The Road to the Kentucky Derby takes its final pass through Oaklawn Park on Saturday when the track hosts the $1.25 million dollar, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
The field of 3-year-olds will travel 1 ⅛ miles on the main track in search of the prestigious Win that also includes maximum Derby qualifying points.
Historically, there have been many great horses that have Won this marque event of the Oaklawn Park meet.
Here’s a look at just a few of the note worthy Arkansas Derby Winners from the 21st century.
SMARTY JONES (2004) In the Arkansas Derby he was the even-money favorite in the field of 11 despite drawing the far outside post. Unable to get to the lead from the outside, jockey Stewart Elliott decided to rate SMARTY JONES off front-running PURGE, pressing him while racing in the two path. As the pair neared the stretch, SMARTY JONES took off, overtaking a tired PURGE and drew clear in the stretch, Winning by 1 ½ lengths.
Three weeks later, SMARTY JONES got the job done in the Kentucky Derby, wearing down front-running LION HEART in the stretch for the Victory. He became the first undefeated Derby Winner since SEATTLE SLEW in 1977.
After his runaway Preakness Win, the Pennsylvania-bred was the overwhelming favorite to Win the Belmont Stakes and become the first Triple Crown Winner in 26 years. Alas, it was not to be- SMARTY JONES was caught late by stretch-running BIRDSTONE in one of the most memorable Triple Crown races of modern times.
CURLIN (2007) Going into the Arkansas Derby, he was already one of the major players on the Derby trail. In his second career start, CURLIN Won the Rebel Stakes by 5 ¼ lengths after making a dramatic move to the lead on the far turn. On the basis of that Win, he was made the 4-5 favorite in the nine-horse Arkansas Derby field.
Once again, CURLIN with Robby Albarado up, sat a great trip and Won impressively. He crushed the field by 10 ½ lengths, instantly becoming one of the Kentucky Derby favorites.
As the 5-1 third choice in The Run For The Roses, CURLIN finished 3rd behind STREET SENSE. He avenged that defeat in a thrilling Preakness Stakes – defeating the Derby Winner by a head – and then lost another great stretch duel to the great filly RAGS TO RICHES in the Belmont Stakes.
Later that year, CURLIN Won the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic to clinch the Horse of the Year title.
AMERICAN PHAROAH (2015) He was voted the champion 2-year-old male the year before based on two Grade 1 Wins in California.
He was an easy Winner of his 3-year-old debut, crushing the field in the Rebel Stakes by 6 ¼ lengths. In the Arkansas Derby, he was the overwhelming favorite in the field of eight, going off as the 1-10 betting choice.
There was never an anxious moment in the race. Jockey Victor Espinoza rated off early leader BRIDGET’S BIG LUVY, who began to back up as the field rounded the final turn. As soon as AMERICAN PHAROAH took the lead, he began to draw away, Winning by eight lengths while covering the distance in 1:48.52.
That race set him up perfectly for the Kentucky Derby, which he Won by a length despite a wide trip. From there, he Won the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes to become racing’s first Triple Crown Winner since AFFIRMED in 1978.
He capped his memorable season with a Win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic becoming the first horse to Win the Kentucky Derby and the Classic since UNBRIDALED in 1990.