Relative inexperience proved no hurdle for Magnum Moon in last month’s Rebel (G2). On Saturday, the Todd Pletcher trainee will be back at Oaklawn Park seeking to add the track’s signature event, the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), to his growing resume and enhance his Kentucky Derby (G1) credentials.
The 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby is the highlight of a 12-race card that completes the 2018 racing season at Oaklawn, which will take on a different look next year after the announcement Wednesday that the 2019 meet would start later, on January 25, and end three weeks after the Arkansas Derby, on May 4, the date of the Kentucky Derby.
The Arkansas Derby awards Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to its top four finishers, but Magnum Moon is safely in following a 50-point win in the Rebel, achieved in just his third career start and despite a wide journey. The son of Malibu Moon coasted home by 3 1/2 lengths, remaining undefeated from three starts. He debuted on January 13 at Gulfstream and followed up with an Tampa allowance win on February 15. With another strong showing Saturday, he will join Justify as the second major Kentucky Derby contender that was unraced at age two.
Another Arkansas Derby candidate not in need of qualifying points is Quip, who pulled off a 19-1 upset of last month’s Tampa Bay Derby (G2) over the likes of Flameaway and Vino Rosso. Trained by Rodolphe Brisset for the partnership of WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, the Distorted Humor colt has won three of four, all except the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last November in which he experienced a troubled trip.
For the rest of the Arkansas Derby lineup, earning additional qualifying points Saturday are essential to being in the starting gate at Churchill three weeks from now. Solomini is currently a “bubble” horse with 34 points following his second-place finish in the Rebel. The Bob Baffert-trained son of Curlin could show improvement for the run, but needs a career peak to suggest he’ll be a serious player in the year’s first classic.
Combatant, third in the Rebel and second in three other Derby preps, is currently outside the top 20, as is Sunland Derby (G3) runner-up Dream Baby Dream. Both are trained by Steve Asmussen, looking for his first Kentucky Derby win to complete his career Triple Crown.
Asmussen has a third Arkansas Derby entry in Tenfold, also a son of 2007 Arkansas Derby hero Curlin that has won both starts since debuting February 9. Both he and maiden winner Plainsman are making their stakes debut in a tough spot. Machismo and Beautiful Shot, up the track in the Blue Grass (G2) and Gotham (G3) in their respective last starts, are two others seeking to pull off a massive upset.