Winchell Thoroughbred LLC’s Tapiture, winner of Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes (G3) and second in the Rebel Stakes (G2) drew post position three and he was installed as the 9-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), which brings the 2014 race meet to a climatic end. A field of nine horses entered the 1 1/8-mile race, which offers a total of 170 points towards eligibility in the May 3 Kentucky Derby (G1). Post time for the Arkansas Derby, the 11thof 12 races, is 6:07 p.m. Central. First post is 12 noon.
Tapiture, a homebred son of Tapit, who broke maiden last November when winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs by 4 ¼ lengths, began his 3-year-old season by winning the Southwest by the same dominating margin. In the Rebel, he encountered traffic and exchanged bumps with winner Hoppertunity. He will be seeking a cleaner trip in the Arkansas Derby under new rider Joel Rosario, who replaces Oaklawn’s leading rider Ricardo Santana Jr.
When asked what led him to the jockey switch earlier in the week, trainer Steve Asmussen said, “Joel’s Kentucky Derby victory last year.” Rosario rode Orb to victory in the Derby last year.
The Bob Baffert-trained Bayern, who arrived from California on Wednesday, is likely to vie with Tapiture for the post-time favorite role on Saturday. The Offlee Wild colt, who drew post two and is listed as the 2-1 second choice on the morning line, is undefeated in two starts and enters the Arkansas Derby off a 15-length romp at Santa Anita Feb. 13. He will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the race last year with Overanalyze, will have two chances at collecting his fourth overall Arkansas Derby victory with Sunland Derby third-place finisher Commissioner and the lightly raced Danza. WinStar Farm’s Commissioner drew post six, while Danza drew the rail.
"It wouldn't have been my first choice to have Danza on the rail so, hopefully, he can save some ground and get a good trip from there,” said Pletcher. “We don't think it's terribly important where Commissioner drew in this race. Overall we're happy with our posts."
Trainer Mark Casse, who had a division at Oaklawn for the first time this meet, will also have two horses in the Arkansas Derby. He sends out stakes winner Conquest Titan, most recently fourth as the favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby, and Thundergram, who broke his maiden at Oaklawn in January and was most recently second by a head in an optional allowance race March 16.
“The post is irrelevant for Conquest Titan because Calvin (Borel) will take him back and make one big run at the end of it,” said Casse’s son and chief assistant Norman Casse. “Thundergram is a pretty solid little horse, but hopefully adding blinkers this time will do the trick.”
Daniel Dougherty’s Ride on Curlin began his season by winning a six furlong allowance race and has since been third in both the Southwest and Rebel Stakes. Since then he has been training forwardly and trainer Billy Gowan believes he’s sitting on a big effort Saturday. He will be ridden by Jon Court, who will be seeking his third Arkansas Derby in five years after back-to-back wins in 2010 with Line of David and 2011 with Archarcharch.
“I hope he won't show too much speed too early,” said Gowan. “I want him to lay off the pace this time and let the speed go out there. Hopefully, we can stalk them a little bit and have a better trip than we did last time (in the Rebel). I'm not worried at all about the distance, with him being by Curlin. We've just got to have the right trip and right ride. If we do, my horse can match up with any of them.”
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will send out Strong Mandate Saturday, will be looking for his third Arkansas Derby, but first since 1985 when he saddled Tank’s Prospect, that year’s Preakness Stakes winner. Last year, Lukas won his record 14th career Triple Crown race in the Preakness with Oxbow, who had finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby. Following in a long line of top Lukas 3-year-olds, Strong Mandate finished second in the Southwest and fourth in the Rebel so far this year. He drew post nine of nine.
Sam Britt and Michael House’s Knock Em Flat, an impressive maiden winner March 27, was cross entered for both the Derby and the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes earlier on the card.
The field for the $1 million Arkansas Derby from the rail out, with riders and odds, is: Danza, Joe Bravo, 15-1; Knock Em Flat, Luis Quinonez, 20-1; Tapiture, Joel Rosario, 9-5; Ride on Curlin, Jon Court, 12-1; Thundergram, Norberto, Arroyo, Jr., 30-1; Commissioner, Mike Smith, 8-1; Conquest Titan, Calvin Borel, 10-1; Bayern, Gary Stevens, 2-1; String Mandate, Luis Saez, 9-2.