Baffert leans toward bringing Cupid back to Oaklawn for Arkansas Derby

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Cupid caught a shuttle to the airport right after training hours ended on Sunday at Oaklawn Park, headed home to Santa Anita following his Saturday win in the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes.

He could be back soon.

Trainer Bob Baffert said once Cupid gets home he’ll evaluate him and then decide on a final prep for the Kentucky Derby on May 7, with a likely target the Arkansas Derby on April 16 because it gives Cupid an extra week compared with his other options, the Santa Anita Derby or Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, both on April 9.

“I’ll probably go back,” said Baffert, who won his sixth Rebel on Saturday.

Last year, Baffert trainee American Pharoah won both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby.

Baffert was impressed with the front-running victory by Cupid, for which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

“That was nice. It’s nice to have another one in the holster,” Baffert said, referencing his other top Derby prospect, Mor Spirit, who is ticketed to the Santa Anita Derby.

Baffert said the plan was to go for the lead with Cupid.

“With 14 horses, you can’t jack around,” he said. “He broke a little flat-footed, but he was fine once he got rolling.

“The second horse,” he said, referring to runner-up Whitmore, “never got by him. He looked like he was going to go by, but he never did. And on the gallop-out, Cupid kept going.”

Cupid earned 50 eligibility points for the Kentucky Derby with his win in the Rebel, which came in his fourth career start, his first stakes appearance, and his first race against winners. He is 2 for 2 at two turns, with his other route win a maiden special weight at Santa Anita.

Cupid was bright and alert Sunday morning at Oaklawn, one day after running the fastest 1 1/16-mile race on a card that offered five races at the distance. The Azeri and Razorback, graded stakes for older horses, were among the offerings. Cupid won in 1:43.84, while Upstart won the Razorback in 1:44.12 and Call Pat took the Azeri in 1:44.44. The stakes for older horses were won from off the pace Saturday.

Baffert said Cupid was put on a path to the Rebel after a work last Friday, when he went six furlongs in a bullet 1:11.60.

“He earned his way when he worked on Friday,” he said. “He was pretty incredible.”

Whitmore, who played runner-up in the Rebel one start after running second in the Grade 3, $500,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, is possible for the Arkansas Derby, trainer Ron Moquett said on Sunday.

“He came back great,” Moquett said. “We’re obviously going to play it out and make sure he’s happy and healthy and then we’re going to lean toward the Arkansas Derby.”

Moquett was pleased with Whitmore’s bid in the Rebel.

“I thought it was really good,” he said. “I thought if things would have worked out a little better, maybe if someone would have went with Mr. Baffert’s horse, we would have had a shot down the lane. But a good horse like that can’t have a lead uncontested and us still feel comfortable that we’re going to catch him down the stretch.”

Creator ran third in the Rebel and is a candidate for the Arkansas Derby, trainer Steve Asmussen said on Sunday. He said Creator emerged from the Rebel in good order, and after discussing plans with Elliott Walden from WinStar will target the Arkansas Derby.

“Right now that’s our intention,” said Asmussen. “I thought he ran a great race.”

Asmussen said he likes the additional time Creator will have from the Rebel to the Arkansas Derby compared with the three weeks he had up to Saturday’s race, when he was coming off a maiden special weight win at Oaklawn.

Suddenbreakingnews finished fifth as the favorite in the Rebel, one start after his sweeping win in the Southwest. He came out of the Rebel in good order, trainer Donnie Von Hemel said Sunday, and will target the Arkansas Derby.

Suddenbreakingnews had trouble on the final turn of the Rebel and with clearer sailing Von Hemel said he felt the horse would have been closer in the full field of 14.

“But that’s just racing,” said Von Hemel.