By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: The Kentucky Derby may have been postponed until the first Saturday in September but the first Saturday in May will still feature a ‘Durr-by’ at G1 level involving more than 20 high-class three-year-olds.
The only thing is, the contest will be split into two 11-runner races – at Oaklawn Park, where their signature race, the G1 Arkansas Derby, will take place in two divisions behind closed doors on May 2 owing to the large numbers of entries.
With so few opportunities elsewhere in the US owing to the coronavirus pandemic, trainers nationwide were keen to get to Oaklawn for a rich G1 prize – to the extent that a total of 99 horses were originally entered.
The 1m1f dirt contest will be run as two divisions, each worth $500,000 as opposed to the originally scheduled $1 million. Significantly, both races will carry the full 170 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, set to take place on September 5.
As a result, a plethora of horses who feature towards the top end of ante-post betting for the Kentucky Derby feature across the two divisions, headed by the unbeaten Bob Baffert-pair Charlatan and Nadal. The former is vying for Kentucky favouritism at around the 6-1 mark after a pair of stunning victories in minor events at Santa Anita.
Baffert won the Arkansas Derby in 2015 with subsequent Triple Crown hero American Pharoah; he also saddled Kentucky runner-up Bodemeister to win here in 2012.
In announcing the split divisions, Oaklawn president Louis Cella said: “Because of our national crisis, we and the entire world of sports are in uncharted waters requiring unprecedented actions.
“We’re trying to make the best of a very, very difficult situation,” he went on. “On the one hand, it is the worst of times to be racing without fans in our grandstand. On the other, we have a large number of exceptional three-year-olds wanting to run in our Arkansas Derby. We simply did not want to see anyone lose that opportunity.”
A total of 22 horses are expected to go to post between the two divisions, including winners of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Rebel Stakes, the Tampa Bay Derby and the Louisiana Derby.
In the first division, Charlatan breaks from the rail against rivals including Breeders’ Cup runner-up Anneau D’Or and highly rated Gouverneur Morris, who represent five-time Arkansas winner Todd Pletcher.
The second division offers even more strength in depth, with Rebel Stakes winner Nadal joined by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hero Storm The Court, plus King Guillermo and Wells Bayou, respective winners of the Tampa Bay and Louisiana Derbys.
Oaklawn’s showpiece card features 14 races altogether, including a red-hot edition of the G2 Oaklawn Handicap with a maximum 14-runner field headed by dual Classic-placed Tacitus, last seen staying on for fifth place in the Saudi Cup. Also entered are Pegasus World Cup runner-up Mr Freeze, G1 scorer Improbable and New Orleans Classic winner By My Standards.
Arkansas Derby betting
Division 1, William Hill: 4-6 Charlatan, 9-2 Gouverneur Morris, 8 Basin, Anneau d’Or, 16 Shooters Shoot, 25 Crypto Cash, Winning Impression, Wrecking Crew, 100 Jungle Runner, Mo Mosa, My Friends Beer.
Division 2, William Hill: 11-8 Nadal, 5 King Guillermo, 6 Storm The Court, Wells Bayou, 7 Fast Enough, 12 Silver Prospector, 20 Farmington Road, 33 Taishan, Finnick The Fierce, 100 Code Runner, Saratogian.
Kentucky Derby betting
Coral: 5 Tiz The Law, 6 Charlatan, 8 Authentic, 10 Nadal, 16 Maxfield, Mischievous Alex, 20 Honor A.P., Wells Bayou, 25 Anneau D’Or, Gouverneur Morris, King Guilermo.