RACE 12 – ARKANSAS DERBY (G1):
The $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) is the feature race of the meet for the sophomore runners on the Road to the Derby. Many of these runners have been stabled here at Oaklawn Park since the beginning of the meet and have established themselves in the division with the series of stakes races, the Smarty Jones, Southwest (G3) and the Rebel (G2) leading up to this premier event. That creates two camps coming together for this race, the runners that have been part of that series and the new faces. Those two groups will also be assessed individually and as a whole when looking at the race shape, the OptixPLOT.
Starting with the OptixPLOT, the “Red” PlotFit is noted and the PlotFit scale is rated on how horses align on the faint light-white diagonal that runs from the top left to the bottom right. For today’s “Red” PlotFit, the horses are almost on an opposite diagonal and the reason for that “Red” PlotFit. The other key piece of information plays a role in the early pace with the “Snowflake” Contention, a lighter presence of runners in Quad I, along with the lower SpeedRate, shown visually with runners below the Par Line. Based on that information and the visuals (PlotFit) this race shape does not look to favor any one particular horse or running style. That assessment does not eliminate any horses on the Plot from contention alone, or for a top three spot automatically. While trip will be key, form, speed, and class look to play a bigger role in today’s race and utilizing OptixGRID and OptixNOTES for those handicapping factors.
The first group of horses, #1 KAVOD, #3 BARBER ROAD and #7 BEN DIESEL make up the established contingent as all three participated in all three local “prep” races, with those graded stakes races shown in the Past 3 Runlines. Those horses have yet to progress this season on OptixFIG with their numbers sitting below today’s 98-92 OptixFIGRANGE (OFR). That is concerning not just for this race, but overall in this stakes division. That lack of progress, without excuse or a forward projection (Green Keyword) makes that group tough to support as a prime win contender today.
The lone EP, #1 KAVOD will again look to set the pace as projected from the rail and Quad I Plot position. Basic handicapping will look towards him with a pace advantage in this race; however, Kavod brings in a history of NO_FINISH as shown in the Past 3 Runlines and visually on the Plot as a Large Circle. As noted above with the race shape assessment, Kavod does not hold any pace advantage today over others in this field.
#7 BEN DIESEL projects to sit closer to the early pace today than his Rebel (G2) trip based on his Plot position sitting closer to the Par Line on the y-axis. That type of tactical position could allow for him to find a minor share and offer some value in that underneath role.
#3 BARBER ROAD has been the most consistent and most productive of the local prep group picking up Derby points with his minor finishes in each race. While he does not hold any “Red” in his Past 3 Runlines, his lack of progress in the speed (OptixFIG) department is concerning as he has struggled to get over the hump of 90, a number that sits below the average winning OptixFIG – today’s OFR.
Also exiting the Rebel (G2) are the pair of #2 CHASING TIME and the race winner #5 UN OJO. There are similar OptixFIG concerns and progression for this duo as both horses sit below today’s OFR coming into this race. Un Ojo has shown some mild progression on numbers and could be a sign he is moving forward, though as he still sits below, price compensation is required, especially from a Quad IV position. Chasing Time has the added challenge as he is light on class (OptixGRADE) based on the C OptixGRADE in the Rebel (G2) and his allowance win back on Jan. 14 a WEAK event that has yet to be productive.
#9 WE THE PEOPLE will make his stakes debut today and presented with this class test off open length wins in both career starts. His 96 OptixFIG from the allowance win March 12 stacks up as a contender on speed (OFR), that number highlighted in the Past 3 Runlines. As far as pace, We the People should be able to run his race in this dynamic and figures to sit a trip similar to those first two starts. He is drawn outside and has positional speed to the first call (furthest left) and finishing ability as a Large Square – the lighter “Snowflake” Contention can assist Quad III Squares.
That said, he will still be tested with this level of competition, a class test he has yet to face in his two races this season. As far as class his B+ OptixGRADE on debut suggested he could handle the class hike, which he did winning the March 12 allowance. He earned the B OptixGRADE that day, a winning race for the level, though not the B+ OptixGRADE, something that again would suggest he can handle another step up in class. As the “new face” that has the done-nothing-wrong narrative, he projects to take a lot of public support in this race and could lack value as a result.
We the People will pick up a rider change to Flavien Prat today as Florent Geroux, who had been aboard in those first two starts, will be aboard #8 CYBERKNIFE in this race. It is possible that Geroux had made the Cyberknife commitment to the connections and Brad Cox, a long standing relationship, before We the People was set to run in this race – too many moving parts to make much of a case of rider decision in this situation. Geroux was aboard Zozos for Cox in the Louisiana Derby (G2) last weekend and likely part of the reason for the connections opting to run Cyberknife here in the Arkansas Derby (G1).
Cyberknife is another “new shooter” in this race and while he has more racing foundation than We the People, that will be exchanged for local experience as Cyberknife will make his Oaklawn Park debut in this event. In terms of OptixFIG, both horses sit in the same RANGE coming into this race and benefit from some favorable trips (Red Keywords) in the process. Cyberknife did earn the B+ OptixGRADE in his recent allowance win, though should note the horse that finished second, Kapuna, was an also-ran finishing 7th (C OptixGRADE) in the Louisiana Derby (G2) last weekend. Class at the graded stakes level has yet to be established for Cyberknife and he must step up as his only other graded stakes appearance to date, the Lecomte (G3), posted a C OptixGRADE, a GRADE well below stakes par.
Bob Baffert has been a long standing presence in these Oaklawn Park Derby preps going back to 2015 with American Pharoah and then taking both Arkansas Derby (G1) divisions in 2020 with Charlatan and Nadal. That is mentioned with #4 DOPPELGANGER, who had been training under the Baffert saddle towel until March 14. He has since been transferred to former assistant, Tim Yakteen and will run under his name for this race. As far as OptixFIG, Doppelganger has similar concerns as others with numbers sitting under the OFR to this point, though his pair of 91 OptixFIG, sit right at the cutoff line.
In terms of class (OptixGRADE) Doppelganger recorded B- OptixGRADE in both the San Vicente (G2) and San Felipe (G2), class that stacks up on the higher end comparing graded stakes efforts to the other runners in this race. The blinkers will be removed for this race and was the intention keying off that March 14 work, his first work back after the San Felipe (G2) where the blinkers were removed for that drill and using Yakteen “blinkers-off” stats in this case for that angle is a reach. As far as that drill, he showed positional speed over his workmate and we are likely to see that tactic used here, with John Velazquez taking over and projecting to see Doppelganger more forwardly placed today. That projection comes from ignoring the C/Closer OptixRPM and upgrading the Plot position especially under “Snowflake” conditions.
#6 SECRET OATH has checked the boxes on class (B+ OptixGRADE) and speed (OptixFIG) to this point and should find a favorable trip (OptixPLOT) worthy of contender consideration in this race. Yes, she is a filly and will be facing open company, though that is not enough to take away from assessing what she has done on the race track. As far as class, this will be a test as far as this level and stepping from her previous races with a lower OFR than today’s race. She has been dominant this season here at Oaklawn Park, but she has yet to face much of a class test in those races. This will be her biggest test to date, but the decision to run her here and get tested could prove to be the right move overall, especially looking towards the Kentucky Oaks (G1) next month.
Stepping out of the race handicapping box and taking some creative liberties on a game theory, placement of Secret Oath in this race by trainer D. Wayne Lukas could also be a tactical, defensive decision as well. Lukas has decided to point his Derby hopeful, Ethereal Road, to the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) on April 9 at Keeneland, rather than run here in the Arkansas Derby (G1), a placement that would be logical for the Rebel (G2) runner-up. Should Secret Oath win this race, or even take a top spot, that will eliminate another horse from earning points and could assist Ethereal Road, currently sitting in 14th on the leaderboard, to gain a spot in the starting gate.