2024 Arkansas Derby Cheat Sheet: Get to Know the Horses

Arkansas Derby Oaklawn Park Kentucky Derby prep Will Take It Timberlake Dimatic Time for Truth Liberal Arts Informed Patriot Muth Just Steel Mystik Dan Imperial Gun Asmussen Prat McPeek Baffert Gaffalione Torres Cox Hernandez horse racing
Horses break from the starting gate in the 2023 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, with eventual winner Angel of Empire (#6, white and blue jockey silks, center) getting off well under Flavien Prat. (Coady Photography)

Saturday’s $1.5 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 150th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, offering a total of 200 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers distributed on a 100-50-25-15-10 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).

Last year’s Arkansas Derby champ Angel of Empire finished third in Kentucky Derby 149. Read about some of the best race winners in this article.

The 88th Arkansas Derby drew a competitive 10-horse field headlined by the winners of the two lead-in preps for this race, Mystik Dan (Southwest Stakes) and Timberlake (Rebel Stakes), plus a California shipper trained by Bob Baffert (Muth).

The Arkansas Derby will be televised live on “America’s Day at the Races” airing on FS2 and FanDuel TV. Post time is scheduled for 7:47 p.m. ET.

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

1. Will Take It (50-1 morning-line odds)

Jockey: Francisco Arrieta

Trainer: Eddie Milligan Jr.

Owners: Willis Horton Racing and Whisper Hill Farm

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

Career earnings: $25,438

Earnings per start: $8,479

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 91

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Tapit – Lady Take Charge, by War Front

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The Arkansas Derby is top-loaded with three short-priced horses – Timberlake, Muth, and Mystik Dan – and seven longshots. This son of leading sire Tapit carries the highest morning-line odds among that group, and that’s primarily because he’s a maiden who was soundly defeated in the first two of his three career starts at Oaklawn Park, all of them held at 1 1/16 miles and around two turns. The first two were held in December and early February, and he had an excuse for his ninth-of-12 finish in the latter race as he was carried out five wide on the first turn and never recovered. After those two starts, Will Take It was a 42-1 longshot in his third appearance at Oaklawn one race after the Rebel Stakes on Feb. 24, and he improved by leaps and bounds to nearly pull of the upset, losing by a nose to second betting choice Give Me a Reason after stalking that pacesetting foe and dueling with him in the stretch. Will Take It earned a 91 Equibase Speed Figure for that effort, a 36-point improvement from his February race. If he can improve on that number taking a gigantic class leap in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, he could surprise with a top-four finish. This colt has an excellent stamina pedigree both through his sire and his unraced dam’s (mother’s) family, anchored by second dam (grandmother) Take Charge Lady, who earned more than $2.4 million and produced such accomplished horses as champion Will Take Charge, Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, and the dam of champion filly Take Charge Brandi and 2019 Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach. Francisco Arrieta, one of Oaklawn’s leading jockeys and a good judge of pace, rode Will Take It for the first time in his runner-up effort Feb. 24 and retains the mount for the Arkansas Derby.

Eclipse Sportswire

2. Timberlake (9-5)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owners: WinStar Farm and Siena Farm

Career record: 6 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,094,350

Earnings per start: $182,392

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Kentucky Derby points: 66

Pedigree: Into Mischief – Pin Up, by Lookin At Lucky

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Timberlake made a smashing return to the track for his 3-year-old debut Feb. 24, winning the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes by two lengths as the 4-5 favorite. The son of leading sire Into Mischief had spent the winter as one of the top handful of future-book favorites for Kentucky Derby 150 based on a juvenile campaign that included a dominant win in the one-mile Champagne Stakes in October followed by a fourth-place finish in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by TAA in early November. He took 3 ½ months off after the Juvenile and came back with a professional win in the Rebel, drifting out a bit in late stretch after taking the lead but continuing on well and earning a 105 Equibase Speed Figure. Saturday, he’ll face what shapes to be a tougher field than he did in the Rebel, mainly due to the presence of Muth (runner-up last fall in the BC Juvenile and a stakes winner back in January in his first start at 3) and Mystik Dan (who earned an eye-catching 110 Equibase Speed Figure when winning the Southwest Stakes Feb. 3 at Oaklawn). Timberlake already has banked 66 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby to help secure a starting-gate spot on May 4, so he does not need to win the Arkansas Derby; that being said, if he can follow up his Rebel comeback with another clear victory, he’ll very likely be one of the two or three top betting choices on the first Saturday in May. Flavien Prat, who last Saturday won the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby for trainer Brad Cox aboard Catching Freedom, tries to maintain that hot streak as he gets aboard Timberlake for the first time this Saturday. Prat and Cox teamed up to win the 2023 Arkansas Derby with Angel of Empire, and Cox in fact will be aiming for his third straight win in this race, a streak that began in 2022 with Cyberknife. Co-owner WinStar Farm campaigned 2016 Arkansas Derby winner and subsequent Belmont Stakes champ Creator.

Coady Photography

3. Dimatic (20-1)

Jockey: Cristian Torres

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds

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

Career earnings: $117,578

Earnings per start: $29,395

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 93

Kentucky Derby points: 5

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Time to Tap, by Tapit

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the all-time leading trainer at Oaklawn Park and in North America, has three colts entered with a chance to give him a fifth victory in the Arkansas Derby, starting with this son of Asmussen-trained 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. Dimatic received betting support at odds of 9.20-1 as an upset candidate against Timberlake in the Feb. 24 Rebel Stakes, but never threatened while finishing fifth, 7 ¼ lengths behind that foe. Prior to the Rebel, he had impressed with a three-length win in a Feb. 3 maiden special weight race held at 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track at Oaklawn, his first victory after finishing sixth and third in two starts at age 2. The forecast five days out for Arkansas Derby day March 30 calls for sunny skies in Hot Springs, so Dimatic probably will get a fast track, a rating on which he’s 0-for-3. He’ll need to improve significantly to have a shot at hitting the board against the main three contenders. Based on his past record and, more importantly, his pedigree, Dimatic arguably does represent the best chance for Asmussen to pull the upset among his three horses entered. Dimatic’s unraced dam Time to Tap is a full-sister (same sire [father] and dam [mother]) to champion filly and $3.9 million earner Untapable, and is a half-sister (different sire, same dam) to millionaire and 2010 Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Paddy O’Prado. Interestingly, jockey Cristian Torres – the leading rider at Oaklawn during 2023-’24 – takes over for Tyler Gaffalione on Dimatic, while Gaffalione rides Liberal Arts after Torres made four consecutive starts aboard that colt. Asmussen’s prior Arkansas Derby wins came with Private Emblem (2002), Hall of Famer and Preakness Stakes winner Curlin (2007), Belmont Stakes winner Creator (2016), and Super Stock (2021).

Coady Photography

4. Time for Truth (20-1)

Jockey: Rafael Bejarano

Trainer: Ron Moquett

Owners: Harry Rosenblum and Cheyenne Stable

Career record: 3 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $182,250

Earnings per start: $60,750

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 102

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Omaha Beach – Shape Shifter, by Lookin At Lucky

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Time for Truth originally was set to make his debut on the road to the Kentucky Derby in the Feb. 24 Rebel Stakes, but was withdrawn due to a minor shin injury. On March 2 at Oaklawn, the son of 2019 Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach returned and posted a 1 ½-length win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming race, acing his first try around two turns. He had previously romped in his racing debut on Dec. 31 at Oaklawn, earning an eye-catching 102 Equibase Speed Figure going six furlongs, and then finished second to multiple stakes winner Valentine Candy in the six-furlong Ozark Stakes on Feb. 10. Time for Truth’s Equibase figures have declined since the triple-digit number back in December, and he earned only a modest 88 in his recent route victory. Still, this colt has displayed enticing talent through three starts and, like many maturing 3-year-olds, could make a sizable leap forward in development over the next weeks and months. He’ll need to do that on Saturday to have any shot at making the Kentucky Derby. Rafael Bejarano has been aboard for all three of Time for Truth’s starts and should have him forwardly placed in an Arkansas Derby field that lacks a true speed horse. Bejarano has two wins in this race: Papa Clem in 2009 and Overanalyze in 2013. Trainer Ron Moquett is based at Oaklawn Park and has had several in-the-money finishes in the Arkansas Derby, including last year with 58.80-1 longshot runner-up King Russell, ridden by Bejarano.

Coady Photography

5. Liberal Arts (15-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Robert Medina

Owners: Stephen Ferraro and Evan Ferraro

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $294,825

Earnings per start: $49,138

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 97

Kentucky Derby points: 19

Pedigree: Arrogate – Ismene, by Tribal Rule

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: In a field with three short-priced morning-line favorites, this Arrogate colt making the second start of his 3-year-old season is arguably the most appealing longshot to consider as an alternative win candidate. Liberal Arts capped off a promising 2-year-old season last October with a 2 ¾-length score in the 1 1/16-mile Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs, drawing clear in early stretch and coasting home on a sloppy track. After a break of more than three months, he returned in the Feb. 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, held at the same distance and on a muddy track, and rallied in the stretch to nab third. Liberal Arts was 8 ¼ lengths behind winner Mystik Dan, who exploded out of the far turn with a dominant rally on the rail, but he was only a neck behind runner-up Just Steel and nine lengths clear of fourth-place Rebel finisher Awesome Road. It’s logical to expect improvement in his second start at age 3, and if that happens and one or two falter among the trio of Mystik Dan, Muth, and Timberlake, this runner has shown enough talent to pull the upset. Tyler Gaffalione rode Liberal Arts way back on June 1 of last year to a runner-up finish in the colt’s second career start and gets back aboard Saturday after Cristian Torres had the mount for four consecutive starts. Liberal Arts earned trainer Robert Medina and owners-breeders Stephen and Evan Ferraro their first career stakes wins in the Street Sense, and he could send these up-and-coming connections to the first Saturday in May with a good finish Saturday. 

Coady Photography

6. Informed Patriot (30-1)

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owners: Kirk and Judy Robison

Career record: 6 starts – 1 win – 0 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $146,640

Earnings per start: $24,440

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 92

Kentucky Derby points: 8

Pedigree: Hard Spun – Yawkey Way, by Grand Slam

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The second of three Steve Asmussen-trained Arkansas Derby starters will make his fourth start in a Kentucky Derby points race and projects to be one of the longest shots in the field come post time. He enters off of a disappointing fifth-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Sunland Park Derby Feb. 18 in New Mexico, where he stalked the pace early and was only 1 ¾ lengths out of first through six furlongs but then began to fade leaving the far turn and in the stretch, checking in 13 ¼ lengths behind winner Stronghold at the finish line. Informed Patriot was the 8-5 second betting choice in the Sunland Park Derby behind 6-5 Stronghold, getting support from horseplayers after finishing third in both the Street Sense Stakes last fall at Churchill Downs (won by Liberal Arts) and in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 at Oaklawn (won by recent Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby victor Catching Freedom). His Equibase Speed Figure dipped from a 92 in the Smarty Jones Stakes to 71 in the Sunland Park Derby, and truthfully, even if he can bounce back and reach the low 90s again in the Arkansas Derby, that still won’t be good enough to win. He has a solid pedigree for stretching out to 1 1/8 miles as a full brother (same sire [father] and dam [mother]) to Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Spun to Run, and he might sneak into the superfecta Saturday with a career-best effort. Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. rode Informed Patriot in the Smarty Jones and gets back aboard in the Arkansas Derby; he’s won the riding title at Oaklawn eight prior times and piloted Asmussen’s two most recent Arkansas Derby winners in Creator (2016) and Super Stock (2021).

Eclipse Sportswire

7. Muth (8-5)

Jockey: Juan Hernandez

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Zedan Racing Stables

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $716,600

Earnings per start: $143,320

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 100

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Good Magic – Hoppa, by Uncle Mo

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This California shipper aims to – borrowing a phrase popular among startup tech companies – “disrupt” the Arkansas Derby with a win. He’s arguably the leading active 3-year-old in trainer Bob Baffert’s barn now that Nysos is sidelined, and like all Baffert trainees is prohibited from running at Churchill Downs-owned tracks for the foreseeable future as part of the company’s extended ban of the trainer arising from Medina Spirit’s disqualification in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. That means that if Muth reaches the winner’s circle Saturday evening, which is a distinct possibility, he’ll wipe 100 qualifying points for Derby 150 off of the board and thus jeopardize several contenders’ chances of starting in the race. Muth has been highly regarded since debuting with a 8 ¾-length win last June at Santa Anita Park and he’s already proved capable of excelling in two-turn races with a 3 ¾-length score in the 1 1/16-mile American Pharoah Stakes and a runner-up finish in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by TAA, both last fall. In his first start at 3, Muth easily defeated five opponents in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes Jan. 6 at Santa Anita, and he’s been training steadily for Baffert at that track in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s return. Juan Hernandez, one of the leading jockeys in Southern California, has been aboard Muth for all five of his previous starts and will ride in the Arkansas Derby. Muth has an advantageous pace-pressing running style and could very well be aggressively sent out of the starting gate intent on making the lead by Hernandez since most of this year’s Arkansas Derby field is comprised of stalkers and closers. Baffert has four prior wins in Oaklawn’s signature race: Bodemeister (2012), Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015), and Charlatan and Nadal who both won in 2020 when the Arkansas Derby was split into two divisions. Muth has a good chance to give the embattled trainer his fifth in what amounts to a prep for the May 18 Preakness Stakes.

Eclipse Sportswire

8. Just Steel (15-1)

Jockey: Keith Asmussen

Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

Owner: BC Stables

Career record: 10 starts – 2 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $462,045

Earnings per start: $46,205

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99

Kentucky Derby points: 15

Pedigree: Justify – Irish Lights, by Fastnet Rock

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Just Steel is back for one final try in an Oaklawn Park Kentucky Derby prep after starting in each of the track’s three prior races this winter for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He finished second in both the Jan. 1 Smarty Jones Stakes and the Feb. 3 Southwest Stakes before retrenching to seventh place in the Feb. 24 Rebel Stakes, in which he raced five wide through both turns and was never a factor as the 4.70-1 second betting choice. Despite having a pedigree that favors route races, Just Steel is winless in four tries around two turns and based on his active racing career so far appears to perform best in sprints, including a Churchill Downs stakes win at 6 ½ furlongs last fall. He’s capable of earning Equibase Speed Figures in the mid-to-high 90s and should not be completely discarded as an upset win candidate, but filling out the bottom rung in the trifecta or superfecta is more realistic given the level of competition he’ll face in the Arkansas Derby. Young jockey Keith Asmussen has enjoyed a breakout meet at Oaklawn Park riding for his Hall of Fame father, Steve, but also for Lukas and other trainers. Asmussen won his first career graded stakes for “the Coach” on Lemon Muffin in the Honeybee Stakes on Feb. 24 and will ride Just Steel for the first time Saturday. Lukas’ presence in the Arkansas Derby goes back more than four decades: he won this race back-to-back in 1984 and 1985 with champion filly Althea and Preakness Stakes winner Tank’s Prospect, respectively.

Eclipse Sportswire

9. Mystik Dan (5-2)

Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.

Trainer: Ken McPeek

Owners: Lance Gasaway, 4 G Racing and Daniel Hamby III

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

Career earnings: $510,110

Earnings per start: $102,022

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Kentucky Derby points: 21

Pedigree: Goldencents – Ma’am, by Colonel John

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Third on the morning-line for the Arkansas Derby, Mystik Dan actually owns the highest Equibase Speed Figure in the field, and this Goldencents colt should be fresh for his final Kentucky Derby prep off of eight weeks of rest. Mystik Dan earned a 110 speed figure in his lead-in to Saturday’s race, the Feb. 3 Southwest Stakes, where he stalked the pace while saving ground under Brian Hernandez Jr. before exploding with a rail rally in early stretch that ended up putting him eight lengths clear of runner-up Just Steel at the finish line. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest was held on a sloppy track, which has led some observers to speculate that his swift final time and resulting speed figure were aided by his favoring the adverse weather conditions. However, Mystik Dan also earned a triple-digit Equibase figure in his second start and first win back in November at Churchill Downs in a 5 ½-furlong sprint, held on a fast track. In between that race and the Southwest, he finished fifth twice, including in the one-mile, two-turn Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 at Oaklawn, where he pressed the early pace and then faded. Look for Hernandez, who has ridden Mystik Dan in all of his races aside from the Smarty Jones, to move over early from an outside post in the Arkansas Derby and attempt to replicate the ground-saving, patient ride he gave Mystik Dan in the Southwest. If indeed that eye-catching performance was not a fluke and he can repeat it, or even improve on it, this fast runner from Ken McPeek’s barn could end Saturday’s activities as a top-tier Kentucky Derby contender. He’ll need to finish at least second and add 50 points to his current total of 21 for his connections to feel comfortable about shipping to Louisville.

Coady Photography

10. Imperial Gun (30-1)

Jockey: Emmanuel Esquivel

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: HRH Prince Sultan bin Mishal Al Saud

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

Career earnings: $82,250

Earnings per start: $27,417

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 92

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Take a Memo, by Empire Maker

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The third and final Steve Asmussen-trained contender in Arkansas Derby projects as a possible pace factor if he reverts to the running style he displayed in his maiden victory two starts back. After saving ground in third early in a Dec. 31 Oaklawn maiden race held at 1 1/16 miles, Imperial Gun took the lead midway through the backstretch with a bold move and kept it thereafter, extending his margin in the final furlong to prevail by 5 ¾ lengths. He earned a solid 92 Equibase Speed Figure in the victory, which came in his second career start following a fourth-place finish going a mile at Oaklawn in early December. The Gun Runner colt was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in his third start, a 1 1/16-mile allowance-optional claiming event held as the opening race on the Feb. 24 Rebel Stakes card, and he did not improve off of his sharp maiden win, stalking the pace early again but this time leveling out to finish fourth behind Seize the Grey. That runner came back to finish a good third last weekend in the Jeff Ruby Steaks, a Kentucky Derby prep at Turfway Park, so all is not lost for Imperial Gun as he attempts to rebound against a very tough field. He has a good pedigree for stretching out – his second dam (maternal grandmother) is graded stakes-winning turf router Memorette – and he also gets the services of jockey Emmanuel Esquivel for the first time Saturday. When the gate opens, look for Esquivel to be aggressive aboard Imperial Gun and either try to set the early pace or at least use enough of this colt’s speed to enable him to move over and secure a good position just behind the early leaders.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram TikTok YouTube
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram TikTok YouTube