Plenty of Cupid Challengers
Cupid returns from his Southern California base after winning the Rebel Stakes to lead the headlines in the 12-horse Arkansas Derby.
Asked if Bob Baffert has the horse to beat – again – trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said, “I think so.” Von Hemel trains Southwest Stakes winner Suddenbreakingnews.
Cupid is scheduled to break from post 10 under Martin Garcia and carry equal top weight of 122 pounds.
Whitmore (right), runner-up in Southwest Stakes and the Rebel, is the 9-2 second choice in the program for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the return call on Whitmore, who is scheduled to break from post 8 and carry 118 pounds. He looked like a winner approaching the sixteenth pole in the Southwest before being caught by 2 3/4-length last-to-first winner Suddenbreakingnews.
In the Rebel, Cupid was a front-running 1 1/4-length winner after turning back Whitmore’s challenge approaching the sixteenth pole.
Moquett said a “good trip and good performance” are the ingredients necessary to turn the tables Saturday.
“I think the horse that wins this race will run the best race of his life,” Moquett said. “There’s about seven, eight horses that can win it and stamp their ticket.”
Suddenbreakingnews (right), the early 5-1 third choice, won the Southwest from post 13 and finished fifth in the Rebel after breaking from the extreme outside post 14. The Mineshaft gelding drew better for the Arkansas Derby (post 4), said Von Hemel, who has given the call again to Luis Quinonez. Von Hemel said. Suddenbreakingnews will carry 122 pounds.
Suddenbreakingnews may be closer to the pace Saturday, Von Hemel said.
"I think he has some versatility,” Von Hemel said.
The Arkansas Derby field from the rail out: Discreetness, Jon Court to ride, 122 pounds; Cutacorner, Alex Birzer, 118; Creator, Ricardo Santana Jr., 118; Suddenbreakingnews, Luis Quinonez, 122; American Pioneer, Rafael Bejarano, 118; Unbridled Outlaw, Corey Lanerie, 118; Dazzling Gem, Joe Talamo, 118; Whitmore, Irad Ortiz Jr., 118; Luna de Loco, Joe Bravo, 118; Cupid, Martin Garcia, 122; Gray Sky, Ramon Vazquez, 118; and Gettysburg, John Velazquez, 118.
More on Dazzling Gem
Dazzling Gem (12-1) won his first two career starts at Oaklawn before missing the Rebel with a foot abscess. Trainer Brad Cox wheels back the lightly raced Misremembered colt following a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby on March 26. He earned 20 points for finishing third in the Louisiana Derby.
“He’ll be the only horse to run in a 100-point race twice,” said Cox, who trains Dazzling Gem for prominent Arkansas automobile dealer Steve Landers. “That’s a good thing. I guess maybe looking at it, top three, he’s going to be a Derby horse. If not, we’ll look at other things.”
Dazzling Gem probably wouldn’t be in on Saturday if he had finished second in his last start, Cox said. It's all about the points.
“Need the points more than anything, although he is doing well,” Cox said.
If more than 20 enter the Kentucky Derby, starting preference is given to horses with the highest points accumulated in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race series. Dazzling Gem ranks 25th.
Cox gave Dazzling Gem the green light for the Arkansas Derby following a half-mile workout in 49.40 last Saturday at Oaklawn.
“If he wouldn’t have worked the way we wanted, we wouldn’t have been in here,” Cox said. “We would have given him more time. But he worked really well. It was two weeks between his race and his work. He bounced out of it really well.”
After winning his first two career starts this year at Oaklawn, Dazzling Gem was scheduled to run in the Rebel Stakes, but a foot abscess shelved plans to run in Oaklawn’s final major Kentucky Derby prep.
Cox said Dazzling Gem, a son of Misremembered, was “pressed a little bit” to make the Louisiana Derby.
“I don’t think that was a perfect setup,” Cox said. “But we also knew that if we were going to take any shot, we had to go on with him. He ran a good race in the Louisiana Derby. Was it a great race? It was good race, but he needs to step up and move forward.”
Joe Talamo will ride Dazzling Gem for the first time in the Arkansas Derby.
More on Whitmore
Co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett named the Pleasantly Perfect gelding after Wilbur Whitmore, a childhood friend and star running back in the late 1980s at Pocola, OK High School.
Moquett said he believed the name was appropriate after watching the gelding train with a stablemate last year.
“We were galloping a horse that everyone liked, that was a 3-year-old,” Moquett said. “And Whitmore’s galloping, and he’s just going around there and he’s not even tired. This other horse was struggling to stay up. The next day, I put another horse with him and that horse just got exhausted.”
Impressed by Whitmore’s ability, Moquett said the name “just came to him” and he called Wilbur Whitmore about the idea. Moquett said the gelding had already been named when he was purchased privately last year. The gelding was renamed “Whitmore” in early September, about two months before his Nov. 6 career debut victory at Churchill Downs, Moquett said.
“He was cool with it,” Moquett said.
Late-running Creator (10-1) finished third, beaten three lengths, in the Rebel for six-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen.
Gettysburg (6-1) will try to give Todd Pletcher his fifth Arkansas Derby victory since 2000. In his last start, he finished second in the $415,000 Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes March 20 at Sunland Park. The winner, Collected, finished fourth behind Suddenbreakingnews in the Southwest.
Discreetness (20-1) won the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18. Court and his father-in-law, trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs, teamed to win the 2011 Arkansas Derby with Archarcharch.
Edited Oaklawn release with additional content by Dick Downey