By Margaret Ransom
Each year the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) represents the end of yet another grueling road to the Kentucky Derby (G1). Usually, it’s one of the more productive prep races for Derby runners and winners.
American Pharoah used the Hot Springs route as a springboard to racing immortality in 2015 and this year, a small field of six is entered whose connections hope their charges may be half as talented as the 2015 Triple Crown winner.
The final race offering 170 road to the Derby points 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.
So, while the Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland has yet to be run and is set for next week, it only offers 20 points to the winner [8-4-2 points for second through fourth] making the Arkansas Derby the last contest where the winner gets into the Derby regardless of previous point totals.
Unbeaten Concert Tour, trained by six-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, is the even-money favorite for the 1 1/8-mile race. The six-horse field is the second smallest in the long history of the Arkansas Derby. The smallest was five in 1949. The most recent six-horse field was in 1992, with Pine Bluff the winner.
This race has produced five Kentucky Derby winners since 2004, three of which completed the Arkansas Derby-Kentucky Derby double. A total of 71 Arkansas Derby runners have competed in the Run for the Roses since 1997, including 53 since 2004.
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 [2010 Kentucky Derby winner], and Creator.
American Pharoah stands out as the most significant runner to have made his way to Louisville through Arkansas, taking Oaklawn Park’s signature race. The Baffert-trained colt became the 12th Triple Crown winner six years ago and the first since Affirmed in 1978, quenching a 37-year drought without one.
Country House was third 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 9-furlong event that year and was labeled the Kentucky Derby favorite after the draw but was withdrawn two days before the race due to an entrapped epiglottis. A year 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 forfeited to the runner-up, Basin, who didn’t end up making the Derby gate and then spent six months on the shelf after a second in the Amsterdam Stakes (G2) at Saratoga in late August. He successfully returned to action to win a listed stakes at Gulfstream Park two weeks ago.
Hall of Fame finalist 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 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.
The weather for the Hot Springs area on Saturday is expected to be wet, with morning showers continuing on and off during the day. The expected high will reach into the mid-70s.
Post time for the race in 7:41 p.m. ET.
This Arkansas Derby field, in post-position order, with jockey, trainer, odds:
- Super Stock, (Ricardo Santana, Jr., Steve Asmussen) 6-1
Dialed In–Super Girlie, by Closing Argument
- Caddo River (Florent Geroux, Brad Cox) 7-2
Hard Spun—Pangburn, by Congrats
- Hozier (Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert) 3-1
Pioneerof the Nile—Merry Meadow, by Henny Hughes
- Get Her Number (Francisco Arrieta) Peter Miller, 6-1
Dialed In—Fancier, by Bernstein
- Concert Tour (Joel Rosario, Bob Baffert) 1-1
Street Sense—Purse Strings, by Tapit
- Last Samurai (Jon Court, Dallas Stewart) 15-1
Malibu Moon—Lady Samuri, by First Samurai
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.