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The First Saturday in May: All Eyes on… Arkansas?

By Katie Hall

ATB Baseball and Horseracing Analyst

@loveof_diamonds


Oaklawn Park (picture from pinterest.com)

The year 2020 has been a complete fog. It feels like baseball spring training was just last week and the NBA was about to finish up its regular season. Now, it’s already the first weekend in May, and unfortunately for the first time since 1945, the Kentucky Derby will not run and is postponed until September.

For many, the Kentucky Derby is the one horse race a year that they watch on television – often getting dressed up, wearing fancy hats, and drinking a famous mint julep. For others, it is a trip to the Bluegrass State that is something to look forward to every year. Festivities span throughout the week, including specialty bourbon tours, concerts downtown, and Dawn at the Downs, where you can see the Derby and Oaks horses stretch out the week of the race.

On Derby Day, celebrities from all over the world flock to Louisville, Kentucky, and the beautiful Churchill Downs, along with more than 150,000 other horse racing fans. With the realities of COVID-19, it will be interesting to see what the Kentucky Derby looks like in the first weekend in September. Will the horses run without the roar of fans screaming as they make that final turn? Will the legendary infield experience be a thing of the past? Only time will tell.

But for now, the horse racing community must adapt and make the best of this unpresented situation. For horsemen and women, the Kentucky Derby is not just a big party – it is a goal and milestone for every owner, trainer, breeder, and jockey. Stallions cover approximately 30,000 thoroughbred mares every year, producing foals that are destined to be race horses. Many do not have the pedigree for the one and one-quarter mile distance on dirt, but for those that do, their journey to the Run for the Roses begins years before the first weekend in May. After being born, thoroughbreds are weaned, broken, and trained – years of work before they even make it to the track. If a horse wants to make it to the Kentucky Derby, they need to start racing in their two-year-old year (with few exceptions, like Triple Crown winner, Justify). However, with the Derby now being run in September, it will be interesting to see what the field comes together to look like.

Lucky for racing and sports fans alike, today offers an exciting opportunity to see at least two potential Kentucky Derby hopefuls race. The Arkansas Derby (Derbies - as in plural - this year!) is a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby (i.e. if the horse wins, it will have enough points to qualify to run in the Derby in September). This year, due to the number of entries, there are two divisions (two races) and the winner in each will be able to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Legendary trainer Bob Baffert has the favorite horse in each division – Charlatan and Nadal, however the fields in both races could offer some interesting competition and wagering opportunities.

The first of the two Arkansas Derby races has a 5:30 pm CST post time, followed by an interesting classic race with many familiar former Kentucky Derby contenders (post time 6:04 pm CST), and the second division of the Arkansas Derby (post time 6:43 pm CST). See below for some picks and brief analysis. Tune in to NBC Sports all afternoon today to see amazing footage of American Pharaoh’s run to the triple crown as well as the much anticipated computer-simulated Kentucky Derby with all past Triple Crown winners.


American Pharaoh (photo by Barbara Livingston)

Brief Analysis on the Arkansas Derbies and Oaklawn Handicap:


Race 11: Arkansas Derby Division 1

It seems like Charlatan is the horse to beat in this race. Unraced at two-years-old, Charlatan has been lights out in his first two races at the age of three. He broke his maiden in February (against Shooters Shoot) and seems to keep improving with added distance. It is hard to bet against this Baffert horse today.

I also like Anneau d’Or (post position #8), especially at 6:1 odds. This fast Medaglia d’Oro colt has failed as the favorite in his last two races, but has demonstrated speed figures that could make this race competitive.

Race 12: Oaklawn Handicap

I love four-year-old races. It is always exciting to see some familiar names. Tacitus (9), By My Standards (12), and Combatant (7) are the morning favorites. My eyes are on two longer shots – Brad Cox’s Night Ops (15) that will be ridden by Javier Castellano (currently at 15:1 odds), and Warrior’s Charge (8) that will be ridden by Florent Geroux (currenting at 8:1 odds). I also will be cheering for Dale Romans and Mr. Freeze (4).

Race 13: Arkansas Derby Division 2

This race is wide open in my opinion. Either Baffert’s Nadal or Brad Cox’s Wells Bayou will likely go off as the favorite, but I think this field is very competitive. Storm the Court (3) at 6:1, Silver Prospector (7) at 10:1, and Fast Enough (8) at 12:1 are attractive odds for horses that could beat the favorites. I might look at odds and place some long shot WPS bets (Win Place Show).

Expert Picks [note that these are all at Oaklawn]:

Big Joe:

Race 11: Arkansas Derby Division 1

“I like 1 (Charlatan) all day long, maybe 4 (Gouverneur Morris) can stay close. I think it is a straight exacta play.”

Race 13: Arkansas Derby Division 2

“Silver Prospector at 10:1 is a great long shot, and I will play him with Nadal in an exacta. I also like Storm the Court and Wells Bayou.”

Sammy:

Race 11: Arkansas Derby Division 1

“The #1 horse (Charlatan) is the winner and 4 (Gouverneur Morris), 8 (Anneau d’Or) and 9 (Winning Impression) are competing for 2nd and 3rd and the points allocated to those finishes.”

Race 12: Oaklawn Handicap

“The Oaklawn Handicap could be a really, really good race. I like 7 (Combatant) to win, but 6 (Warrior’s Charge) is very good, too. 2 (Trophy Chaser) and 12 (By My Standards) round out my top four horses.”

Race 13: Arkansas Derby Division 2

“I like 5 (Nadal), 4 (King Guillermo), 11 (Wells Bayou), and 7 (Silver Prospector), in that order.”

Computer Simulated Kentucky Derby – Triple Crown Winners

“I like Secretariat, American Pharaoh, and Citation in a trifecta box.”

***NOTE – You can’t actually bet on this race. But you could do a fun bet with friends and family.

Katie Hall

Across the Board Sports

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