The Arkansas Derby is the last of the 170 point races to qualify for the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby. The first four finishers will attain 100-40-20-10 points, respectively, on the road to Louisville. Currently the 19th ranked horse, Solomini (2-1), has 34 points; so a top-three finish on Saturday could vault many of the horses into the Derby. Gronkowski, the 20th horse on the list has an automatic bid.
The $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby will be run at 1 1/8-miles at 7:18 p.m EDT at Oaklawn Park, the signature race of the Hot Springs meeting. The morning line favorite is Rebel winner Magnum Moon (8-5), who currently sits in 12th place in the point standings and is safely in the Derby at 50 points.
Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip (9-2) is the third choice and also has 50 points gained in the win in Florida. Combatant (6-1) is on the bubble in 24th, with 22 points needing a strong showing at Oaklawn to qualify.
Trainer Steve Asmussen has a third of the field and will hope to get at least one of the three a run at the roses.
The only other Derby prep this weekend presents a 20-8-4-2 point scenario for the top four finishers in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. My Boy Jack (5-2, 32 points) and Pony Up (6-1, 8 points) are the only two horses with points that could possibly sneak in the back door. Pony Up will need a first-place finish with subsequent defections.
Here’s a look at the nine entries for the Arkansas Derby (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
1 – Beautiful Shot (Desormeaux, Eramia, 30-1). Cali shipper didn’t fare well in the one-turn Gotham and will try two turns for the first time in the Arkansas Derby. Skeptical that he will enjoy the added distance and first time going two turns in this spot is onerous. Pass.
2 – Machismo (Quartarolo, Spieth, 20-1, 5 points). Loooch wheels back the son of More Than Ready after finishing 12th in the Blue Grass last weekend, making last desperation try at qualifying for the Derby. Broke terribly in Lexington and was never a factor, so maybe the race didn’t take much out of him. Other than his maiden breaker at Gulfstream, he hasn’t shown much.
3 – Tenfold (Asmussen, Espinoza, 10-1). Hall of Fame connections for the undefeated lightly raced colt. The son of Curlin, who won this race in 2007, has won two straight going 8½ furlongs. Distance shouldn’t be an issue, and there’s no doubt that he’s the X-factor in the race. Owners know how to win, racing Gun Runner to Horse of the Year honors in 2017. Maybe worth a shot at that price. Interesting.
4 – Dream Baby Dream (Asmussen, Contreras, 15-1, 20 points). Well traveled colt finished second in the Sunland Derby and needs to finish in the top three for a shot at Louisville. Has three third-place finishes on the Oaklawn strip. Stalking type who will need some pace to run into. Others seem more logical.
5 – Solomini (Baffert, Prat, 2-1, 34 points). Second choice runs for Baffert, who has recent success in the Ark Derby, winning with American Pharoah and Bodemeister in the last six years. Currently in the Derby field, but without a strong finish here he could be on the outside looking in. Finished second in the local prep after being shut off coming up the rail to challenge the eventual winner. Has never finished worse than second in big races, so you have to respect. Trip notes say he avenges loss in last.
6 – Magnum Moon (Pletcher, Saez, 8-5, 50 points). Local prep winner whose sire produced 2013 Derby winner Orb, is another member of the Todd Squad heading to Churchill Downs. Had a perfect trip in the Rebel where he sailed across the wire by more than three lengths. Likely won’t be as easy this time, but is a classy colt. In the mix.
7 – Plainsman (Van Meter, McMahon, 30-1). Son of Flatter tries graded company for the first time in the Derby. Local connections will look to pull the major upset. Has the pedigree to handle the distance, but hasn’t shown the improvement to take a longer look.
8 – Quip (Brisset, Geroux, 9-2, 50 points). Flameaway didn’t disappoint in last weekend’s Blue Grass finishing a game second. Quip handled him in Tampa and scratched out of the cold weather at Keeneland to run in this spot. Not a bad price for the improving Distorted Humor colt. Geroux has been aboard all four previous races. Contender.
9 – Combatant (Asmussen, Santana Jr., 6-1, 22 points). Scat Daddy's offspring have surely stolen the spotlight on the Derby Trail with Justify and Mendelssohn providing wow performances in their respective preps. This Scat Daddy has improving speed figures and wouldn’t be a major surprise if he hits the board to make the Derby. Struggled not including in my top four, have to consider underneath in the exotics.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Solomini; 2 – Quip; 3 – Magnum Moon; 4 – Tenfold
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.