The $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park is one of the richest races on the Derby trail and the $600,000 first-place purse is the last opportunity that many thoroughbred owners will have to acquire the graded stakes earnings necessary to get their horse into the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Only the top 20 horses with the most graded stakes earnings will get into the Derby starting gate and of the 13 horses entered in the Arkansas Derby, J P’s Gusto with $541,500 in earnings and The Factor with $270,000 in earnings, are the only two with enough earnings (see chart at end of story).
Of all the stakes races trainer Bob Baffert has won, he has never won the Arkansas Derby (G1) but that could change today when he sends The Factor to the starting gate as the 7-5 morning line favorite.
Since breaking his maiden by 8 1/4-lengths last December in a 6-furlong sprint at Santa Anita Park, The Factor has been brilliant in winning the San Vicente Stakes (G3) and Rebel Stakes (G2).
I liked The Factor in both of those races and the ease in which he won the 8½-furlong Rebel Stakes (G2) showed me that the stretch out to 9-furlongs should be well within his scope. His pedigree also indicates that The Factor should be able to handle 9-furlongs.
War Front, the sire of The Factor, was a champion sprinter but he has a proven middle-distance runner on this year’s trail in Soldat who won the 9-furlong Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Danzig, the grandsire of The Factor, sired Danzig Connection (1986 Belmont Stakes), Pine Bluff (1992 Preakness Stakes) and Dance Smartly (1991 Canadian Triple Crown winner); and his sire line, mostly through his son Danehill, has produced numerous Classic Champion Thoroughbreds worldwide.
I think the Factor will win the Arkansas Derby but with the upset of Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial last weekend, anything is possible in horse racing.
Jockey Calvin Borel has struggled all season trying to find the right time to pull the trigger on Elite Alex (8-1) who likes to close from the back of the pack and today is the last opportunity to punch their ticket to Churchill Downs.
Elite Alex only has $65,000 in graded stakes money so he will need to finish at least second, which is worth $200,000 and a spot in the Derby starting gate.
In all of their races the duo has never been that far out of it but first place is what counts. Trainer Tim Ritchey adds blinkers and maybe that will help Elite Alex to stay closer to the pace.
Brethren (10-1) is a horse I’ve liked for some time and I wrote about him in my 2011 Kentucky Outlook. He has the breeding to carry on the family tradition and join half-brother Super Saver in the Derby history book. But sometimes, for one reason or another, these young colts do not live up to their breeding.
Brethren’s third place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) was disappointing but with the addition of blinkers he could turn things around and I like the recent two bullet work outs.
A third-place finish ($100,000) might get Brethren, who has $155,000 in earnings, into the Derby starting gate.
Currently, Nehro is ranked 22nd on the graded stakes list with $200,000 in earnings and a fourth-place finish ($50,000) may get him to the into the Derby starting gate but a third-place finish ($100,000) will guarantee him a spot.
Graded Stakes earnings of Arkansas Derby entrants
Guaranteed start in Kentucky Derby
J P’s Gusto, $541,500
Insurance money could help
The Factor, $270,000
Need at least 2nd place purse – $200,000
Caleb’s Posse, $71,504
Elite Alex, $65,000
Sway Away, $61,500
Need at least 3rd place purse – $100,000
Nehro, $200,000 (may get in with 4th place purse $50,000)
Need 1st place purse – $600,000
Saratoga Red, $15,000
Dance City, $0
Truman’s Commander, $0
J W Blue, $0