Arkansas Derby and Oaklawn Handicap Previews

April 16th 2016

Today will be a very interesting day on several levels at Oaklawn Park. First, the $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby will catapult at least one horse into the Kentucky Derby field. Secondly, the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap will be be an intriguing race in the older horse division and as a future reference for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic contender watch.

The Oaklawn Handicap will be a rematch of the Santa Anita Handicap race winner Melatonin and 3rd place finisher Effinex who was the race favorite for that race. Point Piper is also entered in the Oaklawn Handicap and he finished 5th in the Santa Anita Handicap. Thrown into this mix is the Razorback Stakes winner Upstart and Todd Pletcher’s Gulfstream Park Handicap winner Blofeld.

As for the Arkansas Derby, it is interesting to note that three out of the last four race Arky Derby winners have gone on to finish in the top 3 of the Kentucky Derby (2015 American Pharoah- 1st, 2014 Danza – 3rd, 2012 Bodemeister 2nd).

Bob Baffert’s Cupid is the morning line favorite at 2/1 odds in the Arkansas Derby. However, some background info on the Derby prep races at Oaklawn Park this year–the race favorite has failed to win every race. Here is how the race favorites have fared. In the Smarty Jones Stakes, Toews On Ice finished 6th. In the Southwest Stakes, Collected finished 4th. In the Rebel Stakes, Suddenbreakingnews finished 5th. 

I think both of these races are wide open and will be exciting races to watch. Below are post position draws and morning line odds.

Oaklawn Handicap – 1 1/8th Mile Race #9 at Oaklawn Park – Post-Time: 5:09 PM CST

Post Position/Horse/Weight/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Blofeld (116) – Velazquez/Pletcher 4-1
2. Melatonin (119) – Talamo/Hofmans 7-2
3. Point Piper (113) – Garcia/Hollendorfer 15-1
4. Financial Modeling (113) – Ortiz/Cox 8-1
5. Carve (115) – Bejarano/Asmussen 15-1
6. Upstart (119) – Bravo/Violette 7/2
7. Domain’s Rap (114) – Vazquez/Villafranco 12-1
8. Effinex (121) – Smith/Jerkens 2-1

Commentary: The most compelling story line here is Melatonin, the surprise winner of the Santa Anita Handicap. Was his win in the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap a fluke or is Melatonin the real deal? I have no magic handicapping advice for this one but a Show bet on Effinex should be a safe bet. Blofeld was given 4/1 morning line odds but he has never raced further than 1 mile. I like a 2,6,8 Boxed Trifecta and Upstart for the surprise win.

Upstart was a third place finisher in the 1 1/8th mile Haskell Invitational last year behind American Pharoah and Keen Ice. Jockey Joe Bravo seems to have some magic at this track haven ridden 41-1 odds Danza to a 2014 Arkansas Derby victory. And he is coming off a win on Upstart in the Razorback Handicap.

Arkansas Derby – 1 1/8th Mile Race #11 at Oaklawn Park – Post Time: 6:18 PM CST

Post Position/Horse/Jockey/Trainer/Odds
1. Discreetness – Court/Fires 20-1
2. Cutacorner – Birzer/Van Berg 50-1
3. Creator – Santana Jr./Asmussen 10-1
4. Suddenbreakingnews – Quinonez/Von Hemel 5-1
5. American Pioneer – Bejarano/Catalano 8-1
6. Unbridled Outlaw – Lanerie/Romans 10-1
7. Dazzling Gem – Talamo/Cox 12-1
8. Whitmore – Ortiz Jr./Moquett 9-2
9. Luna de Loco – Bravo/Asmussen 30-1
10. Cupid – Garcia/Baffert 2-1
11. Gray Sky – Vazquez/Lukas 30-1
12. Gettysburg – Velazquez/Pletcher 6-1

Commentary: I like Cupid but if immediate history holds form at Oaklawn as I noted earlier, the race favorite doesn’t win. If anyone is going to beat Cupid it will be one of these three horses: Whitmore, Suddenbreakingnews and Gettysburg. There are no concerns about Gettysburg going the distance as he finished 2nd in the 1 1/8th Sunland Park Festival of Racing back in March. Suddenbreakingnews is a closer. He won the Southwest Stakes but finished a disappointing 5th in the Rebel Stakes. He should finish higher than 5th with an extra furlong to work his closer magic.

Whitmore finished 2nd in the Southwest and Rebel Stakes. He has sort of been the bridesmaid at Oaklawn this year. He did press Cupid for the win in the Rebel. Will it be his turn to visit victory lane? I am not sure. I like a 4-10 (Suddenbreakingnews, Cupid) Exacta Box in this one.