The road to the Kentucky Derby comes to an end on Saturday as the final two preps for the most coveted prize in horse racing take place at Oaklawn and Keeneland.
The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs features an 11-horse field loaded with talent. The race, which awards 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 to the third-place finisher and 10 to the fourth-place, includes the two winners of last month’s split Rebel Stakes.
But neither Long Range Toddy nor Omaha Beach earned morning line favorite status in the Grade II 1-1/8-mile stakes race.
No, the favorite is Improbable. The Bob Baffert-trained colt gained the lead on the stretch in his division of the March 16 Rebel, only to see Long Range Toddy overtake him in the final strides.
Improbable was installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite after he drew the inside gate. Baffert seemed less than thrilled hearing the news regarding where his horse will start.
“I just got a call from (WinStar Farms President and CEO) Elliott Walden and he told us about our wonderful draw,” said Baffert said, referring to one of Improbable’s owners. “I think I’ve drawn the rail seven out of eight times in the last week. Unbelievable.”
Vying for Derby Spots
With 53.5 qualifying points, Long Range Toddy seems safe as he’s No. 11 in the Kentucky Derby points standings. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt drew the outside gate and starts at 5-1.
Other Derby contenders in the field likely need at least a third-place finish to secure a trip to Louisville in three weeks. Improbable, whose only loss in four starts came in the Rebel, has 25 points and currently sits 27th in the standings.
Churchill Downs uses the points system to set the field, accepting up to 20 horses. However, two slots are reserved for entries coming out of Japan and Europe.
Currently, the first horse on the outside of the points race is Omaha Beach, who earned all 37.5 of his points outdueling favorite Game Winner down the stretch in the second Rebel Stakes race.
Trainer Richard Mandella’s horse drew the third gate for Saturday, but Mandella said he would have been fine with any spot in the starting gate. Omaha Beach’s odds start at 2-1.
“I didn’t come to bet,” said Mandella when asked if it surprised him Omaha Beach didn’t earn morning line favorite status. “I came to do my job.”
Another horse with Kentucky Derby aspirations is Country House, who has 30 points. The Bill Mott-trained horse ran a lackluster fourth in the March 23 Louisiana Derby. That prompted his connections to give him one last race to earn a spot in the Run for the Roses. His morning line odds are 12-1.
Fate Favored in Lexington
Also at 30 qualifying points is Anothertwistafate. He’s the morning line favorite at 2-1 in Stonestreet Lexington Stakes. The winner of the 1-1/16-mile Grade III race at Lexington, Ky.’s Keeneland gets 20 points.
Trained by Blaine Wright, Anothertwistafate won three races before finishing second last month in the Sunland Derby, his graded stakes debut.
After Saturday, we’ll find out,” said Wright about his Kentucky Derby plans for the horse. “I don’t know if I would work him in between (the Lexington and the Derby). It depends on how he comes out of this. His races have been spaced out and he is carrying good flesh.”
Sueno, who has finished second or third in three previous Derby preps, has 28 points and should make the Derby with a win. The Corey Lanerie-trained horse is the third selection on the morning line at 5-1. He’ll start from the third gate, just inside of Anothertwistafate in fourth.
With 7-2 morning line odds, Harvey Wallbanger will start from the fifth gate.
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Road to Kentucky Derby to Make Final Stops at Oaklawn, Keeneland on SaturdayApril 13, 2019