Arabian Knight took the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn with flashy pacesetting tactics to pick up his first route and graded-stakes win, and the front-running trip feels like déjà vu because the trainer is Bob Baffert and the owner is Zedan Racing Stables. Regardless, one question to discuss below is whether Arabian Knight proved himself as special in his win.
At this point, the son of Uncle Mo took a step in the right direction. But Arabian Knight did secure an uncontested lead, the easiest trip for a speed horses. Perhaps his speed made it impossible for other horses to pressure him, although Frosted Departure almost dueled with him before the first turn.
Watch how sharply Frosted Departure breaks on par with Arabian Knight and heads to the front under visible urging from Francisco Arrieta. But Arabian Knight went past him under almost no urging from John Velazquez.
Arabian Knight hit the first turn in front, with Frosted Departure saving ground in second and the long shot El Tomate outside in third. The public second choice Corona Bolt followed the leaders in fourth on the inside.
From that point, Arabian Knight maintained an uncontested lead throughout the far side. If the scenario sounds familiar, it is familiar. A great number of past Baffert-trained stars used their speed to control the races and win.
After an opening quarter in 22.98 seconds and half-mile in 46.82, Arabian Knight came into the far turn with a slightly diminishing lead after Frosted Department made his move to come near Arabian Knight's right side and Jace’s Road started to rally up the outside of those two colts.
But Jace’s Road flattened out, which left Frosted Departure as the remaining challenger. Frosted Departure began to get tired in the stretch, and Arabian Knight opened up.
Approaching the far turn, also notice Red Route One’s move from behind. He skillfully cut through the field and tipped out in the stretch, but his move came too late. Red Route One will be discussed further below.
Arabian Knight pulled clear to win by 5 1/2 lengths over Red Route One, who had two lengths over Frosted Departure in third. The closer Sun Thunder made a mild bid for fourth, and Jace’s Road faded to fifth.
Arabian Knight earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure, according to Daily Racing Form. For what it is worth, after the half-mile Arabian Knight posted fractions of 1:11.88 and 1:37.25 before achieving a final time of 1:43.50 over the slop.
One race earlier in the card, Call Me Fast won an allowance race for older horses in pacesetting fashion as well and completed the same 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.94. Arabian Knight finished in a faster time than older horses, although that does not make him super or special yet.
In a few more races, it could become clear whether Arabian Knight is worthy of all the positive labels out there. He could also just end up as one of the better runners in this crop without the extra labels. The racing world is too eager to anoint the latest undefeated horse super or special, which means the labels tend to lose their meaning sometimes.
One concern is that Arabian Knight has not shown the ability to sit off another horse or stalk. Speed usually helps Derby horses secure a good position and avoid most of the traffic. As proven last year though, suicidal pace scenarios happen once in a while in the Kentucky Derby.
To give Arabian Knight credit, it seems clear he has taken over the title of Baffert’s most promising Derby prospect. If he stays on this track, Arabian Knight might simply overpower every field, including the Kentucky Derby, with his speed.
Baffert still cannot earn Derby qualifying points at this point. The connections will need to send Arabian Knight to a different trainer for the final prep.
Last year, Tim Yakteen took over the training duties for Taiba and Messier before the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Although they ran 1-2 in that local prep race, they ended up finishing 12th and 15th at Churchill Downs after the suicidal pace affected both of them. Taiba's lack of experience in a big field hurt as well.
Going back to the Southwest trip discussion, the blog choice Red Route One came rolling with his rally on the approach to the far turn with a beautiful inside move that saw Red Route One eliminate the huge gap separating him from the field. After initially saving ground, Red Route One tipped out and continued his bid into the stretch on the outside. He went past every horse except Arabian Knight, who was too far ahead.
Red Route One certainly outran his 15-1 odds. But he also had help from the pace scenario, since all the horses chasing Arabian Knight became tired. When one horse gets brave on the lead, the other speed horses tend to fade out of fatigue or discouragement and a closer picks up the pieces as the rest fold.
Nevertheless, Red Route One turned in the best effort of his career. He is a factor to win any points race with speed lined up. Maybe trainer Steve Asmussen should follow Arabian Knight to his next start and assume the speed horses chasing him will fold and help Red Route One.
Frosted Departure also deserves heavy credit. As written above, he broke great and almost challenged Arabian Knight for the lead before settling into second. After tracking Arabian Knight in second on the backside, he then tried to move alongside Arabian Knight on the far turn. Given those two points, Frosted Departure had every right to get tired.
The most surprising part of Frosted Departure’s effort is that he gave no indication of wanting to route on paper. Yet he routed just fine.
Arabian Knight took one more step toward being the next superstar, but also keep tabs on Red Route One and Frosted Departure. One or both of those colts could offer generous odds in their next points race.