Pressed, Draws Off
By Dick Downey
Magnum Moon won the Arkansas Derby, the final points race on the 2018 Kentucky Derby Road, despite drifting out several paths in deep stretch. Finishing behind Magnum Moon's winning time of 1:49.86 were four horses separated by less than a length, but it was clear who was much best this day at Oaklawn Park.
With Luis Saez aboard, Magnum Moon broke from post six and immediately went for the lead, but Quip and Florent Geroux were not about to leave him alone up front and quickly joined him to his outside.
With Magnum Moon ahead by less than a length, they ran together through the first turn and up the backstretch in fractions of 23.34, 48.60 and 1:13.39 for a quarter-mile, half-mile and six furlongs. Closest behind them were Beautiful Shot, Tenfold, and, for the first half-mile, Machismo.
The battle for the lead was no different on the second turn, but Magnum Moon cut the corner into the stretch and quickly separated himself from Quip. At the furlong marker he led by two lengths, and he went on to win despite drifting five or six paths toward the outer rail inside the furlong marker.
Magnum Moon's margin at the finish line was four lengths. Quip finised second, a neck ahead of Solomini, who was a head in front of Combatant, who was a neck ahead of Tenfold. Following them were Plainsman, beaten 7 1/4 lengths, Dream Baby Dream, Beautiful Shot and Machismo.
The win was the fourth in as many starts for Magnum Moon, and it was the fourth win of a major Kentucky Derby prep race for trainer Todd Pletcher, who also captured the Louisiana Derby with Noble Indy, the Florida Derby with Audible and the Wood Memorial with Vino Rosso.
With 100 more Kentucky Derby points to his credit from the Arkansas Derby, Magnum Moon now leads all contenders with 150, surpassing Good Magic's 134. Quip picked up 40 more points and has 90. Solomini's 20 points ran his total to 54 and an assured him a spot in the Kentucky Derby as well.
Combatant's loss of third position at the wire means he got only 10 points and now has 32 -- leaving him 21st on the points leaderboard. Firenze Fire is 19th with 39 points, and Gronkowski is in the 20th spot because he got the most points on the European Road to the Derby.
Firenze Fire would be in the 21st slot, but Sunland Derby winner Runaway Ghost, who has 50 points, is out of the Kentucky Derby. As this story is posted, a report by Jeremy Balan of BloodHorse says the horse's trainer suspects a hairline fracture in a shin.
Magnum Moon, a son of Malibu Moon, is a late foal. He came into the world on May 9, 2015 for breeder Ramona S. Bass. The Kentucky-bred is out of Dazzling Song, by Unbridled's Song, and he's owned by Robert and Lawana Low, who live just outside Springfield, Missouri. They acquired Magnum Moon for $380,000 at the Keeneland September 2016 yearling sale.
After the race, Pletcher said Magnum Moon is scheduled to return to Palm Beach Downs on Sunday. He is tentatively set to ship to Churchill Downs by air on April 23 and would breeze at the Louisville track about eight days before the Kentucky Derby.
Winning trainer Todd Pletcher: "I thought it was very good. Very pleased with the outcome. A little concerned that he drifted out the last part, but it looked liked he sort of halfway thought about jumping over the tire marks when he went the by the eighth pole where the gate was and sort of skipped over those. I think he was maybe just drifting away from that. Aside from that, I thought he finished with good energy and was pulling away from some nice horses. He showed his versatility. He's won a number of different ways now and I think he's proven that he's the kind of horse that doesn't need the race to unfold a certain way, that he's able to kind of make his own race."
Winning Jockey Luis Saez: “I thought there was going to be a little speed. We were in a good position, he broke really sharp. I’m not going to choke him I am just going to stay there and he was very comfortable into the turn, he was traveling pretty good. When I came to the stretch, I felt like he was looking at the gate marks, so when we got there I touched him a little and he went. We will see what happens.”
Winning owner Robert Low: "He had me worried to death when I saw we were on the lead. But Luis gave him a masterful ride."
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset (Quip, second): "I guess that's just the way the race set up. We could have tried to go on the lead. I think Florent did the right thing."
Jockey Florent Geroux (Quip, second): “We had a good trip. He always breaks sharp and is always forwardly placed. When Luis smooched to his horse, I knew he wanted the lead. I let my horse settle, and he did very nicely. My horse ran hard. Solomini is a nice horse too. I’m very satisfied with his race.”
Jockey Flavien Prat (Solomini, third): “We broke well and then settled off the pace. He ran a nice one.”
Racing Manager Justin Zayat (Zayat Stables LLC, co-owner of Solomini): “He didn’t break as sharply as we would have liked. He was third best today. The winner is a really nice horse. We’ll talk to Bob (Baffert), but I thought it was a good race and now it’s on to Kentucky.”