Arkansas Derby 2020 preview


The horse racing community along with the rest of the world has had to make significant adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic, none more drastic than the rescheduling of the 146th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve from May 2, its traditional “first Saturday in May” spot on the calendar, to Sept. 5.

Shortly after the Kentucky Derby was rescheduled, Oaklawn Park announced that the 84thArkansas Derby would be moved to May 2. Always one of the most important prep races for the Kentucky Derby, this year’s Grade 1 Arkansas Derby took on even more significance following the rescheduling of the Kentucky Derby. Now, the race has been split into two divisions to accommodate an influx of 3-year-olds seeking a prestigious stakes win and to add valuable Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

The 2020 Arkansas Derby will carry a $500,000 purse for each division, and each race will also grant the full 170 qualifying points to the top four finishers, on a scale of 100-40-20-10. With the rest of the Triple Crown series currently in limbo, 22 horses were entered in the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby (two contenders, one in each division, were early scratches on April 28). The first division is headlined by Bob Baffert-trained Charlatan, who ranks high on many Kentucky Derby future books despite having yet to make his stakes debut. The second division is led by Baffert’s Rebel Stakes winner Nadal and Brad Cox-trained Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou.

This year marks the second time the Arkansas Derby has been run in two divisions, following the 1960 renewal. The race has been won by such notable horses as Nodouble, Elocutionist, Temperence Hill, Sunny’s Halo, Tank’s Prospect, Pine Bluff, Concern, Victory Gallop, Smarty JonesAfleet Alex, Lawyer Ron, Curlin, Bodemeister, American Pharoah, Classic Empire, and Omaha Beach.

The two divisions of the Arkansas Derby anchor a 14-race closing-day card at Oaklawn Park that also features the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. Watch the Arkansas Derby on NBCSN, and the NBC Sports app on Saturday, May 2 from 6-8 p.m. ET.

Before the Arkansas Derby, tune into NBC from 3-6 p.m. ET for a special Kentucky Derby broadcast, which includes The First Saturday In May: American Pharoah’s Run to the Triple Crown, a look back at American Pharoah’s 2015 Derby win en route to his historic Triple Crown, and The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown, a socially distant, computer-simulated edition of the Run for the Roses that pits all 13 Triple Crown winners against each other. The broadcast can also be streamed on and on the NBC Sports app.

Stay healthy at home with NBC Sports’ Derby Party Pack, featuring recipes for traditional Kentucky Derby foods and cocktails, printable decorations, at-home fashion tips, kids crafts and more:

Click here to download NBC Sports’ Derby Party Pack

Read on for information on all of the Arkansas Derby contenders, presented in post-position order for each division.

First Division (scheduled post time at 6:29 p.m. ET):

1. Charlatan (1-1)

Jockey: Martin Garcia

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Stonestreet Stables, Fred Hertrich III, John Fielding, and Golconda Stables

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

Career earnings: $67,200

Earnings per start: $33,600

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 108

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Speightstown – Authenticity, by Quiet American

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Splitting the Arkansas Derby worked to the advantage of several of Saturday’s contenders, but none more than Charlatan who enters the race with no graded stakes earnings and would have been on the outside looking in if only a single race was held. Considering the incredible amount of buzz surrounding this freakishly talented colt, Oaklawn’s decision benefits racing fans as well. He ships in from Santa Anita Park after dominating wins in his first two career starts – a 5 ¾-length score in a six-furlong maiden race on Feb. 16 and an even more impressive 10 ¼-length win stretching out to a two-turn mile in a March 14 allowance optional claiming race. He’ll be stepping up to Grade 1 competition on Saturday, but the field for this division of the Arkansas Derby came up considerably weaker than the second division, and this colt is the clear speed of the race based on past performances. Bolstering that advantage, Bob Baffert has enlisted Martin Garcia to ride Charlatan; the jockey is enjoying a stellar first meet at Oaklawn and is one of the best pace riders in the business. Barring any trouble at the start, Garcia should send Charlatan straight to the lead from the rail post. Although he is by champion sprinter Speightstown, Charlatan has the pedigree to handle the mile-and-an-eighth distance of the Arkansas Derby and is a major threat to win this race on the front end and solidify his spot near the top of Kentucky Derby contenders. Baffert has won the Arkansas Derby twice, with subsequent Kentucky Derby runner-up Bodemeister in 2012 and with eventual Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year American Pharoah in 2015. Baffert-trained Improbable, co-owned by Jack Wolf’s Starlight Racing, finished second in last year’s Arkansas Derby behind Omaha Beach. Stonestreet Stables co-owned Hall of Famer Curlin when he won the 2007 Arkansas Derby and steered him to a two-time Horse of the Year campaign in the subsequent year and a half under the direction of the late Jess Jackson.

2. My Friends Beer (20-1)

Jockey: Declan Cannon

Trainer: Jeremiah O’Dwyer

Owner: Designated Hitters Racing

Career record: 8 starts – 1 win – 3 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $80,958

Earnings per start: $10,120

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 89

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Stay Thirsty – Slew’s Quality, by Elusive Quality

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: My Friends Beer enters the Arkansas Derby’s first division off of a third-place finish in a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn on April 11, checking in 4 ¼ lengths behind highly regarded Pneumatic. That was his first start away from Laurel Park, where he won one of seven starts and finished second three times, including in a listed stakes race on March 14. This Maryland-bred son of Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty has hit the board in his last six starts, but he’s yet to break the 90-point mark in terms of Equibase Speed Figures and faces a significant class hurdle on Saturday. If Charlatan controls the pace and tires out his closest challengers, My Friends Beer could pick some of those horses off in the stretch and fill out the trifecta or superfecta, but that appears to be his ceiling in a tough assignment. He is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2018 champion female sprinter and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Shamrock Rose.

3. Mo Mosa (30-1)

Jockey: Kendrick Carmouche

Trainer: Mike Maker

Owners: Perry and Denise Martin

Career record: 5 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $47,140

Earnings per start: $9,428

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 92

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Roughing, by Eskendereya

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: In his most recent start, Mo Mosa improved from a last-place finish in his first stakes attempt – the March 7 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby – to finish a closing third behind Shooters Shoot and Blackberry Wine in a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn on March 11. He was no threat to the top two, defeated by 5 ¾ lengths, and should carry odds similar to the 52.30-1 he had in that race when the gates open Saturday. This son of champion Uncle Mo showed more speed in his first three career starts on the synthetic main track at Turfway Park than he has in his first two starts on dirt, and it will be interesting to see if jockey Kendrick Carmouche – a good pace rider – puts his mount in the race earlier to pressure Charlatan. Considering that colt’s punishing speed, it might be a better strategy for Mo Mosa to sit far back and rally late to vie for a minor award since he has a good pedigree for 1 1/8 miles. Either way, his win chances are remote.

4. Gouverneur Morris (9-2)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owners: Team Valor International and WinStar Farm

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $197,500

Earnings per start: $49,375

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 104

Kentucky Derby points: 14

Pedigree: Constitution – Addison Run, by Unbridled’s Song

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Charlatan’s presence in this first division of the Arkansas Derby means that this up-and-coming, talented colt is somewhat overshadowed as he seeks to improve off of a not-bad fourth-place finish in the Curlin Florida Derby. That was only Gouverneur Morris’ fourth career start, and he earned a career-best 104 Equibase Speed Figure. He shapes up as the main challenger to Charlatan in this first division of the Arkansas Derby, and he’ll need to take a step forward in terms of speed figures to defeat him, although it bears reminding that Gouverneur Morris does have an advantage over Charlatan with two prior starts in Grade 1 races. It will be interesting to see whether Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez places Gouverneur Morris close to Charlatan’s projected early pace or keeps him farther back. This well-bred son of Constitution is a must-use in all vertical bets and stands an upset chance on Saturday, which would add to Todd Pletcher’s record five Arkansas Derby wins. Those are: Graeme Hall (2000), Balto Star (2001), Overanalyze (2013), Danza (2014), and Magnum Moon (2018). Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm owned 2016 Arkansas Derby winner Creator, who trained on to win the Belmont Stakes. WinStar also co-owns last year’s Arkansas Derby runner-up Improbable, slated to start in the Oaklawn Handicap on Saturday.

5. Jungle Runner (30-1)

Jockey: Tyler Baze

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Calumet Farm

Career record: 7 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $107,915

Earnings per start: $15,416

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 85

Kentucky Derby points: 1

Pedigree: Candy Ride – Minx, by Tapit

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After posting back-to-back wins in races at Remington Park last fall, including a seven-furlong stakes race, Jungle Runner has been soundly defeated in three consecutive stakes navigating two turns. This Candy Ride colt owned by Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm projects to sit well off of the pace in Saturday’s first division of the Arkansas Derby and attempt to make up some late ground with the goal of passing a few tired horses, the same strategy shared by fellow longshots My Friends Beer, Mo Mosa, Winning Impression, and Crypto Cash. Among that group, Jungle Runner has arguably the worst recent form, although jockey Tyler Baze is enjoying a solid meet at Oaklawn Park. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, currently the earnings leader at Oaklawn Park, has won the Arkansas Derby three times: Private Emblem (2002); eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin (2007); and subsequent Belmont Stakes winner Creator (2016).

6. Shooters Shoot (SCRATCHED)

7.  Wrecking Crew (20-1)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Peter Miller

Owner: Rockingham Ranch

Career record: 6 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $337,600

Earnings per start: $56,267

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 100

Kentucky Derby points: 5

Pedigree: Sky Kingdom – Truelladeville, by Yes It’s True

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt joins Anneau d’Or, drawn just to his outside, as 3-year-olds seeking to recapture the form showed in last fall’s TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. After running a solid third in the Juvenile, which followed a very good three-race stretch to start his career at Del Mar, Wrecking Crew has been overmatched in his subsequent two graded stakes starts, finishing last of four when eased in the Los Alamitos Futurity in December and fifth, defeated by 16 ¾ lengths, in the San Felipe Stakes on March 7. If he can recapture his form from 2019, this son of marathon stakes winner Sky Kingdom can grab a minor award in this weaker division of the Arkansas Derby at good odds. Anything more would be a surprise.

8. Anneau d’Or (6-1)

Jockey: Juan Hernandez

Trainer: Blaine Wright

Owner: Peter Redekop B.C.

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

Career earnings: $403,000

Earnings per start: $100,750

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Kentucky Derby points: 12

Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – Walk Close, by Tapit

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After nearly going undefeated through three starts as a juvenile in 2019, including close runner-up finishes in both the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Los Alamitos Futurity, Anneau d’Or disappointed as the even-money favorite in the second division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds on Feb. 15. He was bumped early and recovered to stalk the pace, but never fired in the stretch and finished ninth, 12 ¾ lengths behind Modernist. The well-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro has been training well at his home base of Golden Gate Fields since then for Blaine Wright, and if his poor performance last out can be chalked up to not liking Fair Grounds’ track or the addition of blinkers for the race, then he could rebound and pose a challenge to Charlatan in the Arkansas Derby’s first heat. He’ll race without blinkers Saturday as he did in his first three starts, and he has a good stalking running style that should keep him within reach of Charlatan if that colt sets a modest pace. Every racehorse deserves a mulligan at one point or another in his/her career; we’ll soon see if Anneau d’Or’s last start was an aberration.

9. Winning Impression (15-1)

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Owners: West Point Thoroughbreds and Pearl Racing

Career record: 6 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $43,730

Earnings per start: $7,288

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 89

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Paynter – Unbridled Sonya, by Unbridled’s Song

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Stalker/Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A definite longshot in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, Winning Impression enters off a race in which he crossed the finish line first but was disqualified and placed second for interfering with the fourth-place finisher in deep stretch. He has developed into a solid allowance-level runner at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn over the past several months, but nothing on his résumé so far suggests he can successfully compete with the likes of Charlatan and Gouverneur Morris. Look for this son of Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter — and from the female family of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Volponi — to sit at or near the back of the pack through the first mile Saturday and make one late run under good off-the-pace jockey Julien Leparoux with the goal of earning a few Kentucky Derby points. Both of his first-place finishes to date have come on sloppy tracks, but the midweek forecast for Hot Springs in advance of Arkansas Derby day calls for sunny conditions. Leparoux won the 2017 Arkansas Derby aboard champion Classic Empire, who subsequently ran a close second in the Preakness Stakes.

10. Crypto Cash (20-1)

Jockey: Corey Lanerie

Trainer: Kenny McPeek

Owners: Tommie Lewis and Magdalena Racing

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

Career earnings: $100,840

Earnings per start: $20,168

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 93

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Majesticperfection – Cryptos’ Best, by Cryptoclearance

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This son of sprinter Majesticperfection overcame a stumble at the beginning of the March 14 Rushaway Stakes on Turfway Park’s synthetic track to finish a rallying fourth, the first start of his 3-year-old campaign. He switches to dirt in Saturday’s first division of the Arkansas Derby, and if he can improve off his 2020 debut and boost his Equibase Speed Figure by around 7-10 points he has a shot at hitting the board, although his win chances are slim. Crypto Cash won his final two starts as a juvenile, taking a one-turn maiden race at Ellis Park on dirt and then a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on turf at Churchill Downs in November. He came from off of the pace in that Churchill win, a strategy he may employ again in the Arkansas Derby after breaking from an outside post. A worthy candidate to spice up trifecta and superfecta tickets at very high odds.

11. Basin (8-1)

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Jackpot Farm

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

Career earnings: $371,000

Earnings per start: $74,200

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 96

Kentucky Derby points: 10

Pedigree: Liam’s Map – Appenzell, by Johannesburg

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A Grade 1 winner at Saratoga last summer, Basin has come back at age 3 to race competitively in two stakes at Oaklawn. He finished well back of both Nadal in the Rebel Stakes (third) and longshot Mr. Big News in the Oaklawn Stakes (fourth), however. Based on back class, this son of Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Liam’s Map fits in well with Charlatan, Gouverneur Morris, and Anneau d’Or as a top contender in Saturday’s first division of the Arkansas Derby, but his past performances suggest that, like his sire, he does his best racing at distances of a mile or shorter. Steve Asmussen, a 10-time leading leader at Oaklawn Park, has won the Arkansas Derby three times: Private Emblem (2002); eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin (2007); and subsequent Belmont Stakes winner Creator (2016). Ricardo Santana Jr., six-time leading jockey at Oaklawn Park, was aboard Creator in 2016.

Second Division (scheduled post time at 7:43 p.m. ET):

1. Finnick the Fierce (15-1)

Jockey: Martin Garcia

Trainer: Rey Hernandez

Owners: Arnaldo Monge and Rey Hernandez

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $131,490

Earnings per start: $21,915

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 91

Kentucky Derby points: 5

Pedigree: Dialed In – Southern Classic, by Southern Image

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This gelding enters the Arkansas Derby off of a solid effort in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race on April 4 at Oaklawn, where he started slow, encountered some mild trouble in the stretch, and was elevated to first after Winning Impression – a starter in Saturday’s first division – was disqualified for interfering with another horse. His claim to fame so far in his career is finishing ahead of current leading Kentucky Derby future-book horse Tiz the Law in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, which was won by Silver Prospector. A projected solid pace will be beneficial in setting up his late run, and he clearly prefers racing at longer distances … but overall, Finnick the Fierce looks a cut below the top contenders in a very competitive division of the Arkansas Derby and would do well to secure minor placing.

2. Saratogian (50-1)

Jockey: Joe Talamo

Trainer: Rodolphe Brisset

Owners: SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Fred Hertrich III, John D. Fielding, and Golconda Stables

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

Career earnings: $14,690

Earnings per start: $7,345

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 76

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Empire Maker – Saltendipity, by Salt Lake

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Owned by most of the same group that campaigns Charlatan, this superbly named colt did not make his debut until earlier this year and also ships in to Oaklawn having made only two starts – but the comparisons end there. A son of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, Saratogian won first out by a nose going six furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 8, but finished ninth in his next start at odds of 59.70-1 behind highly regarded Money Moves in a one-turn mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 27. Obviously, he’ll be a major longshot trying two turns for the first time in a stacked division of the Arkansas Derby, although his pedigree suggests that he should relish racing a route of ground at some point in his career; his female family includes 1989 Fantasy Stakes winner Fantastic Look, Grade 1-winning turf miler Designed for Luck, and 2012 West Virginia Derby winner Macho Macho. Saratogian is one to keep tabs on going forward even if his win chances are slim Saturday. Jack Wolf’s Starlight Racing co-owned Improbable when he finished second in last year’s Arkansas Derby.

3. Storm the Court (6-1)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Peter Eurton

Owners: David Bernson, Exline-Border Racing, Dan Hudock, and Susanna Wilson

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

Career earnings: $1,232,951

Earnings per start: $205,492

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Kentucky Derby points: 32

Pedigree: Court Vision – My Tejana Storm, by Tejano Run

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: The 2019 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner hasn’t been able to match that success in his two starts as a 3-year-old, finishing fourth to Nadal in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park in February and then third behind Authentic and Honor A. P. in the San Felipe Stakes on March 7. He didn’t embarrass himself in either start, still, the overall concern is that this son of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Court Vision simply did not continue to develop on the same trajectory from age 2 to 3 as the best of his age group. This colt will have a chance to prove the doubters wrong Saturday as he faces Nadal again, and Flavien Prat, who was aboard Storm the Court in the Breeders’ Cup, should have his mount situated right behind Nadal, Wells Bayou, and King Guillermo through the backstretch and in good position to strike heading into the far turn. That trio is all more probable win contenders in a very competitive race, but an improved performance by Storm the Court could definitely put him in the mix to fill out exacta or trifecta tickets and earn more Kentucky Derby points.

4. King Guillermo (3-1)

Jockey: Samy Camacho

Trainer: Juan Carlos Avila

Owner: Victoria Martinez

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $240,350

Earnings per start: $60,088

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Slow Sand, by Dixieland Band

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: King Guillermo entered the March 7 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby as an ignored 49.20-1 longshot who wasn’t nominated to the Triple Crown … and exited with 50 Kentucky Derby points, a sizzling 110 Equibase Speed Figure, and a spot near the top of most Derby rankings that was confirmed when his connections decided to pay the late Triple Crown nomination fee. His 4 ¾-length win at Tampa over favored Sole Volante was one of the most visually impressive efforts in a Kentucky Derby prep this year, and by most accounts he’s been training well at Gulfstream Park for his start in Saturday’s second division of the Arkansas Derby. It’s a tough assignment considering the quality of this field and the fact that he’s coming in off a two-month layoff, but then again, King Guillermo’s not in a must-win situation since he’s already accumulated 50 qualifying points and the Kentucky Derby’s been postponed. If this son of champion Uncle Mo gets another good trip under Samy Camacho and top opponents Nadal and Wells Bayou throw down in a taxing speed duel, King Guillermo has a great shot at backing up his Tampa Bay Derby romp with another impressive win.

5. Nadal (5-2)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: George Bolton, Arthur Hoyeau, Barry Lipman, and Mark Mathiesen

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

Career earnings: $753,000

Earnings per start: $251,000

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 107

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: Blame – Ascending Angel, by Pulpit

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Nadal passed his first two-turn test in the March 14 Rebel Stakes impressively, toughing out a three-quarter-length win after being hounded through fast fractions, and he’s a deserving morning-line favorite in the Arkansas Derby’s second leg. With horses such as Wells Bayou and King Guillermo entered, however, this talented son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame could receive even more pressure on the front end than he did in the Rebel, and it will be interesting to see if his regular rider Joel Rosario tries to rate him off the pace if Wells Bayou makes an aggressive move for the lead from the far outside post. Despite Nadal’s graded stakes experience, he’s been nudged out of the spotlight heading into the Arkansas Derby by stablemate and standout first-division contender Charlatan. His training at Santa Anita has been excellent, though, and if he can develop some tactical speed while racing an extra sixteenth of a mile on Saturday, Nadal will be very tough to beat. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert has two wins in the Arkansas Derby, Bodemeister in 2012 and eventual Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year American Pharoah in 2015. Baffert-trained Improbable finished second in last year’s Arkansas Derby behind Omaha Beach. Joel Rosario was aboard third-place Country House last year; that colt subsequently was elevated from second to first in the Kentucky Derby. Co-owner George Bolton also co-owned 2007 Arkansas Derby winner and 2007-’08 Horse of the Year Curlin.

6. Code Runner (50-1)

Jockey: Stewart Elliott

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Calumet Farm

Career record: 8 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $61,077

Earnings per start: $7,635

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 89

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Honor Code – Nereid, by Rock Hard Ten

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Similar to Calumet Farm-owned Jungle Runner in the first Arkansas Derby division, this son of champion Honor Code is taking a major leap up in class Saturday after having success at second-tier regional tracks. In Code Runner’s case, he has hit the board in all five starts at Remington Park and Sam Houston Park, winning twice (once via disqualification), finishing second twice, and third once. In his other starts – his first two in Kentucky and a Jan. 26 attempt in the Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park – he has been defeated by a combined margin of 43 lengths. His most recent start was the best in his career, a 3 ¼-length win in a one-mile allowance race at Sam Houston March 11. He rallied from off the pace in that win and is a good bet to employ the same strategy under Stewart Elliott. Nabbing fourth or fifth Saturday would equal success for this longshot. Elliott was aboard Smarty Jones for that colt’s memorable Arkansas Derby score in 2004, which preceded wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Steve Asmussen’s three Arkansas Derby wins came with Private Emblem (2002); Hall of Famer Curlin (2007); and Belmont Stakes winner Creator (2016).

7. Silver Prospector (10-1)

Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owners: Ed and Susie Orr

Career record: 9 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $719,718

Earnings per start: $79,969

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Kentucky Derby points: 21

Pedigree: Declaration of War – Tap Softly, by Tapit

Color: Gray or roan

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This talented colt has been on a winning race/subpar race streak since breaking his maiden last October at Keeneland, and if that continues he’s due for a good effort on Saturday. He’s won two Kentucky Derby points preps with off-the-pace rallies, taking the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall over Finnick the Fierce and Tiz the Law and more recently toppling pacesetter Wells Bayou by a length in the Feb. 17 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. But those victories have been joined by disappointing showings in the Smarty Jones Stakes (fourth by 7 ½ lengths) and especially the March 14 Rebel Stakes (sixth by 12 lengths) at Oaklawn. He’ll square off against both Rebel winner Nadal and Southwest runner-up Wells Bayou again in Saturday’s second division of the Arkansas Derby, and if those two hook up in a pace duel, it could work to this colt’s advantage. He’s too talented to discount completely, but will need to show his best form to score the upset against a talented field. Steve Asmussen has a trio of Arkansas Derby wins with Private Emblem (2002), Curlin (2007), and Creator (2016). Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., who has been aboard Silver Prospector for all of his starts, piloted Creator in 2016.

8. Fast Enough (SCRATCHED)

9. Taishan (15-1)

Jockey: David Cohen

Trainer: Richard Baltas

Owners: Calvin Nguyen and Joey Tran

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $133,720

Earnings per start: $22,287

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 98

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: Twirling Candy – Grace Phil, by Philanthropist

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Taishan enters the Arkansas Derby off of a decent third-place finish behind longshot Mr. Big News and Farmington Road in the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Stakes April 11. He took a brief lead at the top of the stretch but could not sustain momentum on a sloppy track, finishing 3 ¼ lengths behind runner-up Farmington Road but 1 ½ lengths ahead of the fourth-place horse. Prior to the Oaklawn Stakes, he won a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn by 4 ¾ lengths, also in the slop, earning a career-best 98 Equibase Speed Figure. He has been soundly defeated in both of his graded stakes tries – fifth in the Feb. 17 Southwest Stakes won by Silver Prospector and fourth by 10 lengths in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in January – and a minor award appears to be his ceiling again in this Grade 1 test against a tougher field than he’s ever faced before.

10. Farmington Road (12-1)

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owners: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Chrysalis Stables, and Robert LaPenta

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

Career earnings: $85,000

Earnings per start: $17,000

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 100

Kentucky Derby points: 5

Pedigree: Quality Road – Silver La Belle, by Langfuhr

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt has shown enough talent to be a must-use in exotic bets such as the exacta and trifecta, and he is not without an upset chance if he can take a step up in form and also gets a swift pace to close into. After breaking his maiden impressively in his first 2020 start at Tampa Bay Downs when he won a one-mile and 40-yard race by 1 ¾ lengths, he’s posted solid efforts in two stakes races, finishing fourth in the first division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds on Feb. 15 and second in the Oaklawn Stakes on April 11. He endured a wide trip in the Risen Star but still made up some late ground in that 1 1/8-mile race, and broke slowly in the Oaklawn Stakes traveling the same distance and trailed 12 opponents through the backstretch before unleashing a sustained rally to come up a half-length short to Mr. Big News. He exited an outside post in both of those races and will do so again on Saturday, but if jockey Javier Castellano works out a good trip behind what projects to honest fractions, Farmington Road will be running at the end. Todd Pletcher has won the Arkansas Derby a record five times with Graeme Hall (2000), Balto Star (2001), Overanalyze (2013), Danza (2014), and Magnum Moon (2018). Co-owner Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners campaigned Danza.

11. Wells Bayou (7-2)

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owners: Clint Gasaway, Lance Gasaway, Madaket Stables, and Wonder Stables

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

Career earnings: $845,293

Earnings per start: $169,059

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 101

Kentucky Derby points: 104

Pedigree: Lookin At Lucky – Whispering Angel, by Hard Spun

Color: Bay

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Wells Bayou all but secured a position in the 2020 Kentucky Derby – even with a four-month delay – when he earned 100 qualifying points in his Louisiana Derby win. That victory, coupled with the four-month delay of the Kentucky Derby, means the pressure of achieving a top-four finish is off Saturday. But this talented, fast colt is still a threat to hit the board and accrue another bushel of qualifying points. He’s been training sharply at Oaklawn since his win at Fair Grounds, and his connections have wisely figured that there’s no point in skipping a major race at his home track with the Kentucky Derby prep schedule in limbo after this weekend. Wells Bayou has already shown an affinity for Oaklawn, romping in an allowance optional claiming race on Jan. 26 – his 3-year-old debut – and then setting the pace in the Southwest Stakes and holding on well in deep stretch to check in a length behind a rallying Silver Prospector. There was no such late challenge in the Louisiana Derby as he controlled the pace throughout and won by 1 ½ lengths. That won’t be the case Saturday, as Nadal and King Guillermo both project to get involved early, and it will be interesting to see if Florent Geroux, who was aboard Wells Bayou in both the Southwest Stakes and the Louisiana Derby, concedes the lead to one of those challengers or lets his colt do what he does best – play “catch me if you can.” He may not win, but Wells Bayou figures to make a big impact on how this competitive second division of the Arkansas Derby plays out.

Watch ‘The First Saturday In May’ on Saturday, May 2 from 3-6 p.m. ET on NBC, and the NBC Sports app and watch the Arkansas Derby from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, and the NBC Sports app.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
Getty Images

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”