Omaha Beach ran big in his final prep for the 145th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 4, turning back a quality rival and posting a one-length win in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park. He received a measure of good fortune earlier this week when retaining the services of two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Smith, who chose the up-and-coming colt over Santa Anita Derby (G1) victor Roadster.
Recent Kentucky Derby winners have tended to be more lightly-raced than Omaha Beach, who will make his fifth start of the year in the first leg of the American Triple Crown. It’s been 15 years since Smarty Jones (2004) proved best at Churchill Downs with as many starts at age 3. Four of the seven major prep winners this year — Maximum Security (Florida Derby), Roadster, Tacitus (Wood Memorial), Vekoma (Blue Grass) – have raced only four times in their career.
Omaha Beach was still a maiden after his fourth start. He failed to win thrice at age 2 and didn’t graduate until his second race this season in early February. Precocious types with limited experience figure prominently in the Kentucky Derby picture nowadays, but there will always be an avenue for developing three-year-olds with extra miles beneath them. California Chrome, who won the 2014 Kentucky Derby in his 11th career start, opened his career with six mostly nondescript juvenile performances before elevating his game. Omaha Beach won’t be negatively impacted by having more starts (seven) than most in this year’s Kentucky Derby field.
Owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms and trained by Richard Mandella, Omaha Beach brings momentum and a three-race win streak to the Run for the Roses. The dark bay son of War Front recorded a gutsy nose score over juvenile champion Game Winner in the second division of the Rebel (G2) on March 16 and became only the third horse to capture multiple qualifiers in the 2019 Road to the Kentucky Derby series last Saturday. Omaha Beach handles it fast or wet and I like the speed and resiliency he’s displayed.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the World War II D-Day Invasion and Omaha Beach served as one of the landing spots in Normandy, France. As my colleague Steve Moody noted, 1944 Kentucky Derby winner Pensive was by Hyperion and Omaha Beach’s pedigree traces back twice in the sixth generation to Hyperion. That means Omaha Beach is inbred 6×6 to Hyperion and the date of the D-Day Invasion was 6/6/44.
Owendale posted a 12-1 upset in last Saturday’s Lexington (G3) at Keeneland, which offered a combined 34 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth (20-8-4-2 scale), but the Into Mischief colt lacks the points to qualify. He’ll likely point toward the May 18 Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico for Rupp Racing and Brad Cox. Anothertwistafate came up a little short in second as the 7-5 favorite and will need three defections to make the 20-horse field, moving to 23rd on the leaderboard with the eight-point prize.
Omaha Beach broke alertly from post 3 over a sloppy track but settled behind four runners who showed speed to his outside during the opening furlong. Smith angled his mount away from the inside and Omaha Beach accelerated wide into the first turn, circling rivals to reach the lead by the start of the backstretch.
He relaxed nicely on a short lead while traveling near the middle of the track and received a nudge from Smith entering the far turn, reaching the three-quarters mark with a one-length advantage. But a threat was emerging in the form of Improbable, who began gaining ground to the outside rounding the bend.
Jose Ortiz put Improbable in a full drive entering the stretch but could never draw even. The runner-up kept plugging away but Omaha Beach always appeared to have him measured in the final furlong and galloped out strongly after the wire. Omaha Beach hasn’t looked tired at the conclusion of both stakes efforts and the front-running colt netted commendable BRIS Late Pace ratings for the Rebel (100) and Arkansas Derby (104).
Omaha Beach’s BRIS Speed ratings have increased in every start (69-84-86-94-96-98-99). He lacks a triple-digit figure but his numbers are close to other top contenders in this year’s highly-competitive Kentucky Derby field.
A half-sister to 2014 champion two-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi, Omaha Beach hails from the Seeking the Gold mare Charming. She’s a daughter of Broodmare of Year and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Take Charge Lady, dam of champion three-year-old male, Travers (G1) winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) runner-up Will Take Charge; and Grade 1 scorer Take Charge Indy. The latter two are also promising young stallions and this regal female family provides ample encouragement for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby distance.
Mandella will try to reverse his Kentucky Derby fortunes, with Soul of the Matter’s fifth in 1994 being his best result from six previous runners. The Hall of Fame conditioner will have his first starter since 2004.
Improbable acted up in the starting gate and had to be backed out and reloaded in his innermost post position. The Bob Baffert-trained son of City Zip got away cleanly but didn’t appear happy passing the wire the first time under a snug hold behind horses. The juvenile Grade 1 winner finally extracted himself from a pocket entering the first turn and Improbable wound up nearly six lengths clear of third in the end.
Five-time Kentucky Derby winner Baffert will also be represented by Game Winner and Roadster under the Twin Spires.
Country House needed a top three finish to qualify and offered a solid rally from well off the pace to reach third by upper stretch. He couldn’t make up any ground on the top two through the lane but held his positioning to the wire, providing trainer Bill Mott with a second runner along with Wood Memorial (G2) winner Tacitus.
Derby Works Show
Check out the daily one-hour broadcast of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks Morning Works Show beginning Monday, April 22 at 7 a.m. (EDT). Available on KentuckyDerby.com, the Kentucky Derby YouTube channel and the Kentucky Derby Facebook page, the Morning Works Show will feature analysis and interviews along with coverage of the exclusive 15-minute training session (7:30-7:45) for Kentucky Derby and Oaks contenders.
Scully’s Kentucky Derby Top 10
1 OMAHA BEACH: Arkansas Derby winner gets Smith, can make his own trip
2 TACITUS: Jose Ortiz sticking with Wood & Tampa Bay Derby winner over Improbable
3 GAME WINNER: Eligible to move forward off a pair of close seconds
4 ROADSTER: Impressive late kick to win Santa Anita Derby
5 IMPROBABLE: Showed grit but came up a little short in Arkansas Derby
6 BY MY STANDARDS: Late-blooming Louisiana Derby upsetter training well at Churchill
7 MAXIMUM SECURITY: Florida Derby winner has speed and big numbers
8 LONG RANGE TODDY: Disappointed in wet conditions, remains an exotics contender
9 COUNTRY HOUSE: Late runner is one to consider underneath at a price
10 VEKOMA: Distance concerns but could hold for a share with the right trip