The Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park was moved to May 2nd after Churchill Downs pushed the Kentucky Derby back to September.
The $200,000 dollar Oaklawn Stakes will run on Saturday at nine furlongs and offer three automatic berths to the Arkansas Derby to its top finishers.
The Oaklawn Stakes is Race 11 on a card of 12, with a scheduled Post Time of 6:48. Here then is a look at the field with Morning Line odds.
1. BASIN [7-2] Trainer: Steve Asmussen. Jockey: Florent Geroux. He chased a hot pace in the Rebel Stakes (G2), and could only muster a flat 3rd place, 7 ¾ lengths behind NADAL and EXCESSION. Perhaps he can move forward in his second start off the long layoff. Prior to the Rebel, he had not run since Winning the Hopeful Stakes (G1) in September at Saratoga. His pedigree is not great for longer routes.
2. COACH BAHE [20-1] Trainer: Philip Bauer. Jockey: Santo Sanjur. The pedigree on this gelding is fantastic. He had to rally to finish a mild 5th in the Rebel, even with a generous pace setup. A great pedigree does not always equal a great racehorse, and this one will need to step up big. Yet, the bloodlines will help him adapt to the longer distance.
3. MR. BIG NEWS [30-1] Trainer: Bret Calhoun. Jockey: Gabriel Saez. In the second division of the Risen Star Stakes (G2), he finished a so-so 5th, four lengths behind MODERNIST. Not for nothing, the second division of the Risen Star came back looking better than at first glance. But this is a tough field, and he will need to move forward as well.
4. THOUSAND WORDS [5-2] Trainer: Bob Baffert. Jockey: Joe Talamo. As the favorite he narrowly Won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) last December and followed it up with another close Win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) two months later. Upon closer inspection, he did not face strong horses in those races. He faded to 4th in the San Felipe Stakes (G2), 11 ¼ lengths behind Winner AUTHENTIC. Has a sprinter pedigree, and will not enjoy the nine furlongs.
5. SIR RICK [15-1] Trainer: Robert Diodoro. Jockey: David Cohen. He pressed the pace in the Mine That Bird Derby and went on to Win by four lengths. But it was a very weak field. Should see him throw in the towel after chasing GOLD STREET in the first half of the race.
6. SHOPLIFTED [10-1] Trainer: Steven Asmussen. Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. There are some distance concerns with this colt. His Maiden score came at 5 ½ furlongs at Saratoga, while his only other Win was in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes at one mile. He had a clear shot in the Southwest Stakes at 1 1/16 miles and could only finish a distant 4th, 8 ¾ lengths behind the Winner SILVER PROSPECTOR.
7. FLAP JACK [20-1] Trainer: Jack Sisterson. Jockey: Adam Beschizza. With only a 6th place finish in a weak Gotham Stakes (G3) on his record this year, he is difficult to endorse for even a minor share. He did weaken in the stretch run of that race as well. His four-length Win in the Arlington-Washington Futurity last September is notable. But maybe he needs a synthetic surface for a good performance.
8. TAISHAN [8-1] Trainer: Richard Baltas. Jockey: Joel Rosario. Here is an interesting Value horse. He broke his Maiden last November by a length over TIZAMAGICIAN. He started off slow this year with a 4th-place finish in the Sham Stakes (G3), 10 lengths behind AUTHENTIC. Next, he finished 5th in the Southwest Stakes, 10 ½ lengths behind SILVER PROSPECTOR. He followed up that effort with a strong 4 ¾-length Win on the Rebel Stakes under-card, with a faster time than Rebel Winner NADAL. The value is right to play TAISHAN in this spot.
9. DIGITAL [8-1] Trainer: Bret Calhoun. Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr. As with a couple of these entrants, he shows some signs of distance limitations. He had a clear shot in the first division of the Risen Star. He moved into a good striking position, then faded late, finishing 5th, six lengths behind the Winner MR. MONOMOY. Given this is a nine-furlong race, he is not likely to improve with the longer distance.
10. SOMETHING NATURAL [20-1] Trainer: Brad Cox. Jockey: Fernando De La Cruz. After finishing four lengths behind WELLS BAYOU on January 26th, he Won a local Allowance optional claimer by 1 ½ lengths. Then, he shipped to Turfway Park and finished 3rd in the Rushaway Stakes on synthetic. He could develop into a decent horse, but right now he needs to show more on paper.
11. BACKGROUND [12-1] Trainer: Michael Puhich. Jockey: Joe Rocco Jr. This colt lost to TAISHAN by seven lengths last time out. He meets him again, as well as other quality horses, this spot is seemingly too difficult. He did break his Maiden by 4 ½ lengths, but he did not Win easily. Watching the replay, jockey Tyler Baze asked him multiple times in the stretch, with barely a response. He needs to develop more.
12. FARMINGTON ROAD [6-1] Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Jockey: Martin Garcia. This son of QUALITY ROAD broke his Maiden by 1 ¾ lengths at Tampa Bay Downs. He then went in the first division of the Risen Star, and made a mild rally for 4th, 4 ½ lengths behind MR. MONOMOY, after lagging in 10th for the early portions of the race. The pedigree looks good for stretching out. The Post Position does him no favors and he could get hung-up in traffic if he lags early, or get caught wide. But there is talent in this developing colt. With the right trip, he can prove to be a factor.
13. GOLD STREET [20-1] Trainer: Steven Asmussen. Jockey: Tyler Baze. After the Winning the Smarty Jones Stakes with a comfortable lead through a soft pace on wet dirt, he disappointed in the Southwest by finishing last. Some horses need the lead for their best shot, and this one has hinted he cannot adapt to a different situation. His pedigree looks like a sprinter’s pedigree, or a miler at most, and from this Post Position, he will need to work extra hard to secure the lead. He is hard to endorse.
Conclusion: One of the greatest horse trainers of all time is Bob Baffert. But not all of his runners are locks. Bettors need to use some caution before betting his entries, because in most cases the price remains low even if the form does not justify the odds.
# 4 THOUSAND WORDS has the markings of a vulnerable Baffert favorite in this race. His two Wins in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3), were (with the benefit of hindsight) against weak competition. Then he burned money at 5-2 in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) when finishing 4th, 11 ¼ lengths behind stablemate AUTHENTIC.
If #8 TAISHAN can avoid trouble on the first turn, he figures to sit close to #13 GOLD STREET early on and could get first strike on him on the far turn.
He Won over wet dirt in his most recent score, though it’s not proven he needs that type of surface for his best work. That said, rain is in Saturday’s forecast.
As long as he isn’t hammered at the windows, TAISHAN is the choice. Our second Value selection is # 12 FARMINGTON ROAD.
The Play: A Trifecta Key using the #8 on top of the #1-2-3-4-6-12. And/or use the #12 on top of the #1-2-3-4-6-8. We’ll also do an Exacta Box using #1-6-8-12, and if you’re not averse to risk use those same four horses in a Trifecta Box.
Best of luck no matter how you play it.