By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: There might not be any Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May – but five-time Derby winning-trainer Bob Baffert is still in pole position as he saddles the hot favourite in both divisions of the Arkansas Derby.
Oaklawn Park pushed its signature race back from April 11 to fill the slot left empty by the postponement of the Kentucky Derby until September 5 owing to coronavirus, resulting in a surfeit of entries for the G1 event, which is now split into two $500,000 divisions.
Baffert has won the Arkansas highlight twice before, most recently with subsequent Triple Crown hero American Pharoah in 2015. He saddles much vaunted Charlatan in Div I (11.29pm BST), followed by Rebel Stakes winner Nadal in Div II (Sun 12.43am BST).
“We’re just fortunate and just grateful that they split it and we get to run them there and keep them separated,” Baffert said. “I really did not want to run them together.”
First up for Baffert is Charlatan (Martin Garcia), who faces the acid test after two straightforward victories by a combined total of 20 lengths in lesser grade at Santa Anita. Charlatan didn’t just win; he pulverised the opposition, producing the two highest Beyer speed figures among this year’s three-year-olds.
Charlatan is vying for Kentucky Derby favouritism with British bookmakers at around the 5-1 mark as he breaks from the rail – always a worry for Baffert – against a field also featuring leading Kentucky contender Gouverneur Morris (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez), whose trainer has a record five wins in the race.
Nadal (Joel Rosario) returns to Oaklawn after a gutsy front-running victory in the $1 million Rebel Stakes on March 14, the traditional major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.
He is three-for-three lifetime as he takes on the likes of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Storm The Court (Peter Eurton/Flavien Prat) plus Wells Bayou (Brad Cox/Florent Geroux) and King Guillermo (Juan Carlos Avila/Samy Camacho), respective winners of the Louisiana and Tampa Bay Derbys.
Oaklawn’s habitual leading trainer Steve Asmussen has four runners split between the two divisions, headed by Basin and Silver Prospector, who will both be partnered by his local go-to rider Ricardo Santana.
Kentucky Derby betting
Ladbrokes: 5 Tiz The Law, 6 Charlatan, 7 Authentic, 10 Nadal, 16 Maxfield, Mischievous Alex, 20 Ete Indien, Honor A.P., 25 Azul Coast, Gouverneur Morris, King Guillermo, Max Player, Silver Prospector, Structor, Wells Bayou, 33 bar.
Shall we talk about it?
“I hate the one hole – I never do like it. He’s got to break. From the one hole, you’ve got to use them up a little bit harder early, just like you would if you were on the outside.”
Bob Baffert (trainer)
“He’s had three good breezes since he ran in the Florida Derby, so we’re happy with the progress he’s made. This will be his third start off the layoff and we’re hoping for a good, honest pace. I think he’s a horse that’s looking to kind of settle and make a run. It was difficult to do that last time at Gulfstream, with the track being kind of speed-favouring and not much pace in the race.”
Todd Pletcher (trainer)
“We definitely haven’t gotten the best of Basin this year. This is his third start off the layoff, so it’s time to get it done. The weather looks good this weekend after catching two ‘off’ tracks. There’s a lot more there.”
Steve Asmussen (trainer)
Storm The Court
“He’s got natural speed and he doesn’t have to be on the lead, which I don’t think he’s going to be. But he generally breaks pretty good and we’ll let him run out of there and see how it unfolds.”
Peter Eurton (trainer)
“I think Nadal, for some reason, doesn’t get the respect that he should be getting. He’s a really top horse. Last time we were on the inside and had to get away from there and go and then we got hooked up early by American Theorem. He came to us and they went fast. To me, I think he showed us that day what he’s really made of. And they came to him. He had every reason to stop and he just kept going.”
Bob Baffert (trainer)
“The second division is pretty loaded; The first half looks a little more wide open. There are some extremely accomplished horses in the second division, but he’s one of them. He’s a graded-stakes winner himself. He’s training beautifully. It think it’s another situation where everyone that is training well showed up.”
Steve Asmussen (trainer)
“I would have probably preferred to have drawn down to the inside with this horse; I don’t think he’s going to be fast enough to break and clear. But I do know the horse is doing extremely well and he’s going to bring his ‘A’ race. But I don’t think he’s going to get the trip that he got in the Louisiana Derby. But I do know that he can get the distance and if he runs his race, he’s going to be a factor in the end.”
Brad Cox (trainer)
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