Oaklawn Dozen in Search of Points
By Dick Downey
Updated April 14, 2016
The expected cast of 12, including seven of the top eight finishers from the Rebel Stakes, was entered in the Arkansas Derby, the final prep race for the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
Leading the ensemble is Cupid, Bob Baffert's son of Tapit. If Baffert has his way, Cupid will break more quickly than he did in the Rebel and lead the field through the nine-furlong race. Speed is the biggest asset of the son of Tapit, Baffert said yesterday during an NTRA conference call. He'll try to take command early from post 10 under Martin Garcia, who was also aboard in the Rebel. Cupid is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line.
“I haven't seen Cupid regress,” said Baffert. “He's come back well. He’s worked well. He went an easy half-mile, so he looks ready. I like what I saw. Martin is excited about the race, and so am I. He needs to run well. He needs to run the same race that he did the last time to be competitive. At a mile-and-an-eighth is when they separate themselves pretty well."
One challenge for Cupid will occur before the gates open on Saturday.
"Like most Tapits, he can get excited. We've put a lot of work into him to keep him focused and in getting him to relax,” Baffert said.
Whitmore, who's a late running-type, finished second in the Rebel after looming up to Cupid in the stretch but then flattening out to a 1 1/4-length loss. Ron Moquett said yesterday that Whitmore is training like a beast, according to a tweet by @KentuckyDerbyCJ. The colt's morning line is 9-2, and Irad Ortiz, Jr. returns from New York to ride from post 8.
Creator, 10-1 on the morning line and trained by Steve Asmussen, will try to improve on his third-place finish in the Rebel. Ricardo Santana, Jr. again has the mount. They'll try to get a better trip this time after shifting out and losing ground to Cupid in the Rebel stretch drive.
Southwest Stakes winnner Suddenbreakingnews finished fifth in the Rebel after encountering traffic trouble. That, and his stakes win, are reflected in his 5-1 morning line. Donnie K Von Hemel has again recruited Luis Quinonez to be in the irons. Suddenbreakingnews drew post 4.
Gray Sky (post 11, 30-1), Discreetness (post 1, 20-1) and Cutacorner (post 2, 50-1) finished sixth, seventh and eighth in the Rebel.
None of the other seven Rebel runners are back for the Arkansas Derby.
Impressive Oaklawn maiden winner American Pioneer is exciting prospect from the Wayne Catalono barn. He's 8-1 on the morning line. Rafael Bejarano comes in to ride from his Southern California base and will break from post 5. He's raced only twice. Owners Gary and Mary West won the 1993 Arkansas Derby with 108-1 shot Rockamundo.
“We’re doing good, we’re happy,” Catalano said. “He went two miles this morning. He went the last mile in a two-minute clip. I’m happy with the way he’s been doing.”
Dale Romans ships in Unbridled Outlaw from South Florida, and he's expected to contest the pace if not outright take the lead from post 6. Corey Lanerie will be aboard the 10-1 contender.
Dazzling Gem, at 12-1 in post 7, will run just three weeks after he finished third in the Louisiana Derby. Brad Cox had to wait and see if the colt would be ready for this race. In the meantime, Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode Dazzling Gem at Fair Grounds, took the assignment on Synchrony in the Lexington Stakes. Bridgmohan also rode Synchrony in the Southwest Stakes when they finished sixth. Joe Talamo has accepted the mount on Dazzling Gem.
Gettysburg drew the far outside post 12 and is 6-1 on the morning line. John Velazquez has the mount on Gettysburg, who was last seen unable to stay with Collected but still finishing a clear second in the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes. Gettysburg started the year as a horse prominent on the Kentucky Derby Trail, but his stock fell when he finished fifth in the Sam F. Davis Stakes as the 8-5 favorite.
Luna de Loco rounds out the field at 30-1. He will try to improve on a March 12 allowance win at Oaklawn.
Kentucky Derby points are on the line with 100 set to go to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth. Today the horse that's number 20 on the leaderboard has 32 points.
Cupid already has 50 points, followed by Whitmore with 24, Dazzling Gem with 20, Suddenbreakingnews, Discreetness, Riker and Creator each with 10, Unbridled Outlaw with two and Luna de Loco with one.
The Arkansas Derby will be race 11 on the final card of the Oaklawn meet. Post time is 6:16 central daylight time.