Ordinarily we would have been getting stuck into the 2000 Guineas, 1000 Guineas and the Kentucky Derby this weekend and, while the ongoing lockdowns around the world have put paid to that for now, the Americans especially are doing their best to keep the show on the road for us.
Arkansas’s Oaklawn Park has a massive meeting this week, and so that is where our main focus goes beginning with a good fillies’ race on Friday evening.
Friday 1st May 2020
23:09 Oaklawn Park (Fantasy Stakes – Grade 3) – VENETIAN HARBOR
A decent Grade 3 event for the young fillies over an extended mile trip on the dirt, one in which the standout filly is Venetian Harbor and she is backed to score.
Already a Grade 2 winner at Santa Anita having taken their Las Virgenes Stakes in February, she would appear to have everything needed in her locker to be able to take this valuable race for trainer Richard Baltas and jockey Flavien Prat, the rider being able all being well at the start to pick his spot from gate 2.
Having bossed things on her last start, she was barely shaken up until she rounded the final turn and she very quickly but around nine lengths between herself and the rest in the style of a very good filly, stringing out some fillies who’d been in very good form.
There are some improvers in behind who each warrant attention, not least Harvey’s Lil Goil of Bill Mott’s barn who could be an attractive price on the night, while Swiss Skydiver is the one to round off the 1-2-3 after her last time out win for Kenneth McPeek.
Saturday 2nd May 2020
After 99 dominations were received for a rescheduled Arkansas Derby that now takes on extra significance, 22 three-year-olds were still left at the declaration stage for the race and so Oaklawn have taken the decision to split this major Kentucky Derby prep race into two divisions.
Currently the Arkansas Derby is the last official prep for the Kentucky Derby which is due to be staged on September 5, though that looks likely to change, with winners of both divisions here being entitled to full qualifying points while both heats are worth $500,000, essentially bumping the prize money up from its original total of $750,000.
23:29 Oaklawn Park (Arkansas Derby Division I – Grade 1) – GOUVERNEUR MORRIS
Bob Baffert has both morning line favourites for the Arkansas Derby, beginning with the mightily impressive Santa Anita winner Charlatan.
The way in which he won last time was visually striking and his figures do stack up, however he had things all his own way then in claiming company on a fast track. Having been all speed in California albeit it over a mile his breeding - he is by Speightstown who is a great source of sprinters and 7-furlong types - would lead me to believe he may not kick on as expected in this tough grade one event over 1m1f.
He could yet make a mockery of those comments of course, but at such a likely short price we can afford to take him on with one who’s breeding reads so differently. Gouverneur Morris, by the tough Constitution and from a line of staying Tapit’s, has very strong form to date and will handle the rough and tumble of this race.
Beaten into second by Maxfield last year, in my eyes the best juvenile in the States, he’s already beaten Untitled this season and finished fourth to top prospect Tiz The Law in the Florida Derby and can as yet produce more in a fast-paced race, which Charlatan may yet make it. Anneau d’Or is probably best of the rest.
00:04 Oaklawn Park (Oaklawn Handicap – Grade 2) – TACITUS
While the current sophomores are attempting to get to Churchill Downs via the Arkansas Derby, a whole host of former Triple Crown chasers take their chance in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap over 1m1f and it’s a fascinating race.
Former Derby favourite Improbable still has ability but is not at his best and is drawn wide, while Pegasus World Cup runner-up and recent winner Mr Freeze is very tempting given that he has the look of an improving horse.
The fact that he has saved his best work for Gulfstream though, allied with how far he was beaten by Mucho Gusto there is the Pegasus, means Tacitus looks to hold the edge despite being a few gates wider and carrying 3lbs more.
Tacitus has been frustrating to follow, but he has top-class form and will be staying on when others have cried off perhaps making this his day for the first time since winning the Wood Memorial Stakes last April.
00:43 Oaklawn Park (Arkansas Derby Division II – Grade 1) – NADAL
Another Bob Baffert morning line favourite, however much more justifiably in my eyes and at a much more backable price too.
Named after Rafa the tennis great, Nadal made a huge impression when he began his career at the turn of this year, going on to rack up three wins out of three as he climbs the ladder with ease and puts himself well into contention for the Kentucky Derby.
Having had to lay-up with a strong pace over seven furlongs in the San Vicente Stakes, Nadal did well to keep up to his work and just about see off his main rival that day, and a look at his breeding is very encouraging.
He is by Blame, himself a good seven-furlong runner as a young horse who went on to stay a mile-and-a-quarter well including when taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic, so it’s fairly safe to assume that there’s much more to come from Joel Rosario’s mount over this trip and he’s well fancied to score again.
Wells Bayou can go well in behind as can King Guillermo, but despite being well thought of Storm The Court should not be able to reverse placings with our selection.