HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Steve Asmussen wasn’t completely sure what to expect from Arkansas Derby entrant Creator after a solid but not spectacular start to the 3-year-old’s campaign.
The trainer couldn’t have been happier with how the colt closed out his second victory of the year Saturday, emerging from the field with a furious final kick on the home stretch to win the $1 million Kentucky Derby prep race.
The win seemingly gives Asmussen two of the top contenders for next month’s Kentucky Derby, with Gun Runner entering Saturday atop the race’s qualifying standings and Creator earning 100 points with his victory.
“With Gun Runner and with Creator, what a blessed position we’re in, to have the pedigrees and individuals like that and the opportunity with it,” Asmussen said. “We’re very fortunate and we take it very seriously and will do our best possible with it.”
It also gives the trainer his third Arkansas Derby victory, second only to Todd Pletcher’s four victories in Oaklawn Park’s signature race.
And while the win wasn’t completely unexpected, it was somewhat of a surprise after an overlooked Creator finished third in last month’s Rebel Stakes and went off at 11-1 on Saturday.
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Overlooked or not before the race, the colt — who has yet to finish lower than third in any of his three races this year — showed the strongest finishing kick after running in last for much of the 1 1/8-mile race.
“The horse is getting good at the right time,” Asmussen said. “It took a while for the light to turn on for him. His last two races have been very impressive. I love how he came home and went for the wire today.”
While Asmussen celebrated his stable of Kentucky Derby hopefuls, pre-race favorite Cupid disappointed with by finishing 10th.
The Bob Baffert-trained colt was fast out of the gate and settled into second for much of the race behind Gettsburg. However, the early pace took its toll on the Rebel Stakes winner — who entered Saturday as a virtual Kentucky Derby lock with 50 qualifying points.
“It wasn’t his day today,” Cupid jockey Martin Garcia said. “… When I asked him to go at the 3/8ths (pole), he wasn’t responding. I asked him, and he didn’t respond.”
Ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., Creator paid $25.20, $8.60 and $5, while runner-up Suddenbreakingnews returned $6 and $4 — with Whitmore returning $3.80 to show.
Despite an overcast sky and light mist that fell at Oaklawn Park into the early afternoon, the track conditions held at fast throughout Saturday’s races.
A year after eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah solidified his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite with an eight-length victory in the Arkansas Derby, Creator shocked many in the crowd of 65,000 at Oaklawn Park by overtaking the 12-horse field down the stretch.
While Gettysburg and Cupid separated themselves from the trailing pack for much of the race, a large group began to track them down on the final turn.
That’s when Creator emerged from the outside with the strongest finishing kick, winning in a time of 1:50 and holding off Suddenbreakingnews — who won the Southwest Stakes and finished fifth in the Rebel Stakes.
Asmussen, winner of the Preakness Stakes in 2007 and 2009 with Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, also won the Arkansas Derby in 2002 and 2007. The Arkansas Derby victory was the first for Santana.
In addition to the qualifying points, Creator earned $600,000 for Saturday’s win.
Suddenbreakingnews, trained by Donnie Von Hemel, earned 40 points and $200,000 for finishing second while Whitmore earned 20 points and $100,000.