into the far turn before angling out two- or three-wide to mount a challenge. Hall of Famer Baffert has won the Arkansas Derby twice – with Bodemeister in 2012 and eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015. Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm, co-owner of Improbable, won the 2016 Arkansas Derby with Creator.


Coady Photography

2. Six Shooter (30-1)

Jockey: David Cohen

Trainer: Paul Holthus

Owners: Dundalk 5, N P H Stable, and Wes Herek

Career record: 10 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $168,850

Earnings per start: $16,885

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 100

Pedigree: Trappe Shot – Academy Road, by Lemon Drop Kid

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This locally-based runner has put forth consistent efforts in most of his 10 starts to date without ever showing that he’s a graded stakes-winning caliber racehorse. Aside from a rough-trip 11th-place finish in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes, he’s never finished worse than fourth, but his only stakes win came in a 7 ½-furlong stakes at Delta Downs against a field that contained no Kentucky Derby trail horses. In each of his most recent starts – all in Oaklawn Park stakes – he’s made up ground in the stretch to grab a minor share, finishing a good fourth in the Smarty Jones Stakes, a less impressive fourth in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, and then a tepid third in the six-furlong Gazebo Stakes. He’ll be facing the toughest field in his career by far in the Arkansas Derby, and grinding past a few tired horses in the stretch to finish fourth or fifth appears to be his ceiling once again. Jockey David Cohen, leading the current Oaklawn meet in wins as of April 10, is seeking his first Arkansas Derby victory.


Eclipse Sportswire

3. Omaha Beach (2-1)

Jockey: Mike Smith

Trainer: Richard Mandella

Owner: Fox Hill Farms

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $521,800

Earnings per start: $86,967

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Pedigree: War Front – Charming, by Seeking the Gold

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After flying under the radar over much of the winter, this well-bred California-based colt stepped up in his first stakes try last month and turned back a champion, vaulting to claim a spot near the top of many Kentucky Derby watch lists. Shipping to Oaklawn for the second division of the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes on March 16, Omaha Beach tracked the early lead in third, took over after a half-mile, opened up in early stretch, and gamely refuted a challenge from Game Winner (the 2018 champion 2-year-old male making his first 3-year-old start) to win by a nose. That impressive performance only netted Omaha Beach 37.5 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, however, which places him 19th on the leaderboard heading into the Arkansas Derby and in the final spot among North American horses. He’ll need to at least finish fourth on Saturday to secure a safe spot in the May 4 starting gate at Churchill Downs, which would move him up to somewhere around 15th on the leaderboard depending on the other Arkansas Derby finishers. While Game Winner will not be returning to Oaklawn (instead finishing second in the April 6 Santa Anita Derby to Roadster), the top three finishers from the other division of the Rebel Stakes will be present in Long Range Toddy, Improbable, and Galilean. Saturday’s loaded Arkansas Derby is a big challenge for this colt, who after all will only be making his second career stakes start, but he’s been training lights out in California for Hall of Famer Richard Mandella and will also have another Hall of Famer on hand to boost his chances in jockey Mike Smith. Look for Smith to employ similar riding tactics to the Rebel on Saturday, sitting just off Gray Attempt and perhaps Galilean through the first turn before making a midrace bid for the lead. Smith won the 2008 Arkansas Derby with Gayego and the 2012 renewal with Bodemeister.


Coady Photography

4. Tikhvin Flew (30-1)

Jockey: Tyler Baze

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owners: Bloom Racing Stable and Madaket Stables

Career record: 3 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $58,400

Earnings per start: $19,467

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 95

Pedigree: Street Sense – Chatique, by Deputy Minister

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The first of four Arkansas Derby entrants trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen did not make his first start until Jan. 4, winning his seven-furlong debut at Aqueduct impressively by 1 ¾ lengths. He remained at Aqueduct for his next two starts to date, running third in the listed Jimmy Winkfield Stakes behind probable Kentucky Derby starter Haikal and then losing again to that foe when a distant fifth in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at a one-turn mile on March 9. He ships to Arkansas and will be stretching out to two turns for the first time in his career against a tough field. Tikhvin Flew should be one of the longest shots come post time in the Arkansas Derby and will have to improve mightily to be a factor. He does have a decent stamina pedigree, with an Epsom Derby winner a member of his female family, and has posted three workouts on Oaklawn’s track since arriving in Hot Springs. Asmussen has won the Arkansas Derby three times, with Private Emblem (2002), eventual Preakness Stakes winner and Horse of the Year Curlin (2007), and eventual Belmont Stakes winner Creator (2016).


Coady Photography

5. Laughing Fox (20-1)

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owners: Alex and JoAnn Lieblong

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $108,518

Earnings per start: $21,704

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Pedigree: Union Rags – Saskawea, by Stormy Atlantic

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After going unplaced in both of his 2-year-old starts last year, this Steve Asmussen-trained son of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags won twice at Oaklawn early in the meet at 1 1/16 miles, setting him up for a start in the second division of the Rebel Stakes on March 16. Sent off at 9.20-1 odds – the third betting choice behind Game Winner and Omaha Beach – he was pinched back at the start and made no impression thereafter, finishing seventh by 12 ¼ lengths. He’s eligible to improve in his second stakes attempt and, if he enjoys a better trip, he has an outsider’s chance to hit the board with a late rally. He’ll have to finish first or second, though, to earn enough Kentucky Derby qualifying points to make the May 4 classic – a distant prospect. Ricardo Santana Jr. has finished the last six meets at Oaklawn Park atop the jockey standings in wins and ranks second in that category for the current meet as of April 10, and first in earnings. He won the 2016 Arkansas Derby aboard Creator.


Coady Photography

6. Gray Attempt (8-1)

Jockey: Stewart Elliott

Trainer: William Fires

Owner: Dwight Pruett

Career record: 6 starts – 4 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $261,366

Earnings per start: $43,561

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 107

Pedigree: Graydar – Attempt to Name, by Consolidator

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Getting off to a good start will be crucial for this three-time stakes winner to have any chance at hitting the exacta Saturday, a result he’ll need in order to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Gray Attempt is a dedicated speed horse who has led at every point of call in all four of his wins, ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. He successfully handled two turns earlier this year in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, earning 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, but then faded badly to finish last of 11 after encountering early trouble in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. He suffered a minor injury in that race, and rebounded to win the six-furlong Gazebo Stakes on March 23, controlling the pace throughout. His one-dimensional running style figures to be put to the test in an Arkansas Derby that also contains more-accomplished speed horses such as Omaha Beach, Improbable, and Galilean. Trainer Jinks Fires won the 2011 Arkansas Derby with Archarcharch, and jockey Stewart Elliott was aboard one of the greatest Arkansas Derby winners in history, Smarty Jones in 2004. Fires spoke with America’s Best Racing correspondent Tom Pedulla this week about Gray Attempt’s chances in the Arkansas Derby.


Coady Photography

7. Galilean (10-1)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Jerry Hollendorfer

Owners: West Point Thoroughbreds, Denise Barker, and William Sandbrook

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $336,000

Earnings per start: $67,200

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Fresia, by El Prado

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This California-bred colt ventured outside of his home state for the first time last month after winning three stakes restricted to state-breds. Moving up in competition, Galilean shipped to Oaklawn to contest the first division of the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes. He pressed the early pace through the first half-mile, made a bid for the lead through the turn and into early stretch, and then tired to finish third behind Long Range Toddy and Improbable. He’ll face that pair again in the Arkansas Derby, along with the formidable Omaha Beach and an additional sixteenth of a mile of ground. On the positive side, he’s bred for longer distances and he should benefit from having a start on Oaklawn’s track. And he retains a top jockey in Flavien Prat, who finished third in last year’s Arkansas Derby aboard Solomini. He should be forwardly placed once again in this year’s renewal but will have to step up his game to defeat the above-mentioned trio. With 7.5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, Galilean needs to finish either first or second Saturday to move on to Louisville.


Leslie Martin/Coglianese photo

8. Country House (12-1)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owners: Mrs. J. V. Shields, E. J. M. McFadden Jr., and LNJ Foxwoods

Career record: 5 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $160,175

Earnings per start: $32,035

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 94

Pedigree: Lookin At Lucky – Quake Lake, by War Chant

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Having not quite lived up to expectations in his first two graded stakes tries at Fair Grounds, this colt from Hall of Famer Bill Mott’s barn ships to Arkansas for one more try at earning Kentucky Derby points. He arrives with a total of 30 points – 20 of them earned when second in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, and 10 earned in his most recent start, a fourth-place finish in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. That means Country House will need to finish in the top three, and preferably first or second, in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, and the good news is that there should be an honest pace to set up his late run. The bad news is, his best Equibase Speed Figure to date is about 15 points lower than what will be needed to hit the board against the likes of Omaha Beach, Improbable, and Long Range Toddy. For a closer, Country House hasn’t exactly shown an electric turn of foot, and he’s also prone to slow starts. But he’s definitely worthy of consideration as a trifecta or superfecta filler – especially with one of the best finishing jockeys, Joel Rosario, assigned to ride – and if everything breaks his way he could sneak into the exacta in a tough renewal of the Arkansas Derby. 


9. One Flew South (50-1)

Jockey: Calvin Borel

Trainer: Doug O’Neill

Owner: Zedan Racing Stables

Career record: 2 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $14,100

Earnings per start: $7,050

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 89

Pedigree: Giant’s Causeway – Sky Haven, by Sky Mesa

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This son of the late elite sire Giant’s Causeway is deservedly pegged as the longest shot on the morning line for Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, which will only be his third career start. He won on debut last November in a six-furlong race on Turfway Park’s synthetic track, leading from start to finish, but then faded after pressing the pace in the 1 1/16-mile Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park on Feb. 24, finishing a well-beaten fifth. He then returned to two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill’s home base in California before shipping to Oaklawn and posting two maintenance workouts on the track. This colt appears to be way overmatched against Arkansas Derby opponents such as Omaha Beach, Improbable, and Galilean, all of whom share the same forwardly placed running style but are much faster and more accomplished. Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel is well-known for his ability to coax incredible races out of longshots, and he won the 1993 Arkansas Derby with 108-1 shot Rockamundo. He’ll need to recapture that magic and then some in Saturday’s renewal to have any chance of sending this colt on to Louisville.


Coady Photography

10. Jersey Agenda (30-1)

Jockey: Ramon Vazquez

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Charles Fipke

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $142,567

Earnings per start: $28,513

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 97

Pedigree: Jersey Town – Risky Agenda, by Dynaformer

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Charles Fipke homebred showed promising early potential in his first three starts, finishing a close second and then winning twice before being moved up in class to start in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes and in the second division of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. He disappointed in both races, finishing eighth in the Southwest after an eventful early trip and then a well-beaten fifth in the Rebel’s second heat in which Omaha Beach and Game Winner were more than eight lengths clear of the rest. The long-range potential remains high for Jersey Agenda, but he profiles as more of a miler based on pedigree and will be hard pressed to make an impact in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby against several horses that share his same running style but have simply proven to be better at this point in his career. Ramon Vazquez ranks third in both wins and earnings among jockeys at the current Oaklawn meet.


Coady Photography

11. Long Range Toddy (5-1)

Jockey: Jon Court

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Willis Horton Racing

Career record: 7 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $851,125

Earnings per start: $121,589

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: Take Charge Indy – Pleasant Song, by Unbridled’s Song

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: One of the most consistent racehorses of his crop, Long Range Toddy earns the distinction of being the only starter in the Arkansas Derby that does not need to finish 1-2 to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. He’s tallied Derby points in four consecutive races, all quality starts – first in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes in December (10 points), second by a neck in the Smarty Jones Stakes to Gray Attempt (4), third in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes (2) and then first by a neck over Improbable in the first division of the Rebel Stakes (37.5). The Arkansas Derby therefore should serve primarily as a tune-up for Long Range Toddy’s trip to Louisville, and his outside post position and stalking running style should give him an advantage in a race that could have a hot early pace given the presence of Gray Attempt, Omaha Beach, Improbable, and Galilean. He is a must-use on all Arkansas Derby exotic tickets even if the pressure’s off, and carries the “local horse” banner high for nine-time leading Oaklawn trainer Steve Asmussen. Jon Court won this race in consecutive years with Line of David in 2010 and Archarcharch in 2011. The veteran rider recently shared his thoughts about this year's road to the Kentucky Derby with ABR correspondent Tom Pedulla.

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