Oaklawn Park was the center of attention in the horse racing world Saturday as a field of 11 thoroughbreds competed in the Arkansas Derby and a chance to run in the Kentucky Derby. It was the last of the Derby Prep Races with 100 points awarded to first place. Improbable, the Bob Baffert trained thoroughbred, tried to better it’s second place finish in the Rebel Stakes while Omaha Beach, with the Triple Crown winning jockey Mike Smith aboard, tried to make it 2-for-2 in derby prep races and cement its place in the Kentucky Derby line-up.
Improbable and Omaha Beach dueled down the stretch in an exciting finish that is characteristic of horse racing and is why the Kentucky Derby is called “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” Omaha Beach denied Improbable the victory and took home the 100 points and a guaranteed invite to ‘The Run for The Roses.’ Another match is on the horizon, however, as the 40 points awarded to second place will, barring unforeseen circumstances, put Improbable in the derby with a total of 65 points.
With the prep races run, the leaders have emerged, and the Derby line-up is close to being set! Tacitus, the winner of The Wood Memorial, leads the field into the Derby with 150 points. Omaha Beach, which also won the Rebel Stakes on March 16th, follows with 137.5 points. Vekoma, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and The Xpressbet Fountain of Youth follows in third with 110 points. Plus Que Parfait with a win in the UAE Derby is fourth with 104 points and Roadster, another Bob Baffert trained horse and winner of the Santa Anita Derby, rounds out the top 5 with an even 100 points.
Alas, my early favorite, Bourbon War, is in 25th place with 31 points and is in dire danger of not making the cut, as the field is limited to 20 horses. Late cancellations due to injury or illness is always a possibility, though you don’t want to wish that on any horse.
With Omaha Beach’s victory comes yet another Kentucky derby story line – which horse will the Triple Crown Winning jockey Mike Smith ride in the Derby? Having won the Santa Anita Derby aboard Roadster, and now the Arkansas Derby with Omaha Beach, Mike Smith is in the enviable position of choosing one of two Kentucky derby contenders.
Mike Smith won the Triple Crown just last year by taking Justify to victory in all three major races – The Derby, The Preakness and the Belmont. The fact that Justify was trained by Bob Baffert may prove to be the deciding factor if he decides on Roadster. However, with wins in both the Arkansas Derby and the Rebel Stakes, Omaha Beach is sure to be one of the favorites and will be a ride that any jockey would covet.
As for who will be the favorite come the morning of May 4th? Mike Battaglia, who has determined the morning line favorite since 1975 and will do so again come the first Saturday in May, has hinted that whoever Mike Smith decides to ride may very well determine the favorite. Whether it is Omaha Beach or Roadster, Mike Smith’s only indication has been that he will weigh his options, but ultimately allow his agent to make the decision. How the horses train in the coming weeks will most certainly factor into the decision.
Other possible favorites include the undefeated horse Maximum Security, winner of The Florida Derby and Improbable, a name that keeps cropping up even though it has been runner-up in its last two Prep Race Starts.
Jason Frakes, Courier Journal, 4/14/2019 “Battaglia: Roadster is a Derby favorite if Mike Smith stays on board.” (https://www.courier-journal.com/story/sports/horses/kentucky-derby/2019/04/14/kentucky-derby-roadster-could-favorite-battaglia-says/3466491002/)