Almost All Need Derby Points
By Dick Downey
The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, the last Kentucky Derby prep race awarding 100 points to the winner, has attracted four of the top finishers from two divisions of the Rebel Stakes run at the track last month.
Long Range Toddy, Improbable and Galilean will face off again after running one-two-three in one of two divisions of the Rebel, which received overflow entries when the San Felipe Stakes was canceled after multiple equine fatalities at Santa Anita.
Omaha Beach, who narrowly defeated Game Winner in the other division of the Rebel, is entered as well. Game Winner ran last Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby, narrowly losing to Roadster.
Omaha Beach, Improbable and Galilean, who all arrived in Hot Springs from southern California via air charter on Tuesday afternoon, will face five locally-based horses, one shipped in from Florida, and two stabled at Oaklawn via New York and California.
Steve Asmussen, who trains locally-based Long Range Toddy, entered three other horses in Oaklawn's $1 million race: Jersey Agenda, Laughing Fox and Tikhvin Flew.
Jon Court has the return mount on Long Range Toddy after riding him for the first time winning the Rebel, which earned him Jockey of the Week honors at Jockeytalk360.com.
Whether it's true or not, it seems that trainer Bob Baffert draws the rail a lot in the big races, and that's what happened again with Improbable. Baffert adds blinkers for the Arkanas Derby, and Drayden Van Dyke has been replaced in the saddle by Jose Ortiz. Improbable recently worked with blinkers, leading to the change in equipment. Despite that rail draw, Improbable was installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite.
Galilean, who handily won the 1 1/16-mile California Cup Derby on Feb. 18 before finishing third in the Rebel, will be ridden by Flavien Prat, as he was in both of those race, for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Richard Mandella sends in Omaha Beach with no changes from the Rebel. Mike Smith, who was on board Roadster in the Santa Anita Derby, will once again guide Omana Beach. Assuming Omaha Beach runs well this Saturday, Kentucky Derby fans will be attuned to which horse Smith rides on the first Saturday in May.
All About the Points
Kentucky Derby points are an issue for all the entries but one. Long Range Toddy, with 53.5 points, already has enough to make the big dance in Louisville.
However, Improbable, with 25 points, needs more, and the same could be said for Omaha Beach with 37.5 points, depending on the circumstances. Galilean has 7.5 points and probably needs at least a second place finish in order to secure a place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Country House is shipped in from Florida for trainer Bill Mott. Most recently seen finishing a late-running, but non-threatening, fourth in the Lousiana Derby, he has 30 Kentucky Derby points and likely will need more than that to make the Derby field. Joel Rosario has the mount after Luis Saez was the rider for Country House in the Louisiana Derby.
Gray Attempt, who has 10 Kentucky Derby points, will try to turn around his fortunes. Trained by Jinks Fires, Gray Attempt was the front-running winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn. When he returned in the Southwest Stakes, Gray Attempt was sawn off in the first turn after breaking from post 1, and he finished last in the field of 11.
The colt came out of the race with some minor injuries, upsetting the ordinarily mild-mannered Fires, and they bypassed the Rebel Stakes. Fires says he's gotten Gray Attempt back in good shape, and he has a new jockey -- Stewart Elliott, who won the Arkansas Derby riding Smarty Jones in 2004.
Laughing Fox, an allowance winner, was pinched back after exiting post 2 at the start of the Rebel division won by Omaha Beach. He finished seventh after never threatening the leaders. Ricardo Santana, Jr. will again ride Laughing Fox, this time from post 5.
The field is rounded out by:
--Six Shooter, most recently third in the Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn, has two Derby points;
--Tikhvin Flew, one of the Asmussen trainees, was sixth in the Gotham Stakes last time out;
--Doug O'Neill trainee One Flew South, usually based in southern California, was a last-out fifth in the Mine That Bird Derby and has been in training at Oaklawn for a couple of weeks;
--Jersey Agenda, another local one from the Asmussen barn, finished fifth of 10, beaten 10 3/4 lengths by Omaha Beach in the Rebel.
The Arkansas Derby awards points to the fop four finishers on a scale of 100-40-20-10.
The Arkansas Derby field from the rail out, with jockey and morning line:
1 Improbable, Jose Ortiz, 8-5
2 Six Shooter, David Cohen, 30-1
3 Omaha Beach, Mike Smith, 2-1
4 Tikhvin Flew, Tyler Baze, 30-1
5 Laughing Fox, Ricardo Santana, Jr., 20-1
6 Gray Attempt, Stewart Elliott, 8-1
7 Galilean, Flavien Prat, 10-1
8 Country House, Joel Rosario, 12-1
9 One Flew South, Calvin Borel, 50-1
10 Jersey Agenda, Ramon Vazquez, 30-1
11 Long Range Toddy, Jon Court, 5-1