The end of Derby prep race season is upon us! This Saturday is the final major test for 3 year olds before the May 6th Kentucky Derby. The $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby will attract a throng of 50,000-plus to Oaklawn Park, and Virginia residents can participate as well. You can wager the action at either Richmond OTB — Breakers Sports Grille or Ponies & Pints — or on line at TVG.com, XPressBet.com, TwinSpires.com and NYRABets.com. Here’s a preview of sorts courtesy of America’s Best Racing.
The long and winding road filled with major Kentucky Derby preps comes to an end Saturday in Arkansas, but don’t expect to hear a bunch of “yeah, yeah, yeahs” from Paul McCartney.
The $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park serves as the last race in the road to the Kentucky Derby series with a 100-40-20-10 payoff in points, and it should punch a ticket to Louisville for a couple of starters – as well as a rather rich financial payday for the top finishers.
A couple of superstars have dominated the race in the last 10 years, with Triple Crown and Grand Slam winner American Pharoah (2015) and Curlin (2007) winning the race, and time will tell if this edition of the mile and an eighth race is a launching pad for another equine celebrity.
In the meantime, in assessing the recent history of the race in hopes of digging up some clues about the winner of Saturday’s race, there are some trends to keep in mind.
Over the course of the last 10 years, the key prep for the Arkansas Derby has been another stakes at Oaklawn, the Rebel. Four Arkansas Derby winners came out of the Rebel, with two of them winning that race and two finishing third. After that, horses exiting a race in California won on three occasions. Two of them came out of the San Felipe at Santa Anita, while the other was last seen in a Santa Anita allowance race. The Gotham, Louisiana Derby and a Gulfstream Park allowance race were the other springboards to victory in Oaklawn’s Grade 1 stakes.
Another key stat to note is that in the last 10 years trainers Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen have each won the Arkansas Derby twice.
There’s been a wide variety in the odds of the last 10 Arkansas Derby winners as four were betting favorites and four were 11-1 or higher. Two of them checked in at 25-1 and 41-1, with the longest of the two being Danza, the 2014 winner who was trained by Pletcher. Suffice it to say, you will not get 41-1 on a Pletcher runner in Saturday’s race.
Current form is also meaningful with horses who finished first, second or third in their last race accounting for nine wins and dividing that figure with three apiece.
Finally, while there may be a long stretch at Oaklawn, speed horses have fared pretty well. Two of the last 10 have been front-running winners (Bodemeister in 2012 and Line of David in 2010) and another two were second after the opening half-mile. Altogether five of the 10 have been third or better after a half mile.
Only two stone-cold closers have won the race since 2007. Creator, who was 12th after a half mile, won the race last year and Archarcharch rallied from ninth in 2011.
And with that, folks, the curtain falls on the 2017 prep season and hopefully it helped both horses and handicappers become razor sharp for the first Saturday in May.