After a series of qualifying stakes that stretches back to September, the final prep of them all, the $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, brought down the curtain on the chase for spots in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and left one horse standing tall as a clear-cut favorite for the May 1 opening leg of the Triple Crown.
Only that horse was not in Arkansas for the April 10 finale.
When a speed duel between 3-10 favorite Concert Tour and Caddo River set the stage for 12-1 shot Super Stock to win the Arkansas Derby, it also pretty much insured that Godolphin's unbeaten 2-year-old champion Essential Quality, the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner, will be the favorite for the Run for the Roses.
"Essential Quality is undefeated and he's earned the role of favorite for the Kentucky Derby," said Brad Cox, who trains Essential Quality and Shortleaf Stable's Caddo River.
Favorites, of course, do not always finish first and the Arkansas Derby continued a dominant theme in the eight all-important 170-point preps. Essential Quality, who tops the Leaderboard with 140 points, was the only favorite from that group of races to walk away with a victory.
Gary and Mary West's homebred Concert Tour could have given Essential Quality a run for his money in the betting pools on the first Saturday in May had he added the Arkansas Derby to his 3-for-3 record for two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert, but contesting a hot pace caught up with the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes winner as he finished third, beaten by a little more than 2 1/2 lengths.
"He's there and just got tired there at the end. He's a young horse," said Baffert, who also sent out Hozier who finished sixth and last after a runner-up effort in the Rebel. "It was a good race, but I was more disappointed in my other horse in the race. (Hozier), he got tired early. Those things happen. You get beat and try to figure it out. They're still young and they're still having these races. Sometimes, you learn more from a loss than a win. Right now, he got beat. I can't make any excuses for him right now."
Everything worked out perfectly for Super Stock, a son of Dialed In owned by Erv Woolsey and Keith Asmussen, the father of winning Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Benefitting from a contested pace and the conditioning from a fourth-place finish behind Concert Tour in his 3-year-old debut, the March 13 Rebel Stakes, Super Stock proved best in the final furlong as he swept past the tiring leaders and pulled away to a 2 1/2-length victory for his second win in eight career starts.
"It is a truly blessed moment to have this sort of success with this horse," said Steve Asmussen, whose son, Keith, rode Super Stock in his first three starts and was aboard for the colt's maiden win. "To have my mom and dad here, you think about all he has done for the family already, and now to win the Arkansas Derby on such a beautiful day. God is great."
Super Stock, who was third in both the very first Kentucky Derby prep, the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford and the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity, scooped up 100 qualifying points for his victory and vaulted from 31st on Saturday morning to third by nightfall with 109 points.
"We never, ever imagined in our wildest dreams that we would be able to compete in racing at this level," said Marilyn Asmussen, the wife of co-owner Keith Asmussen and Steve's mother. "To see your son successful at what he's chosen to do in life, there's no bigger reward for a parent than that. This will be embedded in our hearts forever."
Caddo River was awarded 40 points for edging Concert Tour by a head for second and moved up the ladder from 30th to 13th with 50 points. Cox said he would huddle with owner John Ed Anthony before deciding whether to point the son of Hard Spun toward the Kentucky Derby or the May 15 Grade 1 Preakness Stakes.
"He set a very fast pace and he got passed in the stretch by Concert Tour but then battled back to get second in a very good effort," Cox said.
Concert Tour already had a spot locked up in the Kentucky Derby field thanks to 50 points from his Rebel win, but even though he moved up two spots to ninth with 70 points, he lost some stature in suffering his first loss in four career starts.
In the Rebel, it was Concert Tour who grabbed the early lead and Caddo River who chased before tiring to fifth.
But in Saturday's rematch it was Caddo River and Florent Geroux, who set the quick early fractions of :22.62 and :46.51 with Concert Tour and Joel Rosario pressing the pace in a field of six.
Though the son of Street Sense poked a head in front at the eighth pole, neither he nor Caddo River could fend off the late bid of Super Stock and Ricardo Santana Jr. in the 3-year-olds' first try at nine furlongs.
"(Tactically, it set up) perfectly," Asmussen said.
Get Her Number was fourth to gain 10 points but is well removed from the bubble for the 20-horse field at No. 26 with 20 points.
Hozier also has 20 points and is right behind in 27th.
Barring any defections, Sainthood is now 20th on the Leaderboard with 40 points.
Super Stock and Santana were third or fourth much of the way before launching his winning rally in the final furlong that propelled him across the finish line in 1:50.92 and triggered a $26.40 win price.
Bred by Pedro Gonzalez and P. J. Gonzalez, Super Stock is out of the Closing Argument mare Super Girlie. Of her five foals to race, four are winners and he is the first graded stakes winner. She also has a weanling colt by Mendelssohn.
The half brother to the grade 1 placed Bouje Girl was purchased by his owners for $70,000 from the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Saturday's win pushed his earnings well past that figure to $804,762.