All Quiet Now for Cupid
Cupid, the 2-1 morning line favorite in the field of 12 contesting the Arkansas Derby, is right on schedule; in fact, he was a bit ahead today.
There's a training window open for stakes horses at Oaklawn, but Bob Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes, didn't wait.
“We went out early because I didn’t want Cupid to get antsy waiting until 9 a.m. We'll probably train at 9 tomorrow," said Barnes, who also accompanied the Tapit colt when he won the Rebel Stakes in his last effort.
“We just went straight off and galloped around three-quarters of a mile. Just an easy day today. We just breezed: he worked on Tuesday, walked on Wednesday, and we just let him have an easy lope around there,” he said.
Gettysburg drew the far outside of the 12 post positions in the Arkansas Derby as he tries to earn enough Kentucky Derby qualifying points to make the race.
“Gettysburg has drawn the 12 post in back-to-back races, and I just hope we can work out as good of a trip at Oaklawn as he was able to get at Sunland Park from that outside post," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Hopefully, he continues to break alertly and is able to get himself into a good position going into the first turn. It's now or never with those Derby points. We're confident that if he runs well, he'll earn enough points. It's on him to do that. I thought his last race was a big step in the right direction, and hopefully, he's moving forward from that one.”
Gettysburg is by Pioneerof the Nile, sire of 2015 Arkansas Derby and Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh. John Velazquez has the mount on Saturday.
“The mile-and-the-eighth of the Arkansas Derby will be no problem for Gettsburg. He's already got a win and a second at the distance, so he's accustomed to the distance," said Pletcher.
Pletcher is certainly accustomed to shipping in top runners for Oaklawn's major stakes races and shipping out with the hardware to add to his sizable trophy case.
He leads all trainers with four Arkansas Derby victories (2014 Danza; 2013 Overanalyze; 2001 Balto Star; 2000 Graeme Hall) and has won many other stakes races in Hot Springs.
“We've been pretty lucky at Oaklawn over the years and we're hoping that trend continues,” he said.
Better Draw for Suddenbreakingnews
Suddenbreakingnews cleared a big hurdle during Wednesday’s post position draw. He didn't draw outside. Instead, he got the 4. He overcame post 13 to win the Southwest Stakes and finished fifth in the Rebel after breaking from the extreme outside post 14.
“As far as the post position, we’re happy,” trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Thursday morning. “Just wanted to be in the middle somewhere.”
Von Hemel said the added distance and better post should benefit Suddenbreakingnews, a gelded son of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft.
“The longer the run to the first turn, the less post position becomes an issue,” Von Hemel said. “You go to a mile and a quarter at Churchill, and everybody wants to be outside (in the starting gate). They don’t want to be inside because it’s a quarter of a mile to the turn.”
Birzer Rides First, Checks Purse Later
Asked Thursday morning if he’s ever ridden in a grade I race, jockey Alex Birzer paused and said, “I don’t know.”
Birzer, 42, is scheduled to have the opportunity Saturday aboard Cutacorner, who is trained by Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg.
Birzer, Van Berg’s go-to rider this season in Hot Springs, recorded his only career graded stakes victory in the Grade III Fifth Season in 2003 at Oaklawn.
“I try not to ever look at the purse,” said Birzer, who has 2,858 victories since 1992. “I’ve won so many stakes in the past – races period – when I get back, I look at the program and I’ll ask: ‘What was that worth? I just don’t ever look. There ain’t sense looking until after you win.”
Birzer, Oaklawn’s fifth-leading rider this year with 29 victories, rode Cutacorner to a ninth-place finish in the Rebel Stakes March 19.
At 50-1, Cutacorner has the highest program odds of the 12 Arkansas Derby entrants. Birzer said he believes Cutacorner can beat the odds.
“He is training really, really good,” Birzer said. “Even Jack said he’s training better. He might be a long shot, but he is on top of his game.”
Edited Oaklawn release with additional content by Dick Downey