Trainer Bob Baffert has dominated the Southern California racing scene for the better part of two decades, winning stake race after stake race. However, whenever the veteran conditioner ships out of town, success usually follows. Top assistant Jimmy Barnes has become accustomed to the backside of Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park in recent years as his boss has had the post time favorite in an impressive seven of the last nine runnings of the Arkansas Derby.
Already with Game Winner and Santa Anita Derby victor Roadster bound for Churchill Downs and the first Saturday in May, Baffert sends Improbable, who gained morning-line favoritism to the gate in Saturday’s million dollar race. Improbable emerged victorious in his first three career starts before being beaten a neck in his 3-year-old debut, the first division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes over the Oaklawn Strip. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.
“I just got a call from Elliott Walden, and he told us about our wonderful draw,” Baffert lamented to the Oaklawn Park publicity office, referring to WinStar’s president/CEO and racing manager. “I think I’ve drawn the rail seven out of eight times in the last week. Unbelievable.”
Other West Coast Invader
Trainer Richard Mandella, a Hall of Famer in his own right also based in Southern California sends out 2-1 morning line second choice Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby. Omaha Beach, a son of War Front, is a relative newcomer to the Derby trail. After breaking his maiden in his fourth start in Southern California, the horse shipped to Arkansas, prevailing in the Rebel, run in two divisions and is now poised for a big effort on Saturday.
The Southern California-based Omaha Beach returns to Oaklawn after winning the second division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. In that race, he turned back Baffert’s heavily-favorite Game Winner by a nose and is a first or second place finish away from
heading to Churchill Downs.
“He’s definitely impressive,” barn foreman and assistant Taylor Cambra told Bloodhorse following Omaha Beach’s latest workout. “You get on so many nice horses in Mandella’s barn, but he definitely sticks out more than the other ones.”
Other horses who figure to contend include Long Range Toddy (5/1 morning line), Gray Attempt (8/1 morning line) and Galilean (10/1 morning line). Since 2004, the Arkansas Derby has produced just two Kentucky Derby winners: Smarty Jones (2004), and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015).
Brown Figures to Stand Out
The richest race on Keeneland’s Saturday card, the Grade I Coolmore Jenny Wiley for older fillies, features a trio of Chad Brown horses. Rushing Fall (6/5 morning line), Rymska (5/2 morning line) and Onthemoonagain (7/2 morning line) give Brown a strong chance to find himself in the winner’s circle. Only one other filly is listed as single-digit odds, Todd Pletcher’s Bellevais, listed as 8/1.
Rushing Fall enters the race looking to join all-time greats Wise Dan and Take Charge Lady to win four different Keeneland career stakes races. Boasting wins over firm, soft and yielding turf courses, Rushing Fall is 6-for-7 lifetime and has won the Jessamine Stakes, Appalachian Stakes Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes at Keeneland. Rymska heads to the Blue Grass stakes following a win Tampa Bay Downs’ Hillsborough Stakes a race which saw Onthemoonagain finish third.
“You bring your best ones to Keeneland or you won’t have any luck here,” Brown told Horse Racing Nation. “Luckily I have a lot of good horses and my staff has been working overtime. All the credit goes to them.”