Saturday’s $1 million Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park is not only the last stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, but arguably the best race in the series that stretches back to last Sept. 15.
One of the 11 in the 9-furlongs race, Long Range Toddy, already is firmly in the Kentucky Derby field with 53.5 points. He earned 37.5 of those by edging Improbable in one division of the Rebel Stakes over the course last month. That left Improbable, regarded by some as trainer Bob Baffert‘s best Kentucky Derby hope, with 25 points, well short of the 40 or so likely to be needed. Improbable will chase the extra points — and revenge over Long Range Toddy — on Saturday.
With 100 points going to the winner, that will likely ensure that horse of a trip to Louisville. Omaha Beach, who defeated Game Winner in the other division of the Rebel, sits with 37.5 points and will need to pad that total with the 40 points for second, 20 for third or 10 for fourth.
Others looking to top off the points tank in the Arkansas Derby are Country House (currently with 30), Gray Attempt (10) Galilean (7.5) and Six Shooter (2).
The only other remaining spot for Derby hopefuls to score a few extra points is Saturday’s $200,000 Grade III Stonesteet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, which offers scoring on the 20-8-4-2 scale. In this one, Sueno will hope to improve on the 28 points he has earned with a second in the Grade III Sham at Santa Anita, second in the Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park and third in the Louisiana Derby. He’s both consistent and well-traveled but could need a win here to make the Derby field.
Harvey Wallbanger, who won the Grade II Holy Bull but flopped in the Grade I Florida Derby, is the only other one with a faint hope of moving on to Louisville. Even with a win, he would have 30 points and need several others to defect to get into the Kentucky Derby. Knicks Go, with 18 points, and Roiland, with 10, are similarly situated but but Churchill Downs no longer considers them as candidates for the Run for the Roses.
There are some others in the Lexington worth noting outside the Kentucky Derby parameters. Anotherwistafate, a Scat Daddy colt, exits a second-place finish in the Sunland Derby in New Mexico. Zenden was second in the Grade III Swale at Gulfstream Park.
Over in Jolly Old England, the European Road to the Kentucky Derby had about as many twists and turns as Brexit, with a couple of the early contenders fleeing to Dubai, only to lose to an American-based runner. Thursday’s finale — and the series championship — was won by Bye Bye Hong Kong, an Andrew Balding-trained son of Street Sense out of a Tapit mare.
Although the pedigree could make Bye Bye Hong Kong suitable for the Kentucky Derby, the financials might not. As a non-nominee to the Triple Crown, his owners would have to cough up a six-figure fee to get him into the race. If they do, he and the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby winner would both take spots, limiting the U.S.-based runners to 18.
The Road to the Kentucky Oaks
Motion Emotion and Brill headline Friday’s $500,000 Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn Park. Motion Emotion, a Take Charge Indy filly, enters after finishing second to Chocolate Kisses in the Grade III Honeybee over the course at 1 1/16 miles. Brill, by Medaglia d’Oro, was fourth in the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and third in the Grade I Chandelier at Santa Anita last year and finished second in her 2019 debut at Oaklawn. Orra Moore, Lady Apple and Oxy Lady also will find support in the 12-filly field.
The winner of the Fantasy gets 100 points on the Kentucky Oaks leader board and a guaranteed spot in the starting gate. Any of the aforementioned, other than Brill, could add the runner-up’s 40 points to her existing total and secure a spot for the first Friday in May.