Arkansas Derby Betting Odds: Not Your Usual First Saturday in May
By Mike Farrell
The first Saturday in May arrives this weekend and the racing world turns its eyes toward … Hot Springs!
These are strange days, indeed.
Oaklawn Park will offer two $500,000 divisions of the Arkansas Derby (G1) in place of the traditional Run for the Roses.
Churchill has partnered with NBC for a “Kentucky Derby at Home” party. With three vacant hours normally devoted to Derby coverage, NBC will take a look back at American Pharoah’s Derby win and offer a computer simulation of a virtual race featuring the 13 Triple Crown winners.
Call me old school but I prefer my racing live, real and preferably in person. That’s not possible in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
What’s left after Oaklawn?
For now, we make do with the simulcasts available. That’s what makes this weekend so poignant. Yes, there will be a 3-year-old race on Saturday. Make that two, with the split divisions in Arkansas.
It is also closing day at Oaklawn, stripping away one of the marquee tracks that have sustained horseplayers during this national shutdown.
It would have been closing weekend at Tampa Bay Downs, but the meet has been extended through the end of May with racing three days a week.
What else is left? Gulfstream Park soldiers on as the top attraction buttressed by minor tracks like Fonner Park, Will Rogers Downs and a smattering of quarter horse and greyhound facilities.
It’s a lean landscape going forward, but hopefully help is on the way. Track managements, horsemen and owners have been lobbying hard to resume racing in New York, California and Kentucky.
They point to Gulfstream, Oaklawn and Tampa Bay as models that have operated safely without fans in the stands.
“We’ve got all the backside workers there and at least at Santa Anita and Oaklawn there weren’t any occurrences,” said Jack Wolf of Starlight Racing represented by Charlatan in the first Arkansas Derby division.
“These horses have got to keep training and hopefully have races. Of course, I’m biased and have a self-interest but the protocols that Churchill proposed as did Santa Anita are very scientific and hopefully very safe.”
Strange start for Arkansas Derby week
Arkansas In keeping with the bizarre nature of this weekend, Oaklawn had to redraw the Arkansas Derby field after the initial posts were assigned to the 22 entrants.
The purse, originally $1 million, was reduced to $750,000 when the race slated for April 11 was moved to May 2. With the split divisions, the total value returns to $1 million.
Both divisions will award the full 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points with 100 going to each winner.
The race lost a runner from each division Tuesday when Shooters Shoot was withdrawn from the first division and Fast Enough was withdrawn from the second division.
Trainer Peter Eurton said Shooters Shoot, an allowance winner most recently at Oaklawn, came down with a virus (not the corona) and was scratched.
Arkansas Derby Betting Odds: A look at the first easier first division
In looking at the field, the second division is clearly loaded with talent while the first spilt came up light.
How light, inquiring minds might ask? Charlatan, the even-money favorite, would probably have been excluded if the normal 14-horse maximum applied.
The stakes conditions gave preference to horses with the highest earnings. Charlatan has only banked $67,200 in his two dominant victories.
When the entries hit 20, the magic number needed to split the field, trainer Bob Baffert booked him on the flight from Santa Anita to Oaklawn.
Martin Garcia will be aboard the chestnut colt who posted a 10 ¼-length allowance victory in his latest outing.
It’s hard to make a strong case for the rest of the first division crew. Gouverneur Morris was a non-threatening fourth in the Florida Derby (G1).
Basin was the Grade 1 winner of the Hopeful at Saratoga last summer but his two races this year at Oaklawn in the Rebel (G2) and Oaklawn Stakes don’t inspire confidence. Anneau d’Or’s claim to fame was his near-miss at 20-1 in the wild-and-wacky Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
Arkansas Derby Betting Odds: A look at the tougher second division
Handicappers have more to chew on in the second division where Baffert also saddles unbeaten Nadal, the 5-2 favorite.
Nadal stepped up from a sharp maiden win to capture the San Vicente (G2) as the 3-10 favorite. He then headed to Oaklawn where he gutted out a narrow pacesetting win in the Rebel (G2).
King Guillermo, the 3-1 second choice, figures to closely track Nadal. That close stalking trip style paid off with a victory in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
The overloaded second division also includes last season’s 2-year-old champion Storm the Court (6-1), two-time stakes winner Silver Prospector (10-1) and Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Wells Bayou (7-2).
It is not surprising the Arkansas Derby proved so popular at the entry box. As we move past this weekend, who knows when or where the next significant 3-year-old race takes place? It’s better to run them than keep them in the barn.
“It is a challenge,” Eurton said. “You don’t want to just keep training, training, training. It’s like being at a bus stop, and waiting for it to show up.”
Arkansas Derby Betting Odds: Split Races No Match for 1 Kentucky Derby
By Ed McNamara
If you love racing, Churchill Downs is where you want to be on the first Saturday in May. For the past 27 years, I was fortunate enough to be at the Downs covering the Kentucky Derby. If not for an invisible plague that no one could see coming, I would be there again.
Instead of flying to Louisville on Monday, I was at my kitchen table typing this column. A year ago, everybody was certain that nothing could ever top the unprecedented disqualification of Maximum Security for weirdness.
How little we know. No one could have imagined The World’s Most Legendary Racetrack would be empty on racing’s biggest day. Instead of entertaining the usual 160,000 or so revelers and tens of millions on worldwide television, it will be a ghost town this Saturday. So strange, so sad.
“While we are always respectful of the time-honored traditions of the Kentucky Derby, we are in the midst of an unprecedented year,” Churchill president Kevin Flanery said.
It’s exhilarating and exhausting to spend a week in a city where everything revolves around a two-minute horse race. I’ve covered many big events all over the world -– Epsom Derby, Royal Ascot, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Hong Kong Cup -– and although they’re all great fun, there’s nothing quite like the Derby experience.
As Irvin S. Cobb (1876-1944), The Sage of Paducah, Kentucky, wrote: “Until you go to Kentucky and with your own eyes behold the Derby, you ain’t never been nowhere and you ain’t seen nothin’!”
He got that right.
A pilgrimage to the Derby has to be on your bucket list, even if it’s the only race you watch. Forget the obscenely inflated prices for hotels and admission tickets — it’s still a trip worth taking. Unfortunately, I’ll be on my couch Saturday, playing Oaklawn Park’s card via cell phone.
It will be fun to handicap and bet on the Arkansas Derby’s two divisions, featuring Bob Baffert-trained favorites Charlatan and Nadal, and if you’re seriously craving a Derby fix, NBC and Churchill will supply one.
From 3-6 p.m. ET, you can watch American Pharoah’s 2015 Derby, then see how he does in a computer-simulated race against the other 12 Triple Crown heroes. There also will be more virtual fun: an at-home Derby party, mint julep recipe and fashion tips. Well, better than nothing.
“Because of our national crisis, we and the entire world of sports are in uncharted waters requiring unprecedented actions,” Oaklawn president Louis Cella said.
“We’re trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. On the one hand, it is the worst of times to be racing without fans in our grandstand. On the other, we have a large number of exceptional 3-year-olds wanting to run in our Arkansas Derby.’’
Those distractions will pass the hours pleasantly, but there’s nothing like the real thing. I can tell you how my picks did in every Derby since 1982. I doubt whether Saturday’s results will resonate with me for long.
The 170 Derby qualifying points to be awarded for each Arkansas Derby division will not get my juices flowing. I hope we’ll see the Derby on Labor Day weekend, but there’s no guarantee that The New Abnormal will be over by then. And even if the big race is run on Sept. 5, I don’t believe it will feel or mean the same, no matter how it plays out.
I’m far from alone there. In an ongoing Paulick Report poll, 43.17 percent said they would have less esteem for the winner of a September Derby, with “no change” at 36.73 percent and “more esteem” at 20.10.
After the Arkansas Derby, the 3-year-old landscape is a blank. No one knows if or when the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes will be staged, or in what order.
Flanery said Churchill plans to name more Derby preps over the next few months, yet until there are hard dates for the openings of Churchill, Pimlico, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park and Santa Anita, that can’t happen.
“Our Churchill Downs team is united in our commitment to holding the very best Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5,” Flanery said, “and it will certainly be one of the most memorable in our lifetimes.”
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