The 2016 Grade 1, $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby has a field of 12 horses going a mile and 1/8 on the dirt. Sticking to the last 20 years, Arkansas Derby winners have included Victory Gallop, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin, and, of course, American Pharoah. This year’s field is led by Bob Baffert’s Cupid, who is 2-1 on the ML and comes in off a win in the Grade 2 Rebel.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the Arkansas Derby will be run at a fast pace, and #10 Cupid and #11 Gray Sky will be battling for the lead at the opening half-mile. #7 Dazzling Gem is shown forcing the issue from inside. #6 Unbridled Outlaw looks to be in a nice stalking position in fourth place.
The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating, a 111, belongs to Suddenbreakingnews. Creator’s 108 is second best.
Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Discreetness (20-1): Proved no match for today’s top contenders in his last two starts and would need a significant new top figure today to get involved late. His ceiling today would seem to be the south end of the superfecta.
Cutacorner (50-1): A sentimental favorite for us (and we do not have many), this ironically named colt is trained by the legendary Jack Van Berg. Unfortunately, he keeps finishing behind Discreetness and seemingly would need a complete pace meltdown to get on the board.
Creator (10-1): Got back to his two-year-old top when breaking his maiden in February. Came back, ambitiously, in the Rebel, where he cut the first corner and made a wide run to finish third to Cupid. Well-bred colt should be flattered by the pace. He is certainly eligible to improve further. Our main knock on him is that if this pace does indeed set up for his deep-closing style, then it will also set up for Suddenbreakingnews, and we do not believe that Creator, at this point in his development, is likely to beat Suddenbreakingnews in a fair fight.
To us it all comes down to trip for this gelding. He is fast (though this has been obscured somewhat by bad trips). He always fires his shot. He has never been better. He is visually impressive. He has a wicked late kick and the fastest Late Pace rating in the field. The pace could very well be in his favor. We felt he was done in by trouble in the Rebel. We were impressed by his performance in the Southwest. He should be able to save ground around the first turn today without being strangled and yanked around. Can he find clear sailing? A fast pace would help by stringing out the field and minimizing ground loss around the far turn. We do not believe that Suddenbreakingnews is as talented as Cupid. But his odds will be higher and his trip could well be better and he is our selection.
American Pioneer (8-1): Wayne Catalano is putting this son of Awesome Again in a Grade 1 a month after he broke his maiden. American Pioneer has certainly shown promise. He just put a 106 on top of his debut 96. The most lightly raced horse in the field, he is eligible to jump again third time out, and Catalano is extremely sharp. But while Catalano gets a 100 rating at Oaklawn, he gets only a 59 in three-year-old stakes races. In addition, this colt got a very friendly trip to break his maiden. In traffic around the first turn, he found the rail on the backstretch, stalked behind a duel, saved ground on the far turn, and slipped through a crack on the rail to get the win. We respect his potential for further improvement, but we believe he needs more of it than he is likely to deliver today, and we doubt that his closing odds will justify playing for this improvement.
Unbridled Outlaw (10-1): Came up short in a bottom-level allowance over this surface a month ago. That effort came in a race open to older horses, but the Race Rating was seven points lower than the preliminary Race Rating for today’s race. Seemed to do a bit of early tugging, too, which will not necessarily stand him in good stead in a race projected to have a fast pace. His top is a 105, well shy of what he will probably need today.
Dazzling Gem (12-1): Brad Cox colt has a pretty pattern and showed quite a bit of fight in the Louisiana Derby, where he was pinballed in the lane, looked done, and then put up quite a fight in traffic to get third. Naturally, Cox gets a 100 rating at Oaklawn, to go with his decent 79 in three-year-old stakes. Horses who have never gone backwards are always eligible to go forward again, and Dazzling Gem would probably not have to go forward by all that much. Interesting longshot, though he could well be at a pace disadvantage. He is one whom, at minimum, we would definitely use in exotics.
We cannot help but admire this very professional racehorse. He has improved each time out at age three. He is fast (top of 111). He is improving. He seems supremely athletic. He has mixed it up with top horses. We have heard plenty of talk about how he supposedly did not want to go by Cupid in the Rebel. We are having none of it. We do not think that Whitmore is the most talented horse in here, but we can easily see him working out a trip that allows him to take advantage of a fast pace and win this race anyway. Strong contender.
Luna de Loco (30-1): Has failed to build on his promising debut and had a tough time of it in the Southwest. His last effort was better, but we want to see him get back to his top.
It would not surprise us one bit if this Baffert colt wins the 2016 Kentucky Derby. We like the way he has developed. We loved his maiden race visually. We loved what he did in the first 1/4 and the final 1/8 of the Rebel. Indeed, to us, the combination of his opening 1/4, which began with a poor break, and his final 1/8, in all its style, was a display of championship potential. He obviously has the right trainer. He has shown versatility. He is fast (top of 111) and eligible to get faster. He is beautifully bred for middle distances. But all the Oaklawn Baffert buzz surrounding this race is going to take its toll on Cupid’s odds. We do not play horses like this one in situations such as this one—no matter how talented we think they are.
Gray Sky (30-1): Lukas colt worked his way up to a 97 while remaining a maiden until November of his two-year-old season. Has come back at age three to run figures of 100 104 106. This is a nice pattern, and we feel he ran quite a bit better in the Rebel than his finish position suggests. Very wide into the first turn from a bad post, he worked his way toward the rail, settled two-wide down the backstretch, and then made a wide early move and lost considerable ground around the far turn. Predictably, he hit a wall in the stretch. Give him continued improvement and a decent trip today and he could be dangerous at gigantic odds.
Gettysburg (6-1): Pletcher colt has been set back by nothing. His lifetime speed figures read: 83 92 100 103 113. On our numbers he is the fastest horse in the race. In his Sunland stake he got a “first-over” trip. He stalked from the outside, engaged on the far turn, and then proved no match for Collected but very much the best of the rest. The race received a Race Rating three points lower than the preliminary Race Rating for today’s race. Pletcher gets strong numbers at Oaklawn. Gettysburg is a strong contender, but we did not love his last race visually, and we cannot quite bring ourselves to select him today.
Win bet on Suddenbreakingnews. Use Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore in multi-race exotics.