Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, April 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Arkansas Derby: Scramble for points lures horses from coast to coast
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – The scramble for Kentucky Derby eligibility points has brought an eclectic mix of 3-year-olds to Oaklawn Park for the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday. The field of 10 includes horses who last raced at Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Tampa Bay Downs, and Turfway Park.
Overanalyze is the most accomplished member of the group as the winner of the Grade 2 Remsen last November. Oxbow, Falling Sky, and Den’s Legacy are all Grade 3 winners. War Academy is the “buzz” horse off an allowance win at Santa Anita for which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.
“We’ll know after the race, but it looks very competitive,” said Bob Baffert, the trainer of Den’s Legacy and War Academy.
The Arkansas Derby has 170 points for the taking, with 100 to the winner on a new system governing Kentucky Derby preference if the race is oversubscribed. Saturday’s runner-up will earn 40 points, third is worth 20, and fourth, 10. The Arkansas Derby anchors a 12-race, closing-day card of four stakes that features an appearance by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned in the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.
Overanalyze has 10 points to rank 26th on the latest Kentucky Derby preference list. He earned them for winning the Remsen, run at the same 1 1/8-mile distance as the Arkansas Derby. Overanalyze fought for a nose win in the Remsen over eventual Wood Memorial runner-up Normandy Invasion. Two races earlier, he had won the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont Park. The Arkansas Derby will be his second start of the year, following a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct on March 2.
“We feel like with a race under his belt he’s ready to move forward,” trainer Todd Pletcher said.
“Based on his 2-year-old form, winning the Remsen and Futurity, he has the quality needed to make that move forward as a 3-year-old.”
Overanalyze is one of four Arkansas Derby starters on Daily Racing Form ’s Derby Watch, along with Den’s Legacy, Oxbow, and War Academy. He will break from post 9 under Rafael Bejarano and could get a tracking trip behind Falling Sky, Divine Ambition, and perhaps War Academy.
“I think he’s pretty adaptable to any pace scenario,” Pletcher said. “He won the Remsen stalking, he won the Futurity from well off the pace, and going five-eighths in his first start, he won wire to wire.”
Oxbow, whose 36 points ranks 13th for the Kentucky Derby, also could get a tracking trip Saturday. He will break from post 10 for his third race in a row, but the draw is not as severe this time as there is a longer run to the first turn than he had when he finished second by a head to stablemate Will Take Charge in the Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at Oaklawn in his last start March 16.
“Post position is not as important in the Arkansas Derby at a mile and an eighth as it was in the Rebel at a mile and a sixteenth,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “Another sixteenth of a mile, I think that it helps us.”
Gary Stevens, who teamed with Lukas to win the Kentucky Derby in 1988 (Winning Colors) and 1995 (Thunder Gulch), has the mount on Oxbow. The horse will be making his first start beyond 1 1/16 miles Saturday.
“I have no concerns,” Lukas said. “I don’t think it makes any difference to him if he runs the length of a corncob or two miles. He’ll be tough.”
Den’s Legacy, who has 20 points to rank 18th, is similar to Oxbow in that he has a series of close finishes in recent graded stakes. Den’s Legacy has fired competitive races against Violence, Goldencents, Flashback, and Will Take Charge.
“Den’s Legacy, he’s been right there every time,” Baffert said. “He’s never run a bad race. He tries hard. He’s very tough.”
Baffert also likes how Den’s Legacy has trained for the Arkansas Derby, which will be his second start at the Oaklawn meet following a third-place finish in the Rebel.
“He was fighting on at the end last time,” Baffert said. “He’s coming into this race really sharp. He’s looked really good training.”
Robby Albarado has the mount on Den’s Legacy, while Mike Smith will be in to ride War Academy. Smith was aboard War Academy last out, when the horse went after a loose-on-the-lead rival to win a first-level allowance by 3 1/2 lengths in his third career start March 15.
“He ran a great race,” Baffert said. “The way he did it, he just laid off the pace a little bit. He’s doing well. He’s shipping and running, and we’re going to find out a lot about him.”
Given the horse’s inexperience, Baffert was somewhat surprised War Academy was made the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Arkansas Derby. Baffert won the Arkansas Derby last year with another lightly raced colt.
“I think they’re looking for a Bodemeister again, and I hope they’re right,” Baffert said.
Falling Sky, with 20 points, finished third to current Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano last out in the Grade 2 Tampa Derby. Verrazano went on to win the Wood Memorial.
Falling Sky “got pressed the whole way last time by a very talented horse, never really got a breather,” trainer John Terranova said. “It was only his second route race, and he came out of it very well. It looks like he’s going forward at this point.”
Texas Bling, with 9 points, won the $300,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park last December at 128-1. He backed the effort up at Oaklawn in January, by running second by a neck in the $150,000 Smarty Jones won by Will Take Charge. Texas Bling enters the Arkansas Derby off a fourth-place finish in the Rebel.
“He’s maturing more into a classic-distance type horse, so I expect him to be coming from off the pace,” trainer Danele Durham said. “I’m looking for a big close from him.”
Calvin Borel, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, will ride Texas Bling.
The Arkansas Derby will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network from 5-6 p.m. Central. HRTV also will be onsite. First post is 12 p.m. Central, with Oaklawn to open its infield for a crowd that could top 60,000.