Cupid ran so well in winning the Rebel Stakes in March at Oaklawn Park that he looked like a colt who could win the Kentucky Derby. At this point, any old derby – any old win, for that matter – would be a step back in the right direction for Cupid.
A month after his rousing Rebel win, Cupid’s arrow badly missed the target in the Arkansas Derby. He set the pace, fell away tamely, and came across the wire 10th. Instead of going to the Kentucky Derby, Cupid went to an equine clinic, where he had surgery for a breathing problem that led to his Arkansas Derby flop. He returned to action on the Belmont Stakes card June 11 but underperformed again, finishing a distant fifth in the Easy Goer.
But trainer Bob Baffert believes Cupid is back on track, and he shipped him Wednesday from California for the Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby on Saturday night at Indiana Grand. Cupid was one of 12 horses entered Wednesday in the Indiana Derby and was installed as the 3-1 second choice behind 5-2 morning-line favorite Cherry Wine, whose most noteworthy performance was a second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes.
“Cupid, he worked pretty well the other day,” Baffert said. “On his day, you know he’s there.”
The full field for the 1 1/16-mile Indiana Derby, in post-position order with jockeys and odds, is: Discreet Lover (Jose Flores, 20-1), Cherry Wine (Luis Saez, 5-2), Pilot House (Richard Bracho, 10-1), Takeittotheedge (Miguel Mena, 15-1), The Player (Shaun Bridgmohan, 6-1), Cocked and Loaded (Willie Martinez, 30-1), Seeking Blame (Brian Hernandez Jr., 15-1), Whateverybodywants (Robby Albarado, 12-1), Torrontes (Albin Jimenez, 20-1), Call the Colonel (Santo Sanjur, 20-1), Cupid (Rafael Bejarano, 3-1), and Star Hill (Corey Lanerie, 6-1).
Baffert two weekends ago shipped American Freedom to win the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. A year after American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run, Baffert is dispersing his sophomore class across the country for rich stakes opportunities.
“We’re on the dirt-road derby trail right now,” he said. “We’ve got some nice 3-year-olds, so we’re trying to load up, pick our spots, and have fun. I think these 3-year-olds this year are a pretty good group of horses. Last year, Pharoah, he was just cut from a different cloth.”
Baffert has won the Indiana Derby with Misremembered in 2009, Lookin At Lucky in 2010, and Power Broker in 2013. If Cupid, a front-running type, is to give Baffert his fourth win, he’ll need to overcome post 11. In 1 1/16-mile dirt races at Indiana Grand since 2010, post Nos. 9-12 have produced just eight winners from 138 starts. Star Hill, third in the Pat Day Mile and the Woody Stephens Stakes, has an even worse draw in post 12.
The Player, a winner of two races in a row, both at Churchill Downs, could be an appealing alternative to the favorites. Cocked and Loaded is an uncertain runner, with his connections also eyeing the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.
Baffert will have a chance at a graded-stakes double Saturday night with Emmzy, one of eight fillies in the Grade 2, $200,000 Indiana Oaks, also over 1 1/16 miles. The other entrants, from the rail out, are Dream Dance, Dothraki Queen, Mines and Magic, Missalaney, Sweet Legacy, Family Tree, and Walkabout.
Emmzy has won both of her starts since Baffert stretched her from sprints to routes. He considered shipping her to Iowa for the Iowa Oaks, which Family Tree won, but kept Emmzy home for an allowance race instead, which she won easily.
There are four other $100,000 stakes – three of which drew fields of 10 or more – on a very good 10-race Saturday program that has straight maiden and allowance races filling out the undercard. First post is 6:05 p.m. Eastern, with the Oaks scheduled for 9:11 and the Indiana Derby for 9:41. The weather forecast calls for moderate temperatures and partly cloudy conditions.
Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.