Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Arkansas Derby

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Arkansas Derby
Photo: Ted McClenning/Eclipse Sportswire

The Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby is the last primary prep race for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. As has become the norm, Bob Baffert has the big favorite in Hot Springs, Ark., but this year he sends out the winning Rebel (G2) exacta and not just the big gun. Only four others will enter the gate in hopes of outrunning the Baffert duo, and three of those also exit the Rebel.

Click here for Oaklawn Park entries and results.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast determine whether we will see a repeat of the running of the Rebel Stakes.




Super Stock is camera shy. In the money five of seven starts, he has won only once, and that was last August. The Steve Asmussen trainee was a little rusty in the Rebel Stakes and placed fourth. His second-to-last bullet indicates that he could move forward off that race. By Dialed In out of a Closing Argument daughter, Super Stock should handle nine furlongs, and his family has some class: Half-sister Boujiee Girl is a Grade 1-placed sprinter, and this is the family of Grade 1-winning sprinter Heir Kitty. Vote him most likely to fill in the lower exotics.

Super Stock nosed out a tired Caddo River to complete the Rebel superfecta. It was his first start in 4 1/2 months, and it was a decent effort. Asmussen gets 20-percent winners second off the layoff, and as Laurie pointed out, that second-to-last bullet work suggests that Super Stock will be sharper this weekend than he was in the Rebel.




So what happened to Caddo River in the Rebel? First, Florent Geroux pushed him out of post 1 to contest the lead, then took the free-running colt out of his game by forcing him to sit second to Concert Tour. By the time the running started, Caddo River had run dry. Brad Cox said in an interview that Caddo River bumped with Big Lake and came back with scrapes and cuts. Nine furlongs could be at the top of Caddo River’s distance range with his front-running style, but if left to do his thing, he will go as far as he can and could surprise.

Laurie, I was just as perplexed by Geroux’s ride as you. At one point, he looked like he was water skiing rather than riding. If he had let Caddo River run his race, I think we would have seen a much different result. So if you are reading this, Florent, don’t fight Caddo River this time. Concert Tour is very good, but at least give yourself a shot at hitting the board.


Martin Garcia rode a good race in the Rebel. He pulled a Calvin Borel – staying on the rail and cutting the corner. The effort was good enough to make him best of the rest. Not in the same league as Concert Tour, but he could earn a check if he gets an inside trip. By Pioneerof the Nile out of a multiple graded sprinter, Hozier has a speed-oriented distaff line, and nine furlongs could be his distance limit. Baffert gave Hozier a pre-race bullet work, so he should be on his toes. Hozier, not Baffert.


Hozier completed the Baffert exacta last out in the Rebel. Prior to that start, the Pioneerof the Nile colt drilled a bullet half-mile work. His most recent work was an even faster four-furlong move than his pre-Rebel move. This colt is absolutely on his toes and could conceivably give Baffert another exacta sweep in Hot Springs.


Get Her Number had a tough trip in the Rebel. He was three-to-four-wide the entire way, did not corner well, and was climbing with his head up. Despite this, he made up ground in the stretch until Caddo River bashed into Big Lake, who, in turn, slammed Get Her Number. Get Her Number had enough and was switching leads in the lane. His pedigree is iffy for the distance, and I do not think he likes the track. He is not getting my number.


Not only did Get Her Number have a rough trip in the Rebel, he was also making his first start off a 5 1/2-month layoff. I did expect better than seventh from him and even selected him in my picks, but again, the Rebel was a disaster for him. While he certainly did not look entirely comfortable racing over the Oaklawn track, he made up ground in the stretch. This is a smaller field, and Get Her Number looks to improve here.


Here is Baffert’s latest sensation and his best hope to win another Kentucky Derby. When Caddo River was taken back, this son of Street Sense had things all his own way on the lead. Lightly raced. Undefeated. Wins by lengths. Baffert. Seems to be a cycle in that barn.


Concert Tour passed his two-turn, sprint-to-route test with flying colors in the Rebel. He got things all his own way in that race, but I believe that Caddo River will be allowed to run his race this time, giving Concert Tour pressure up front. His breeding is distance oriented, so if he does get loose on the lead again, he is going … going … gone.


The Arkansas Derby’s “Why?” horse. The comments on half of his running lines read, “slow.” Last seen in the Southwest Stakes (G3), the Dallas Stewart trainee didn’t lift a hoof. Maybe he did not like the mud. He will need significant improvement to hit the board.

The only race in which Last Samurai actually did anything was the one race in which he was up on the pace. All three other races ended with him open lengths behind the winner. He faced similar company in the Southwest, including champion Essential Quality. I am going to go out on a limb here and name Last Samurai as most likely to finish last.

Final Thoughts

This will be short and sweet, just like the field. The favorite has won seven of the last eight editions of the Arkansas Derby. Six of the last eight set or pressed the pace.

Caddo River was taken out of his game in the Rebel. I expect he will go to the front. Concert Tour has shown tactical speed, and jockey Joel Rosario is smart enough (I think) not to engage in a speed duel. Caddo River will likely weaken in the stretch. I am not convinced nine furlongs is his game. I am not going to overthink this.

Ashley: I suspect that Brad Cox’s instructions to Florent Geroux will be to let the colt run his race this time rather than strangle him back and let Concert Tour have things all his own way. Concert Tour does not need the lead but does seem to prefer it. My struggle with this race comes down to Hozier, Get Her Number and Super Stock. The latter two both entered the Rebel off significant layoffs and can improve here, while Hozier proved to be another bullet in Baffert’s gun.






#3 HOZIER (3-1)

#3 HOZIER (3-1)


#2 CADDO RIVER (7-2)

#2 CADDO RIVER (7-2)

#1 SUPER STOCK (6-1) 

Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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