News and STORIES

Baffert Duo Returns to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby

Author: Chris Adams
Published: Wednesday April 07, 2021

The Arkansas Derby takes place at Oaklawn Park every year on the road to the Kentucky Derby. The race has produced three Kentucky Derby winners including American Pharoah en route to the first triple crown in 37 years back in 2015.

The race gained a huge popularity boost in 2004 when the track included a $5 million bonus for a horse that could win the Rebel, the Arkansas Derby, and the Kentucky Derby. The bonus was in honor of the 100th anniversary of Oaklawn Park and collected by the connections of Smarty Jones. 

In 2020 amid the global pandemic, Oaklawn Park was one of the few tracks still running in the spring as society began to close down. This attracted an extremely competitive stock of horses to Oaklawn Park and forced the Arkansas Derby to split into two divisions. The 2021 edition will still offer the same 100 Derby points to the winner, but will only have one division as the other prep races around the country have returned to their normal dates on the calendar.

Todd Pletcher holds the record for most Arkansas Derby wins with five, but does not have a runner in this year’s race.

Significant Stories Heading Into The Arkansas Derby

The Derby landscape took a bit of a turn last week when the Wood Memorial produced a 72-1 longshot and the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby saw Medina Spirit get upset by Rock Your World who had only been running on turf prior to the race. The only truly formful race took place at Keeneland where Essential Quality gutted out a narrow victory in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

With the defection of Life is Good and less than conclusive results last weekend, Concert Tour looks to cement his name as one of the prominent contenders for the first Saturday in May with back-to-back wins in the Oaklawn Park prep races.

The Morning Line Favorite

#5 Concert Tour is trained by Bob Baffert who won the second division of this race last year with Nadal. Concert Tour will be going for the Rebel-Arkansas Derby double, the same path to the Derby that Baffert took with American Pharoah. Trainers tend to follow similar patterns with their horses which may suggest Baffert knew all along this was his Derby horse.

The Contenders

#1 Super Stock: is the lone Steve Asmussen runner in this year’s contest. While the horse leaves a lot to be desired in terms of running lines, his trainer has had two winners in the last four years and a victory in this year’s contest would put him in a tie with Todd Pletcher for most victories in the Arkansas Derby with five. 

#2 Caddo River: is a runner for Brad Cox, who also trains Essential Quality. Cox has been careful to keep these two apart until the derby if possible. Caddo River is a speed play and does his best running on the front end. Last time in the Rebel he was outdueled by Concert Tour and faded badly at the end of the race.

#3 Hozier: is the “Other Baffert”, a term referring to the higher odds choice for a given trainer. What makes this horse interesting is that Baffert brought him to Oaklawn to run in an allowance last out. When the race didn’t run due to lack of entries he put him in the Rebel Stakes and the horse finished second behind his stablemate Concert Tour. Is the horse better than than the trainer originally thought?

#4 Get Her Number: runs for Peter Miller and beat Hot Rod Charlie in his first start. Since then the horse has just one victory in the American Pharoah Stakes, which hasn’t come back very strong beating the likes of Rombauer and Spielberg who both came back to run pretty averagely in their subsequent races.

#6 Last Samurai: for Dallas Stewart would need to take a major step up to compete with this field. He has only one win and finished fifth well behind Essential Quality.

Handicapping the 2021 Arkansas Derby

Thanks to the 2021 Rebel Stakes, this Derby prep gives handicappers something they don’t often have, which is a clear picture of how the horses fit together. In many of these races, horses are coming in from all over the country with few similar opponents. However, in the 2021 Arkansas Derby, five of the six runners already ran against one another in the Rebel and the new shooter doesn’t seem on paper to present anything that would upset the apple cart.

If one assumes that the horses will largely run the same race they ran last out here’s what we know:

  • Concert Tour and Caddo River will be forwardly placed. In the last race Concert Tour separated from Caddo River in the stretch. Concert Tour again draws outside of Caddo River which should allow his jockey to gauge the pace and make the best choice for his horse while Caddo River likely has to gun for the lead once again.
  • Through the early part of the race, the other horses will likely be sitting off the pace with Hozier and Get Her Number a couple of lengths to the good of Super Stock and Last Samurai.
  • Hozier outkicked Get Her Number in the last race and Super Stock made a mild bid from the back.

Based on the last race there are three possible scenarios in which the outcome of the Rebel could be altered in this spot.

  1. The natural maturation of horses could mean that one of the contenders has improved by several lengths from their last start while Concert Tour has plateaued. These horses are like teenagers and develop at different times. A big improvement is not unheard of with quickly improving three olds who won’t reach their physical peak until around age 5. 
  2. Another possibility is that knowing Concert Tour is the horse to beat, the connections of one of the other horses decides to take a totally different tactic which could throw off the pace scenario of the race. 
  3. The final scenario is probably the least likely, as Concert Tour won easily without the jockey ever using the crop. However, if you assume that Concert Tour exerted too much energy winning the last race there is a chance that he could come up tired in the stretch and be vulnerable to late charging foes.

Whether Concert Tour establishes himself as a clear Derby contender or falls victim to yet another Derby prep upset, the Arkansas Derby looks to have a major impact on who’s out and who’s in on the first Saturday in May.