Each year the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) at Oaklawn Park normally represents the end of yet another grueling Road to the Kentucky Derby (GI) journey as it was positioned just three or four weeks out from the Run for the Roses. But last year, in an effort to draw more top horses whose connections want more time between their final Derby prep and the Derby itself, the race was pushed back a week to give runners a five-week break between.
Regardless the Arkansas Derby is often the most anticipated prep of all, as well as one of the most productive ones in producing both Derby runners and winners. American Pharoah used the Hot Springs route before becoming racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and this year 11 will break from the gate, all with similar hopes to achieve racing greatness.
The 1 1/8-mile race again offers 170 Road to the Derby points that will be awarded to the top-four finishers (100-40-20-10), which in addition to guaranteeing a spot in the Derby gate for the winner, those who finish in the top four who have points already quite possibly could break the bubble from “out” to “in” on the list of 20. A handful who have been considered top Kentucky Derby contenders all season who, for one reason or another were unable to earn a lot of points, have a lot more to lose than just a race with a poor showing on Saturday.
Even though the Arkansas Derby has only produced four Kentucky Derby winners overall, three of which completed the Arkansas Derby-Kentucky Derby double, 74 Arkansas Derby runners have competed in the Run for the Roses since 1997 and 56 since 2004 alone. In addition to winners American Pharoah, Smarty Jones and Sunny’s Halo, other big-time names have taken the southern path to Triple Crown race success, include Elocutionist, Temperence Hill, Tank’s Prospect, Pine Bluff, Lil E. Tee, Victory Gallop, Afleet Alex, Super Saver and Creator, not to mention a half-dozen other classic-placed runners in the more recent history of the race.
Country House was third in Hot Springs in 2019 before going on to claim the controversial Kentucky Derby victory after the disqualification of Maximum Security from the win and ended his career wearing the blanket of roses. Fox Hill Farm’s Omaha Beach won this event that year and was labeled the Kentucky Derby favorite after the draw but was withdrawn two days before the race. Three years ago, Charlatan was the victor, but a post-race test revealed the prohibited medication Lidocaine in his system, so he was eventually disqualified and his win forfeited to the runner-up, Basin, who didn’t end up making the Derby gate
In 2021 Steve Asmussen saddled his father’s horse, Super Stock — owned in partnership with Irv Woolsey — to victory before the colt finished 16th in Louisville. Last year Cyberknife was the winner before finishing 18th under the Twin Spires.
Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher is the leading trainer in number of wins, having sent out five winners (2000, Graeme Hall; 2001, Balto Star; 2013, Overanalyze; 2014, Danza; and 2018, Magnum Moon.) Retired Hall of Famer Pat Day won three throughout his illustrious career (1986, Rampage; 1987, Demons Begone; and 1997, Crypto Star.)
The D. Wayne Lukas-trained mare Althea defeated males in 1984 in a final time of 1:46.80, which remains the fastest Arkansas Derby in its 73-year history.
Sham Stakes (G3) winner Reincarnate is back in from California off a third in the Rebel Stakes last out for trainer Tim Yakteen and is the 5-2 favorite under jockey John Velazquez. Rebel runner-up Red Route One is second choice at 3-1.
This year’s Arkansas Derby field, which is the day’s 12th race and has an expected post time of 6:35 p.m. CDT, in post position order with morning line, riders and trainers, is:
1. 15-1 Bourbon Bash, Reylu Gutierrez, D. Wayne Lukas
City of Light – Buy Sell Hold, by Violence
2. 20-1 Interlock Empire, David Cabrera, Kenny. McPeek
Classic Empire – Curlabella, by Curlin
3. 15-1 Harlocap, Ricardo Santana, Jr., Steve Asmussen
Justify – Mezinka, by Bodemeister
4. 10-1 Two Eagles River, Nik Juarez, Chris Hartman
Cloud Computing – Majestic Island, by Majestic Warrior
5. 15-1 Airtime, Cristian Torres, Robertino Diodoro
American Freedom – Miss Personality, by Broken Vow
6. 9-2 Angel of Empire, Flavien Prat, Brad Cox
Classic Empire – Armony’s Angel, by To Honor and Serve
7. 4-1 Rocket Can, Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott
Into Mischief – Tension, by Tapit
8. 5-2 Reincarnate, John Velazquez, Tim Yakteen
Good Magic – Allanah, by Scat Daddy
9. 30-1 King Russell, Rafael Bejarano, Ron Moquett
Creative Cause – Believe You Will, by Proud Citizen
10. 3-1 Red Route One, Tyler Gaffalione, Steve Asmussen
Gun Runner – Red House, by Tapit
11. 30-1 Kolomio, James Graham, Keith Desormeaux
Constitution – Graceland Kitten, by Kitten’s Joy
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.