2023 Arkansas Derby Cheat Sheet: Get to Know the Horses

Arkansas Derby, Bourbon Bash, Interlock Empire, Harlocap, Two Eagles River, Airtime, Angel of Empire, Rocket Can, Reincarnate, King Russell, Red Route One, Kolomio, Cheat Sheet
The field breaks from the starting gate in a division of the Arkansas Derby run in 2020 at Oaklawn Park. (Coady Photography)

Saturday’s $1.25 million, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park is the cornerstone event at the Hot Springs, Ark., track and an important prep race for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, offering a total of 200 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers distributed on a 100-40-30-20-10 scale.

This century, the 1 1/8-mile race has been a proving ground for several horses that went on to make history in the Triple Crown series, led by Horse of the Year American Pharoah in 2015, who dominated at Oaklawn before sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

Other notable horses to come out of the Arkansas Derby and shine on the sport’s biggest stage include Creator (2016 Belmont Stakes winner); Curlin (2007 Preakness Stakes winner, Belmont Stakes runner-up, champion 3-year-old male, Horse of the Year); Afleet Alex (2005 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes winner, champion 3-year-old male); and Smarty Jones (2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, Belmont Stakes runner-up, champion 3-year-old male). Overall, the Arkansas Derby has produced seven Kentucky Derby winners – read about some of them in this article.

The 87th Arkansas Derby will anchor a great day of racing in Hot Springs that also includes the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and two other stakes races. The feature race drew a competitive 11-horse field and is a good betting race, with the top four contenders pegged at morning-line odds between 5-2 and 9-2. The Arkansas Derby has a scheduled post time of 7:50 p.m. ET and will be televised live on FS2 and FanDuel TV.

Read on to learn about all of the Arkansas Derby contenders.

Coady Photography

1. Bourbon Bash (15-1 morning-line odds)

Jockey: Reylu Gutierrez

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: BC Stables

Career record: 9 starts – 1 win – 3 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $189,900

Earnings per start: $21,100

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 95

Kentucky Derby points: 5

Pedigree: City of Light – Buy Sell Hold, by Violence

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas brings Bourbon Bash back for another try in a Kentucky Derby prep after the colt finished fifth of 11 in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 25. Sent off at 77.40-1 – the longest shot in the field – Bourbon Bash was bothered on the first turn of the Rebel but recovered and made a rally to threaten in early stretch, only to veer out and cause trouble for Reincarnate and then fade in the final sixteenth of a mile. The son of Grade 1 winner City of Light earned a career-best Equibase Speed Figure of 95 in the Rebel, which followed a pair of solid races at Oaklawn, where he finished third in the six-furlong Renaissance Stakes Dec. 31 (behind runner-up and Arkansas Derby entrant Two Eagles River) and then second after contesting the pace in a one-mile allowance-optional claimer on Feb. 4. Bourbon Bash has kept good company throughout his nine-race career – he earned his only win to date last summer at Saratoga – and Lukas has tabbed talented young rider Reylu Gutierrez, who just won the jockey title at Fair Grounds’ meet, to pilot the colt for the first time Saturday. All that being said, this contender from the family of Grade 1-winning sprinters Volatile and Lady Tak will have to finish first or second in the Arkansas Derby in order to gain a firm position on the Kentucky Derby Top 20 leaderboard, and that will be a difficult task as he’s only raced around two turns three times in his career and tired each time. Reylu Gutierrez was on Barber Road for a second-place finish in last year’s Arkansas Derby. “Coach” Lukas has two Arkansas Derby wins on his Hall of Fame résumé, with the filly Althea in 1984 and then with eventual Preakness Stakes winner Tank’s Prospect in 1985, and his filly Secret Oath finished third behind Cyberknife and Barber Road as the favorite last year.

Coady Photography

2. Interlock Empire (20-1)

Jockey: David Cabrera

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Owner: Lucky Seven Stable

Career record: 4 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $64,313

Earnings per start: $16,078

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 87

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Classic Empire – Curlabella, by Curlin

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Interlock Empire enters the Arkansas Derby off of a maiden victory in a two-turn, one-mile race at Oaklawn on March 11. He overcame a slow start to make a sustained move into contention through the far turn and then kick clear in the stretch to score by a widening five lengths. He was a 17.70-1 longshot in that race and should be higher odds against a far tougher field in this Grade 1 test, and Interlock Empire will be matched up against several other horses with the same late-running style who have stakes experience, such as Angel of Empire and Red Route One. Interlock Empire did not make his first start until Dec. 31, 2022, and he’s shown absolutely no early speed through his first four starts. He would need to make a huge leap in ability plus gain the benefit of a fast pace Saturday in order to finish fifth or better and earn some Kentucky Derby points. Although his Equibase Speed Figures have ticked upward in all four of his starts, his best number is around 15-20 points below the historical standard for winning this race. 

Eclipse Sportswire

3. Harlocap (15-1)

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owners: Harlo Stables Corp. and Villa Rosa Farm

Career record: 4 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $71,600

Earnings per start: $17,900

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 97

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Justify – Mezkina, by Bodemeister

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen hopes the second time is the charm for this son of 2018 Triple Crown Justify, who disappointed in his first start for Asmussen after gaining notice with three good races under Bob Baffert’s direction in California. Harlocap was sent to the Central Time Zone and to Asmussen by owners Harlo Stables and Villa Rosa Farm so he could compete for Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford at Fair Grounds on Feb. 18. He contested the early pace in the 1 1/8-mile Risen Star, took a brief lead heading into the far turn, and remained in contention heading into the homestretch, but he tired late to finish sixth of 14, 9 ½ lengths behind winner Angel of Empire. Harlocap earned a 82 Equibase Speed Figure in the Risen Star, which dropped a troubling 15 points from the 97 he earned when winning a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Santa Anita Park on Jan. 22. This colt has put in a couple of solid workouts at Fair Grounds since the Risen Star for Asmussen and the Arkansas Derby field did not draw many speed horses. That being said, the pace in the Risen Star was not fast and Harlocap seemingly had little excuse to tire as badly as he did in the late stages. John Velazquez rode this colt for all four of his prior races but chooses Reincarnate for the Rebel. Look for new jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. to gain a forward position with Harlocap heading into the first turn, as the other potential speed horses are all drawn to this contender’s outside. A comeback effort from this relative to Grade 1-winning router Pioneerof the Nile can land him a top-three position in the Arkansas Derby, and he should be a pace factor at the very least. Asmussen, the all-time winningest trainer in North America, captured his record 12th trainer’s title at Oaklawn in 2022 and ranks first in earnings and second in wins during the current meet. He has won the Arkansas Derby four times, with Private Emblem (2002), Preakness Stakes winner and Hall of Famer Curlin (2007), Belmont Stakes winner Creator (2015), and Super Stock (2021) – the latter two with Santana in the irons.

Coady Photography

4. Two Eagles River (10-1)

Jockey: Nik Juarez

Trainer: Chris Hartman

Owners: Mach 1 Racing and Scattered Acres

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $195,700

Earnings per start: $39,140

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 97

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Cloud Computing – Majestic Island, by Majestic Warrior

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This gelding is an appealing longshot to consider in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby in what his connections hope is a coming-out party after racing competitively in his five prior starts. Two Eagles River debuted at Churchill Downs last October and romped in a five-furlong sprint on a sloppy track and then finished second by a neck in another sprint before shipping to Oaklawn for a start in the six-furlong Renaissance Stakes on New Year’s Eve, when he came close once again but lost by a head to Frosted Departure. This year, trainer Chris Hartman has tested the son of 2017 Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing in two-turn races with encouraging results. He ran third behind Verifying and Gun Pilot in his first one-mile race, a Jan. 14 allowance-optional claimer at Oaklawn, and then came back to post a front-running win at the same track and distance on Feb. 19. He finished four lengths ahead of Disarm in that race, a result that was flattered last Saturday when Disarm rallied late to gain second in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. Jockey Nik Juarez has been aboard Two Eagles River for his three Oaklawn starts and figures to have him among the top two or three contenders early on in an Arkansas Derby that didn’t draw a lot of speed on paper. His Equibase Speed Figures have ranged from 89 to 94 in three starts since shipping to Hot Springs, and his pedigree is modest from a stamina standpoint. But Two Eagles River has already shown an affinity for Oaklawn during this meet, and if he takes the next step on the big stage Saturday he’ll be a threat to fill out the exacta or trifecta … or possibly do even more.

Coady Photography

5. Airtime (15-1)

Jockey: Cristian Torres

Trainer: Robertino Diodoro

Owner: Randy Howg

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $134,130

Earnings per start: $26,826

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 94

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: American Freedom – Miss Personality, by Broken Vow

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Along with the two horses drawn to his inside, Airtime is a worthy longshot to consider using in exacta and trifecta tickets in the Arkansas Derby. He may even be deserving of a win bet if you think an upset is in the making. The American Freedom colt has been competing at a far lower level than graded stakes company but his recent speed figures are not far removed from some of his more accomplished foes, and he’s racing for red-hot connections. Airtime won a 1 1/16-mile maiden claiming race last year at Churchill Downs and surfaced in similar conditions for his 3-year-old debut Jan. 29 at Oaklawn when Randy Howg claimed him from prior owners Gary and Mary West. The colt won that one-mile race by 10 ¼ lengths and new trainer Robertino Diodoro next entered him in a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race on Feb. 18. Airtime passed that class test easily, beating Shopper’s Revenge by 1 ¼ lengths – and the result looks even better after last weekend, based on Shopper’s Revenge’s solid fourth-place finish in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. Now another, even larger, leap awaits, and Airtime will need to bump up his low-90s Equibase Speed Figures while racing another sixteenth of a mile to compete with the likes of Reincarnate, Rocket Can, and Angel of Empire. Rising star Cristian Torres stays on Airtime after riding him in February; the Puerto Rico native is currently leading Oaklawn’s jockey colony in both wins and earnings and has teamed up successfully with Diodoro, who ranks first by wins among trainers. This colt should be racing no worse than fourth through the first six furlongs before Torres – who shows admirable patience in the saddle for a young jockey – makes his move on the far turn.

Coady Photography

6. Angel of Empire (9-2)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owner: Albaugh Family Stables

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $330,000

Earnings per start: $66,000

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 96

Kentucky Derby points: 54

Pedigree: Classic Empire – Armony’s Angel, by To Honor and Serve

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Angel of Empire returns to Oaklawn Park after a successful one-race trip south that in all likelihood netted him enough qualifying points to gain a spot in the Kentucky Derby. The Pennsylvania-bred colt was shipped to Fair Grounds for the Feb. 18 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford, where he squared off against 13 opponents, including his stablemate Victory Formation, who had defeated him in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn on New Year’s Day. In the Risen Star, 13.70-1 shot Angel of Empire drove to the lead in midstretch from a stalking position and won the 1 1/8-mile race by a length over Sun Thunder, earning 50 Derby qualifying points for his connections. He appeared to have plenty in reserve when galloping out in the Risen Star, and this colt indeed has a good stamina pedigree for racing longer should he contest a mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby. On the other hand, his final time was on the slow side compared with several other recent Derby preps, and while he boosted his career best Equibase Speed Figure to 96 in the Risen Star, more improvement will be necessary going forward. Angel of Empire ran a sneaky-good second in the Smarty Jones behind wire-to-wire winner Victory Formation and fits right in with the leading Arkansas Derby win contenders, but again it’s worth reminding that he doesn’t need a victory Saturday. He has a grinding running style, and jockey Flavien Prat will probably position him in midpack for the first six furlongs or so before moving him out and finding room to set up his closing rally. Two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox won his first Arkansas Derby last year with Cyberknife.

Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photo

7. Rocket Can (4-1)

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owner: Frank Fletcher Racing Operations

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $326,538

Earnings per start: $54,423

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Kentucky Derby points: 40

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Tension, by Tapit

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Rocket Can is somewhat of a wild-card contender in the Arkansas Derby coming in from his base in South Florida. On the one hand, he exits a very good runner-up finish in the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park behind Forte, the current future-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby and a horse that would be bet down to even-money or below in the Arkansas Derby if he was entered. On the other hand, most of the other contenders Saturday are based at Oaklawn and have proven success racing on the main track. Rocket Can jumped on the Kentucky Derby trail one race prior to the Fountain of Youth, when he won the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 4 at Gulfstream over a suspect field. He also earned a low 89 Equibase Speed Figure that day, but increased it to a solid 99 in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth when second by 4 ½ lengths to Forte. A repeat of that performance in the Arkansas Derby should be good enough to put Rocket Can in the trifecta and send Hot Springs, Ark., native Frank Fletcher Jr., Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, and regular jockey Junior Alvarado on to Louisville. He has a good stalking running style for this race and plenty of pedigree to handle the extra sixteenth of a mile as his grandam (maternal grandmother) is two-time Grade 1-winning router Tough Tiz’s Sis, by Tiznow. Mott-trained Country House finished third in the 2019 Arkansas Derby one start prior to winning the Kentucky Derby via disqualification.

Eclipse Sportswire

8. Reincarnate (5-2)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Tim Yakteen

Owners: SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan

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

Career earnings: $231,900

Earnings per start: $38,650

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Kentucky Derby points: 15

Pedigree: Good Magic – Allanah, by Scat Daddy

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Reincarnate is the morning-line Arkansas Derby favorite based on both his overall form through six starts and his third-place finish last out in his first start at Oaklawn, where he encountered traffic trouble both early and late in the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes but still ran well. The son of champion Good Magic finished second in his first three starts last fall for previous trainer Bob Baffert before winning his final 2022 outing, a one-mile, two-turn race at Del Mar. Reincarnate then impressed in his 3-year-old debut with a neck win over stablemate Newgate in the one-mile Sham Stakes Jan. 10 at Santa Anita Park. He did not earn any Kentucky Derby points with that victory due to Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert from racing at its properties through this summer, and as a result he was transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen, who shipped Reincarnate to Oaklawn for Rebel, held on a sloppy track. He was shuffled back at the start of the 1 1/16-mile race but recovered to gradually make up ground through the far turn and briefly loomed a threat to engage fellow closer and eventual winner Confidence Game. Then, jockey John Velazquez was forced to check his mount when Bourbon Bash veered out in midstretch, and Reincarnate lost momentum for a couple of strides before recovering and resuming a strong closing rally. Reincarnate ended up 2 ½ lengths behind Confidence Game and 1 ½ lengths behind runner-up and Arkansas Derby foe Red Route One, and he should be able to build on that first-time effort at Oaklawn in Saturday’s marquee event as he’s posted three swift workouts at Santa Anita in the interim. In the Sham, Reincarnate was forwardly placed throughout, and if he breaks well in the Arkansas Derby a similar strategy should be in play with Hall of Famer Velazquez back in the saddle. Harlocap, Two Eagles River, and Airtime have shown speed before, but that trio does not have Equibase Speed Figures to match Reincarnate’s last two triple-digit numbers. If he can manage a clean trip, this runner has a big chance to lead from start to finish in the 2023 Arkansas Derby. His co-owners SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, and Stonestreet Stables also co-owned 2020 Arkansas Derby winner Charlatan (one of two divisional winners that year), and Stonestreet co-owned 2007 Arkansas Derby victor and future Hall of Famer Curlin.

Coady Photography

9. King Russell (30-1)

Jockey: Rafael Bejarano

Trainer: Ron Moquett

Owners: Brereton Jones and Naber Racing

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

Career earnings: $94,850

Earnings per start: $18,970

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 88

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Creative Cause – Believe You Will, by Proud Citizen

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A March 27 nominee to the Triple Crown races, locally-based King Russell enters the Arkansas Derby on an upward trajectory, breaking through with his first career win in a 1 1/16-mile race on the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes undercard on a sloppy track. He weaved through traffic from a rear-guard position to prevail by a neck and earned an 88 Equibase Speed Figure that matched his first race in 2023, a runner-up finish at the same distance on a track rated wet-fast at Oaklawn. Despite the solid recent form, King Russell appears outclassed by most of his Arkansas Derby competition on a speed-figure basis, and he’s matched up against closers such as Red Route One and Angel of Empire who already have proved their mettle in graded stakes. He’s got a good pedigree for route racing – his dam (mother) Believe You Will is a full-sister (same sire [father] and dam) to 2012 Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can – and King Russell has also paired up well with veteran jockey Rafael Bejarano. Bejarano is one of the best off-the-pace riders around, and he will be very patient in settling King Russell near the back of the field through the backstretch and most of the far turn before pushing the “go” button for a closing kick. Overall, though, this colt will need to run a lot faster than he ever has before to hit the board in the Arkansas Derby, and he’ll also need to have several of his rivals underperform. Bejarano won the 2009 Arkansas Derby aboard Papa Clem and the 2013 renewal on Overanalyze.

Coady Photography

10. Red Route One (3-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds

Career record: 7 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $492,575

Earnings per start: $70,368

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 102

Kentucky Derby points: 33

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Red House, by Tapit

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This well-bred son of 2017 Horse of the Year and prominent sire Gun Runner has been settling for minor awards in Kentucky Derby points races since last fall, and he’s earned enough to this point to rank 16th on the leaderboard with only five weeks to go before the first Saturday in May. Red Route One reached a new peak on the speed-figure scale last out when rallying through a sloppy stretch at Oaklawn to finish second in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes on Feb. 25, earning a 102 Equibase figure. He also ran well in his prior start, finishing second to wire-to-wire winner Arabian Knight in the Jan. 28 Southwest Stakes held at the same track, track condition, and distance. As of this writing, the April 1 forecast for Hot Springs calls for only a slight chance of rain, but Red Route One has also shown the ability to handle a fast dirt track, finishing a close fourth despite a troubled trip last fall in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs and earlier checking in third behind eventual champion Forte in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. The main obstacle he’ll have to overcome in the Arkansas Derby is not the level of competition but the projected modest pace scenario, which may leave him with too much work to do when he gets into gear and makes a customary late charge in the homestretch. Of note: Red Route One adds blinkers for the Arkansas Derby, a new jockey as well as Tyler Gaffalione replaces Cristian Torres. Look for Gaffalione, who rode Red Route One in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall, to keep his mount more in touch with the field than he was in the Rebel, where he trailed by over 18 lengths after a half-mile. Another solid effort Saturday evening resulting in a fourth-place finish or better should give the successful owner-trainer team of Winchell Thoroughbreds and Steve Asmussen enough points – and confidence – to send Red Route One to Churchill Downs, where he’ll be a live longshot with one of the best distance pedigrees in the Kentucky Derby (his dam is a full sister to champion and 2014 Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Untapable). As noted above, Asmussen has won four prior editions of the Arkansas Derby. Gaffalione is based in Florida and Kentucky but traveled to Oaklawn three weeks ago and won the Azeri Stakes for D. Wayne Lukas aboard Secret Oath.

11. Kolomio (30-1)

Jockey: James Graham

Trainer: Keith Desormeaux

Owners: Big Chief Racing

Career record: 6 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $39,800

Earnings per start: $6,633

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 90

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Constitution – Graceland Kitten, by Kitten’s Joy

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Five weeks ago, jockey James Graham and trainer Keith Desormeaux celebrated like Super Bowl winners at Oaklawn Park after they partnered to win the Rebel Stakes with Confidence Game, who rolled through the sloppy stretch to take the third of the track’s four Kentucky Derby qualifying races at odds of 18.50-1. Now, they’re back for Oaklawn’s marquee Kentucky Derby prep teaming up with a gelding who was just nominated to the Triple Crown series this week and might go off at double the odds of Confidence Game … or higher. Kolomio will be making his first start for Desormeaux and owner Big Chief Racing after he was claimed out of a one-mile turf race Feb. 20 at Santa Anita Park, where he finished third by a head. He made six starts as a juvenile in 2022 for previous connections, all in California, and won a one-mile maiden claiming race on turf at Del Mar back on Oct. 23. On paper, this son of good young sire Constitution appears outclassed in the Arkansas Derby, but percolating in the back of one’s mind is the unavoidable fact that Desormeaux specializes in finding diamonds in the rough and lighting up the tote board in big races with them. Can he and the underrated James Graham get the party started again in the Oaklawn winner’s circle? Doing so Saturday would qualify as one of the biggest upsets on the Kentucky Derby trail in recent years.

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