(Trainer Bob Baffert will saddle the highly-regarded Charlatan in Division 1 of the G1 Arkansas Derby this Saturday / Photo by Gene McLean)
By Matt Shifman / www.horseracingnation.com
After 22 horses were entered for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Park officials race split into two divisions, both offering a $500,000 purse. As part of a 14-race card, the flights will be headlined by two Bob Baffert runners – Charlatan in the Race 11 (first division) and Nadal in Race 13 (second division).
Churchill Downs opted to let both of the Arkansas Derbys race for the original 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. That’s considering there hasn’t been a points prep since the Florida Derby back on March 28 and, since then. The Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes and, Santa Anita Derby were all postponed.
Here is a full-field analysis of the first division of the Arkansas Derby, post time scheduled for 6:29 p.m. ET. Morning line odds are projected by Horse Racing Nation.
1. Charlatan [ML 7-5 – Speightstown – B. Baffert/M. Garcia – 2: 2-0-0 – $67,200] – We have been down this road before with the highly touted Baffert runner that makes his debut as a 3-year-old and then dominates his first two starts, progressing from a maiden victory to an allowance. Then, the third start in a Grade 1 race becomes the proving ground. Baffert has used three identical six-furlong workouts to prepare, and there is every reason to believe that this son of Speightstown is a real talent. He drew the rail with very little serious speed in this field. Charlatan should have no problem controlling the race from the rail as a heavy favorite. Top choice.
2. My Friends Beer [ML 15-1 – Stay Thristy – J. O’Dwyer/D. Cannon – 8:1-3-2 – $80,958] This Laurel Park-based runner shows only a maiden victory which came in his fifth career start. Board-hitting finishes have been the norm for the late runner, including a second in the Private Terms in Maryland. Most recently, My Friends Beer was third in an allowance at Oaklawn three weeks ago. Toss.
3. Mo Mosa [ML 30-1 – Uncle Mo – M. Maker/K. Carmouche – 5: 1-1-2 – $47,140] This son of Uncle Mo has only a maiden victory on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park to his credit. That win came back in February, after which trainer Mike Maker sent him to the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) where he ran last at 138-1. Most recently, he was third in an allowance at Oaklawn. Toss.
4. Gouverneur Morris [ML 3-1 – Constitution – T. Pletcher/J. Velazquez – 4: 2-1-0 – $197,500] Gouverneur Morris has shown promise since his nine-length debut score at Saratoga and then a second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) as a 2-year-old. He won his first start of 2020 in a Tampa allowance and then ran fourth against a formidable Florida Derby (G1) field. His two victories came while racing from a stalking position. He should be able to get his preferred trip behind a moderate early pace. Win contender.
5. Jungle Runner [ML 30-1 – Candy Ride – S. Asmussen/T. Baze – 7: 2-0-0 – $107,915] This Steve Asmussen trainee was not among the original 99 nominees for the Arkansas Derby and thus was supplemented to the field. Since he won the Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington Park as a 2-year-old, none of his three starts this year were uncompetitive. Jungle Runner also has not raced since the Mine That Bird Derby back in February. Toss.
6. Shooters Shoot [ML 12-1 – Competitive Edge – P. Eurton/J. Talamo – 6: 2-1-1 – $94,880] From the barn of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-winning trainer Peter Eurton, he won his last two starts. He broke his maiden at Santa Anita and then shipped to Oaklawn to take an allowance while on or pressing the pace in both victories. Rider Joe Talamo stays on board, but they will have to deal with Charlatan out front. Three back, Shooters Shoot was among those left in Charlatan’s wake at Santa Anita. Toss.
7. Wrecking Crew [ML 12-1 – Sky Kingdom – P. Miller/F. Prat – 6: 1-2-1 – $337,600] Wrecking Crew built a nice bankroll as a 2-year-old when he hit the board in three graded stakes, including a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His March return in the San Felipe (G2) was an especially tough spot for his 2020 debut. Trainer Peter Miller has sprung many an upset over the years. Use underneath.
8. Anneau d’Or [ML 8-1 – Medaglia d’Oro – B. Wright/J. Hernandez – 4: 1-2-0 – $403,00] He was heavily bet in three out of four starts including his debut victory, a narrow loss in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and a poor performance in his only start this year in the Risen Star (G2) when blinkers were added for the first time. Now they come off as the Golden Gate shipper hopes to get back to a top effort following a more than two-month layoff. Remember, he was second by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Use underneath.
9. Winning Impression [ML 30-1 – Paynter – D. Stewart/J. Leparoux – 6: 1-1-1 – $43,730] His two best races came on sloppy tracks when he broke his maiden at Fair Grounds as a 2-year-old and then finished first in an Oaklawn allowance last month only to be disqualified to fifth after drifting in the stretch. Trainer Dallas Stewart will no doubt be hoping for rain. Toss.
10. Crypto Cash [ML 15-1 – Majesticperfection – K. McPeek/C. Lanerie – 5: 2-1-0 – $100,840] Trainer Kenny McPeek switches back to the dirt, which is where this runner broke his maiden last summer going a mile at Ellis Park. Since then, he has won a turf allowance at Churchill with a late rally and then was fourth in his 2020 debut in a Turfway stakes race in March. This Grade 1 is a tough spot to step up. Toss
11. Basin [ML 8-1 – Liam’s Map – S. Asmussen/R. Santana Jr. – 5: 2-1-1 – $371,000] The open-lengths winner of the Hopeful (G1) has caught sloppy tracks in both of his 2020 starts at Oaklawn Park, resulting in a third and a fourth. He is a past wet track winner, so maybe the issue in those recent losses was the two-turn distance. Now he will have to tackle going nine furlongs for the second straight race. Basin’s two wins came when he was close to the early pace. That didn’t happen in both his starts at age 3. Will they send him to contest the pace since he’s breaking from the far outside? Toss.
Summary: When a stakes is split into two divisions, there is always the risk that the quality of the races will not be balanced. That was certainly the case with this Arkansas Derby with the first flight much less accomplished.
None of the 11 starters in this race have won a stakes as a 3-year-old, and only two contenders recorded a black type win as a juvenile. Five of them have only a maiden victory to their credits.
If Charlatan is close to as good as thought, he will be tough to beat. The Baffert runner should have no trouble controlling the race with only a couple of opponents showing speed in the past, and those two are several posts outside of him.
Gouverneur Morris should be able to stay close enough to make his stalking move. Wrecking Crew had a strong 2-year-old campaign and trainer Peter Miller frequently has horses run well at generous odds. Anneau d’Or also could bounce back after a failed try with blinkers on last time as that equipment comes off now.
Use that trio underneath the big favorite.