The signature race of the meet at Oaklawn Park is the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. This is a race that has been known to produce live runners in the Kentucky Derby year in and year out. American Pharoah won this race en route to his Triple Crown triumph in 2015. Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, and Curlin won this race in 2004, 2005, and 2007. Other winners in the last 25 years that went on to Grade 1 success after winning this race are Charlatan, Creator, Lawyer Ron, and Victory Gallop.
The big story in this year’s running is the sensational filly, Secret Oath taking on the flashy upstart horse, We The People and the former Baffert trainee, Doppelganger. The first, third, fourth, fifth, and eighth place finishers of the Rebel Stakes (Un Ojo, Barber Road, Kavod, Chasing Time, and Ben Diesel) are all back as well. The field is rounded out by Cyberknife, who was an impressive allowance winner at the Fair Grounds on the Risen Star undercard. Post time for this year’s race is scheduled for 6:35 CT (7:35 ET), and this will go as Race 12 on the 13 race card.
Oaklawn Park Saturday 4/2/22, Race 12: The Grade 1 Arkansas Derby
170 Total Derby points (100/40/20/10)
1 – Kavod (15-1ML, 350-1 Circa): This son of Lea has the distinction of finishing 4th in the first three Derby Prep races of the meet Oaklawn. By doing so, he’s earned his connections $100K, which continues to make this $50K claim look like a bargain. He’s been the pacesetter in both the Southwest and the Rebel Stakes, and with his rail draw, he’s positioned to do the same thing here. Front end speed was good at Oaklawn last weekend and earlier this week, so he might be able to hang around for a small share, but that would appear to be the ceiling for him, as he’s facing some more talented runners today.
2 – Chasing Time (12-1 ML, 64-1 Circa): He was a nonfactor in the Rebel Stakes when making his stakes debut in the Rebel five weeks ago. He was well backed in that race on the heels of a big effort in allowance company two starts back. Looking at his pedigree, I do wonder if he’d be more effective at middle distance races. Perhaps this race might set him up to cut back to one turn in a race like the Pat Day Mile on Derby Day, however, I don’t see him seriously threatening the others this afternoon.
3 – Barber Road (8-1 ML, 60-1 Circa): He’s another horse that has been prominent in all three Derby Points races on this oval. He finished second in both the Smarty Jones and the Southwest Stakes and most recently was third, beaten less than a length in a wild finish in the Rebel. While his speed figures have not drastically improved, he always seems to show up, even when getting some less than ideal trips. Despite the fact that he’s still eligible for a first level allowance, his connections have done very well with this son of Race Day. I think he’s an exotics player once again.
4 – Doppelganger (3-1 ML, 35-1 Circa): I think a lot of eyes will be on this Southern California invader for a variety of reasons. Most notably, he became eligible to earn Derby Points last week when it was announced that he was being transferred from Bob Baffert’s barn to Tim Yakteen’s barn. He makes his 4th career start this afternoon, and his first outside of California. He won on debut at Los Alamitos back in December, winning despite a bit of trouble at the break. He’s had no answer for Forbidden Kingdom in his last two starts in the Grade 2 San Vicente and the Grade 2 San Felipe. I get that he’s lightly raced, but I felt that if he were one of Baffert’s better horses overall, he would have made the San Felipe closer. Forbidden Kingdom set a breakneck pace and opened up a commanding lead. He looked like he was gearing up to reel him in, only to flatten out in the stretch. He fits with this field based on speed figures, and he certainly has the right to take a step forward. I’m fascinated to see how the public will be betting him in this race. There’s no doubt he could win this race, however, my gut is telling me to look elsewhere.
5 – Un Ojo (6-1 ML, 65-1 Circa): The runner up in the Withers punched his ticket to the Derby with an improbable score in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on 2/26. He closed from out of the clouds to be second in the Withers, closing into a quick pace. Ramon Vazquez used his inward draw to secure a rail trip, much closer to the front end than any of his previous efforts. He showed a lot of heart in that race, battling back along the rail to get up, coming back on Ethereal Road, who looked to be home free. On the flip side, his win was almost a full second slower than Secret Oath, who dominated the Grade 3 Honeybee on the same day. In fairness, that race was earlier in the day when the sun was out and the Rebel was run in the rain, so it remains to be seen how much of an impact the weather did or didn’t have on that race. I like his steady progression and we know he likes the track. I think he has a chance in here and is definitely worth using underneath in the exotics.
6 – Secret Oath (5-2 ML, 15-1 Circa): Since the advent of the Derby Points System, we really haven’t seen a serious filly take on the boys in a Derby Prep race until this year. Previously, when graded stakes earnings was the qualifier for making the body of the Derby field, a filly could easily enter the Derby off a strong performance in a lucrative graded stakes race. Now, a filly has to compete against the boys at least once prior to the Derby in order to secure enough points to draw into the Derby. By dominating the Honeybee Stakes in February, Secret Oath secured a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Oaks, thus giving her the luxury to take on the boys in this race, to try to qualify for the Derby as well. While her first three career races were nothing spectacular, this Arrogate filly has really come into her own at this meet. She destroyed an allowance field here in December, and then did the same to the field in the Martha Washington Stakes in January. She advanced to graded stakes company, and easily disposed of the Grade 3 Honeybee field last out. While her races look good on paper, they’re even more impressive from a visual point of view. She has been absolutely dominating with her three year old female counterparts. She has three sharp works in the interim and appears ready to take on a field of decent, but not spectacular male three year old runners.
7 – Ben Diesel (15-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): This Dallas Stewart trainee was a bit of a wiseguy horse in both the Smarty Jones and the Southwest Stakes after having some tough trips with wide post draws. He drew the rail in the Southwest and was able to change tactics, sitting midpack behind a solid pace, instead of being on the front end. He looked loaded as they turned for home, but he had no answer for Newgrange that day, who had a much more difficult journey. He came back in the Rebel and was a no-show that day, finishing 8th, and never looking like he had a chance. While he is certainly capable of rebounding, I’m not certain how high his ceiling is today. I’ll be passing on him.
8 – Cyberknife (8-1 ML, 45-1 Circa): He’s one of two shippers coming in for this race, but he’s not traveling too far, as he’s been based at the Fair Grounds for Brad Cox over the winter months. He started his career at Churchill, sprinting twice. He finished first on debut, but was disqualified and narrowly missed in his second try there. He came to the Fair Grounds and broke his maiden on the first Road to the Derby card there at the end of December. That effort was good enough to earn a shot in the Lecomte where he was wide pretty much the entire race. He finished 6th that afternoon, 10+ lengths behind Call Me Midnight and Epicenter. Considering his trip and watching Epicenter’s run through New Orleans this winter, that performance could be excused. He dropped in class and handily defeated an average allowance field on the Risen Star undercard back in February. The runner up from that race, Kupuna, was 7th, a long way behind Epicenter last Saturday in the Louisiana Derby. It has not been the best Derby season for Cox, as many of his runners have come up short in these points races. He is a well bred horse though, that should continue to improve as he goes through his three year old season. He’s not impossible here, but I prefer others.
9 – We The People (7-2 ML, 40-1 Circa): He is a newcomer to the Derby scene, after dominating both career starts over this oval. He debuted in February in a decent maiden special weight race going one mile. He sat near the pace and was very professional when going to the front and drawing away late. He came back a month later and faced a soft field of five rivals in optional claiming/allowance company. The pace was easy, but he certainly looked good when pulling away to win by over five lengths. This will be a considerable class test for this son of Constitution. He’s drawn the outside post for his first career graded stakes try. He’s definitely got a chance in this race, but I worry about what kind of trip he’s going to have.
The verdict: 6-3-5
For me, I think the filly, Secret Oath is too good for this field. She has been absolutely dominant in her races this year against fillies. Her sire, Arrogate, had some freakish qualities and he passed some of them on to her. I think she can win this race from anywhere on the track. If the early pace is hot, she’s quite content to lay near the back of the field. If the pace is more deliberate, she can sit closer to the front. Her experience should give her an edge over the lightly raced horses, specifically, Doppelganger and We The People.
Kavod has set the pace in his last two prep races and he has the rail today. I expect him to be in front at the first call. After that, there’s several horses that want to be in that tracking spot, which could cause problems for the lightly raced We The People. Flavien Prat is coming to town for the first time all year to ride him. I think he’ll have to work out the right trip to get the job done, but I worry that he might have to go wide or go too fast in the early stages. He could try to sit farther off the lead, but he doesn’t really have the luxury of experimenting with tactical switches, if the Derby is the goal.
I think both Barber Road and Un Ojo are good horses to think about underneath. Un Ojo has been more of a closer, but he sure looked comfortably sitting must off the pace when upsetting the Rebel. Barber Road keeps finding trouble, but keeps finding ways to hit the board in these preps.
Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.
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