By Richard Rosenblatt
The fields were set, post-positions drawn, and rider assignments confirmed on April 26, and a day later the all-important morning-line odds were posted for each of the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby (G1).
As expected, the unbeaten duo of Charlatan and Nadal from Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s barn, were made the early favorites in their respective divisions for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile races.
Charlatan, 2-for-2, was the even-money choice in the first division of 11 horses, drawing the No. 1 post with Martin Garcia getting the call. Nadal, 3-for-3, is the slight 5-2 favorite over King Guillermo (3-1) in the second division of 11 horses, leaving from the No. 5 post with Joel Rosario aboard.
The second division looks to be the much tougher field, with no less than five winners of Kentucky Derby prep races – Storm the Court (6-1), King Guillermo, Nadal, Silver Prospector (10-1), and Wells Bayou (7-2).
Faced with an overflow field of 3-year-olds for its showcase race, Oaklawn Park officials on Sunday took in all-comers by splitting the race into two divisions.
The maximum field for the Arkansas Derby is 14, and officials said if 22 or more were entered, the field would be split. The race was originally scheduled for April 11, but was moved to the first Saturday in May after the Kentucky Derby (G1) – traditionally run that day – was rescheduled to Sept. 5 in response to the coronavirus pandemic).
The Arkansas Derby, which will be contested without spectators, takes on a different significance since it won’t be the final major Derby prep race. It’s simply the last “official” Derby-points qualifier, with Churchill Downs saying it plans to designate additional races as qualifiers at an appropriate time.
The increased interest in the race is due to several other prep races being postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions – the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Wood Memorial (G2), and Blue Grass Stakes (G2). The most recent prep offering Derby points was the Florida Derby (G1), won by Tiz the Law (the points leader with 122) on March 28.
Each division will have a $500,000 purse (the original purse was $1 million), with Derby qualifying-points of 100-40-20-10 awarded to the first four finishers in each, as per Churchill Downs approval.
The biggest beneficiary of split divisions is Charlatan, who would not have qualified for a 14-horse field based on earnings.
Each division has several 3-year-olds already qualified for the Kentucky Derby, and trainers with two or more horses in the field have chances in each division. The first draw wound up with two horses with the same ownership group in the same division, forcing officials to redraw the race.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has two horses entered in each division – Jungle Runner and Basin in the first division, Code Runner and Silver Prospector in the second division.
After a delay of several hours, the fields are now determined, listed by post position, horse, trainer, jockey):
|My Friends Beer
|Ricardo Santana, Jr.
|Finnick the Fierce
|Storm the Court
|Juan Carlos Avila
|Samuel Camacho, Jr.
|Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Earlier in the Derby prep season, the Risen Star (G2) at the Fair Grounds had split divisions, with Mr. Monomoy and Modernist winning their divisions. In 2019, the Rebel was run in two divisions after Santa Anita was having a rash of horse deaths and the track was closed for a period of time. The last time the Arkansas Derby was split into two divisions was 1960.
For extra info, check out this piece on Arkansas Derby Betting…
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.