Grading out last week's 2019 Kentucky Derby, Oaks preps

April 15, 2019 02:21pm

The final 2019 Kentucky Derby and Oaks preps have run, and the prospective fields for both of the early May features are set.

As some big names ran to expectations at Oaklawn Park, we’ll start with the best of the weekend in grading out how the races could impact what’s next at Churchill Downs.

Arkansas Derby (G1)

Date Run: April 13, 2019

Winner: Omaha Beach

On the Board: Improbable, Country House

Distance/Time: 9 furlongs; 1:49.91

TimeformUS Figure: 121

Grade: A+

Analysis: With a trio of Derby preps spaced a more even four weeks out the Saturday previous, there’s no guarantee to get the best for last in the Arkansas Derby, but that seemed the case at Oaklawn.

This was, in my opinion, the top points race to date. With his win in the Arkansas Derby, Omaha Beach joins Tacitus and War of Will as one of the only three horses in 2019 to take two Kentucky Derby preps. He also seems to have no questions left to answer as far as contending on May 3.

In the Arkansas Derby, Omaha Beach reaffirmed his affinity for an off track, telling us he can run on anything, and similar to when he outlasted Game Winner in the Rebel Stakes (G2) the colt turned back the advances of another Grade 1 winner, Improbable.

With his tactical speed and versatility, Omaha Beach will be tough to beat on Derby day should he run back to this form.

The runner-up, Improbable, also ran his eyeballs out after misbehaving at the gate. Did the energy expended cost him the race? Bob Baffert thinks adding blinkers played a part, and they’ll come back off for the Derby. Perhaps the City Zip colt can improve in three weeks’ time.

I’m not worried that the loss is a sign of distance limitations. To me, it appeared the opposite.Improbable made a huge middle move just after the race’s half-mile point, went five wide to get into contention with Omaha Beach, and still was able to finish his final furlong in roughly 12.50 seconds. 

Also, a TimeformUS Figure of 120 marked a massive improvement over his number in the Rebel.

That said, Omaha Beach is in a better place, given he created his trip, got first jump and sustained that move through the wire, making him the better candidate to win the Kentucky Derby.

Lexington Stakes (G3)

Date Run: April 13, 2019

Winner: Owendale

On the Board: Anothertwistafate, Sueno

Distance/Time: 8.5 furlongs; 1:44.14

TimeformUS Figure: 120

Grade: B

Analysis: We learned in Keeneland’s minor prep that both Anothertwistafate and Sueno will need multiple defections to make the Derby gate after the 13-1 upset winner, Owendale, flew home after making a big outside move through the turn.

The pace wasn’t unusually fast, yet both pacesetters Hawaiian Noises and Knicks Go folded abruptly after the first six furlongs.

Anothertwistafate had a similar trip to his Sunland Derby effort, where he was kept hemmed in for a good bit of the important running, but yet again couldn’t quite catch the eventual winner.

Owendale, meanwhile, showed a massive improvement off of his Risen Star (G2) effort, where he was caught wide around both turns. This time, he still covered more ground than all but one rival, but the trip seemed to benefit him with a late rush.

Owendale won’t have the necessary points to enter the Kentucky Derby, but this was a nice effort nonetheless that could lead to the Preakness Stakes.

Fantasy Stakes (G3)

Date Run: April 13, 2019

Winner: Lady Apple

On the Board: Motion Emotion, Brill

Distance/Time: 8.5 Furlongs; 1:43.88

TimeformUS Figure: 109

Grade: C

Analysis: The number suggest that Lady Apple can run well enough to contend with some of the top horses on the Oaks trail thus far — aside from expected favorite Bellafina, who notched a 116 last time while essentially cantering across the wire.

But I’m not fully ready to trust that number given Lady Apple ran into an ideal setup, with the runner-up and third-place finishers dueling themselves into submission. The winner took advantage, shooting up the rail in her stakes debut.

everal others in the Oaks have proven capable of coming from just off the pace or mid-pack, placing Lady Apple in a crowded bunch moving forward that includes Restless Rider, who ran a bang up seconds in the Ashland (G1) making what was her first start of the season.


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Meet Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that point, she fell in love with the sport, reading every piece of news and information she could get her fingertips on.

Laura has a long history with horses in general, taking her first ride on her fifth birthday, with her first official riding lesson when she was eight years old. Both years she attended college, she joined her school’s equestrian team, first at Virginia Intermont College and then again at Delaware State University. Unfortunately, after back and shoulder injuries, she had to hang up her saddle. 

In 2010, Laura began writing for Horse Racing Nation and has also contributed to Lady and the Track, TwinSpires and USRacing. She currently works at a local newspaper as a community reporter.

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