by Jon White
April 30, 2020
Bob Baffert no doubt hopes it goes better for him at Oaklawn Park this Saturday than it did in last year’s Rebel Stakes.
When the 2019 Rebel attracted 19 entries, Oaklawn split the race into two divisions. Baffert sent out the odds-on favorite in each division. They both narrowly lost, causing their Hall of Fame trainer to figuratively pull his white hair out.
In the first division, Baffert-trained Improbable was backed down to 2-5. He finished second, losing by only a neck to 8-1 Long Range Toddy.
In the second division, Baffert-trained Game Winner was sent away at 1-2. He finished second, losing by a scant nose to 4-1 Omaha Beach.
When this Saturday’s Grade I Arkansas Derby enticed 22 entries, Oaklawn split it into two divisions. Each division is headed by a Baffert-trained undefeated colt. Charlatan goes in the first division and Nadal runs in the second division.
Going into the Arkansas Derby, Charlatan ranks No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. Nadal is No. 2.
Here is my current Top 10 for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby:
3. Tiz the Law
4. Honor A.P.
7. Sole Volante
8. Ete Indien
9. King Guillermo
10. Wells Bayou
Charlatan, who is two for two, has been established as the even-money favorite on the morning line in the first division of the Arkansas Derby. Nadal, three for three, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the second division.
The way I see it, Charlatan is an absolute lock. I’d say you probably have a much better chance of finding some precious toilet paper on a store’s shelf than any of Charlatan’s foes outrunning him Saturday.
As for Nadal, I think he will be very tough this Saturday, though his task is quite a bit tougher than Charlatan’s. There seems to be a substantial imbalance of quality in the two divisions. It appears to me that Nadal is facing much better competition than Charlatan.
In case you were wondering, the Arkansas Derby was first run in 1936. This will be only the second time this race has been split into two divisions. The only other time it happened was in 1960. That’s back when Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House. The average price for a gallon of gas in 1960 was 20 cents. When the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby were run in March, the newly released movie “Psycho” was a hit in theaters.
Below are Oaklawn’s morning-line prices, plus the odds I tweeted last Sunday for the first division of Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (listed in post position order, with Charlatan starting from post 1):
ML - My Odds - Horse
1-1 3-5 Charlatan
20-1 30-1 My Friends Beer
30-1 50-1 Mo Mosa
9-2 5-1 Gouverneur Morris
30-1 50-1 Jungle Runner
8-1 12-1 Shooters Shoot*
20-1 20-1 Wrecking Crew
6-1 8-1 Anneau d’Or
15-1 20-1 Winning Impression
20-1 30-1 Crypto Cash
8-1 6-1 Basin
*Reportedly will be scratched
Peter Eurton said Tuesday that he would be scratching Shooters Shoot because the colt had developed a fever.
These are my selections for the first division:
2. Gouverneur Morris
4. Anneau d’Or
Charlatan towers over the field in the first division from a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint.
In Charlatan’s career debut on Feb. 16 at Santa Anita Park, he burst on the scene with a 5 3/4-length maiden victory in a six-furlong race. He zipped the distance 1:08.85.
Following Charlatan’s dazzling debut, he won a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Santa Anita on March 14 in isolated splendor by 10 1/4 lengths.
Charlatan recorded a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in his debut, then a 106 on March 14. These are the two highest Beyer Speed Figures posted by a 3-year-old so far this year.
Tiz the Law is the only other 3-year-old to have posted a triple-digit Beyer this year. When he won Gulfstream Park’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 1, Tiz the Law was credited with a 100 Beyer.
While Charlatan boasts Beyers of 105 and 106 in his two races to date, no one else in the first division of the Arkansas Derby has ever registered a triple-digit figure.
Shooters Shoot and Anneau d’Or are the only entrants other than Charlatan in the first division to have ever recorded a Beyer Speed Figure of 90 or higher. Shooters Shoot had a pair of 92 Beyers to his credit. Anneau d’Or has recorded a 91 Beyer.
As if Charlatan did not already look practically unbeatable this Saturday, the Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt now will not even have to worry about Shooters Shoot.
The defection of Shooters Shoot is especially helpful to Charlatan in terms of the pace. Shooters Shoot is the sort who might have been able to be a thorn in Charlatan’s side early. Without Shooters Shoot in the race, it looks like Charlatan will be able to get loose on the lead right away and set an uncontested pace. That will make him mighty difficult to catch.
Anneau d’Or recorded a 91 Beyer Speed Figure when he narrowly lost the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity last Dec. 7. Prior to that, Anneau d’Or came away with an 86 Beyer when he narrowly lost the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 1.
What diminishes the enthusiasm of many for Anneau d’Or in the Arkansas Derby is his poor performance in his 2020 debut. He finished ninth as an even-money favorite in a division of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Feb. 15.
Will Anneau d’Or rebound off his surprisingly dreadful effort in the Risen Star? It’s possible. He appears to have trained well at Golden Gate Fields leading up to the Arkansas Derby. But the problem is, even if he does run much better this time, his career-best 91 Beyer pales in comparison to Charlatan’s 105 and 106.
I liked Gouverneur Morris a lot last year following his nine-length debut win in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race contested over a sloppy track at Saratoga on Sept. 2. He recorded an 83 Beyer Speed Figure that day.
In Gouverneur Morris’ only subsequent start last year, he was sent away as the 3-2 favorite in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 5. Yes, Gouverneur Morris ran well enough to finish second, but he was no match for 5 1/2-length victor Maxfield.
Gouverneur Morris has raced twice this year. He won at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 14, then finished fourth in the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. He received an 88 Beyer in each of those two races.
A big problem for Gouverneur Morris this Saturday is the big disparity in his two 88 Beyers this year vs. Charlatan’s 105 and 106.
I have not been quite as bullish on the Gouverneur as many others. He has ranked pretty high on various Kentucky Derby lists. For example, BloodHorse’s Steve Haskin has him at No. 6 on his Derby Dozen for this week. But Gouverneur Morris has not yet been on any of my weekly Kentucky Derby Top 10 lists that began early in January.
I am perfectly willing to put Gouverneur Morris on my Kentucky Top 10 next week should he give a good account of himself in the Arkansas Derby. Of course, a victory this Saturday would make him a slam-dunk to appear on next week’s Top 10.
I do think Gouverneur Morris’ most recent Thoro-Graph number gives him a better shot to win Saturday than his Beyers.
As I have stated in the past, I believe Beyer Speed Figures are a valuable tool for horseplayers. If I didn’t think Beyers were helpful, I would not refer to them as often as I do. But I also believe Thoro-Graph numbers are much better than Beyers.
In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, a higher number is better than a lower one. The opposite is true regarding Thoro-Graph numbers.
The winner of a race will never get a lower Beyer Speed Figure than the horse who finished second, the horse who finished second will never get a lower Beyer than the horse who finished third, and so on down through the order of finish.
In the case of a Thoro-Graph number, a horse who finishes second, or even lower, can get a better number than the winner. This is one of the reasons I like Thoro-Graph so much. I regard a Thoro-Graph number as a much more realistic evaluation of a horse’s performance than a Beyer. Thoro-Graph’s approach reflects the simple truth that the winner is not always the horse who ran the best race.
Beyer Speed Figures are based primarily on the time of the race relative to the track variant. The variant is an assessment of a track surface. Was the surface on which the race was run normal? If not, how much faster or slower than normal was the surface? The variant is a tool in which one can put the time of a race into perspective as opposed to raw time.
Those who calculate Beyers will make adjustments as they deem necessary in order to come up with what they feel is the most accurate figure. One way the Beyer-makers do this is by keeping an eye on how each horse’s figure in a race compares to its previous performances. When a figure looks out of whack, it will be tweaked to make it more realistic in the judgment of the Beyer-maker.
A primary reason I believe a Thoro-Graph number is better than a Beyer Speed Figure is the Thoro-Graph number takes many more factors into account. According to Thoro-Graph, “each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.”
As mentioned earlier, Gouverneur Morris recorded an 88 Beyer Speed Figure in his most recent start when fourth in the Florida Derby. The 88 suggests it is almost a mission impossible for Gouverneur Morris to beat Charlatan with his gaudy 105 and 106 Beyers.
But Gouverneur Morris’ Florida Derby performance received quite a bit more respect from Thoro-Graph than from the Beyer team.
Gouverneur Morris’ Thoro-Graph number for the Florida Derby was a 2. That puts him more in the ballpark with Charlatan than the Beyers. Charlatan’s two Thoro-Graph numbers are 0 for his debut and 1/4 for his second race.
Charlatan’s Beyers of 105 and 106 compare favorably to Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify.
American Pharoah swept the Triple Crown in 2015. While Charlatan has recorded Beyers of 105 and 106 in his first two career starts, American Pharoah did not receive a Beyer Speed Figure of 106 or higher until his ninth career start.
During American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run, his Beyers were 105 in the Kentucky Derby, 102 in the Preakness Stakes and 105 in the Belmont Stakes.
Charlatan’s 105 and 106 Beyers also are superior to the 104 and 101 figures for Justify in the first two starts of his six-race career in which he never lost.
After Justify’s first two races, he recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 107 in the Santa Anita Derby, 103 in the Kentucky Derby, 97 in the Preakness and 101 in the Belmont.
A LOOK AT THE SECOND DIVISION
Nadal is a two-time graded stakes winner. He took Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 9, then got the job done in Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track March 14. He won each of those races by three-quarters of a length.
Below are Oaklawn’s morning-line prices, plus the odds I tweeted last Sunday for the second division of Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (listed in post position order, with Finnick the Fierce breaking from post 1):
ML - My Odds - Horse
15-1 30-1 Finnick the Fierce
50-1 50-1 Saratogian
6-1 12-1 Storm the Court
3-1 4-1 King Guillermo
5-2 6-5 Nadal
50-1 50-1 Code Runner
10-1 6-1 Silver Prospector
12-1 20-1 Fast Enough*
15-1 15-1 Taishan
12-1 8-1 Farmington Road
7-2 6-1 Wells Bayou
*Reportedly will be scratched
Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported Tuesday that Fast Enough will miss the Arkansas Derby “after emerging from his final work on Sunday with an injury.” Fast Enough drilled four furlongs in :47.00 at Santa Anita on Sunday, but he was not put on the plane to Arkansas early Tuesday because of a shin injury. It was a shin issue that sidelined Fast Enough for the remainder of 2019 after he had won a Santa Anita maiden race by 3 3/4 lengths at first asking on May 31.
These are my selections for the second division of the Arkansas Derby:
2. King Guillermo
3. Silver Prospector
4. Wells Bayou
I love Nadal in the Arkansas Derby. Not only do I see him having an excellent chance of winning the race, he almost certainly is going to be a better price in the wagering Saturday than Charlatan.
I expect Nadal will sit off the early pace this time, unlike his first three races. The way Baffert has been training Nadal at Santa Anita gives every indication to me that the game plan for this Saturday is to have the big colt come from off the pace.
I think Nadal’s recent workouts at Santa Anita have been terrific. In his April 15, April 20 and April 26 drills, he has relaxed beautifully early when sitting back off a workmate. And in all three workouts, he came home down the lane with gusto.
It seems to me that many have not given Nadal the credit he deserved for his victories in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 9 and Oaklawn’s Grade II Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track March 14. That’s probably because he won both races by three-quarters of a length rather by than a sizable margin. But the belief here is he actually ran much better on both occasions than his margin of victory would suggest.
Whereas I anticipate Nadal probably will be asked to come from off the pace this Saturday, that certainly was not the case in the seven-furlong San Vicente.
Baffert said he told jockey Joel Rosario before the San Vicente, “Don’t get cute, just go. We can rate him some other day.”
Nadal ended up having to run hard -- very hard -- from start to finish. The big Kentucky-bred son of Blame never, ever got a breather. It is not easy for any horse to run hard all the way in a seven-furlong race and still win, but it’s especially so when the horse had only one prior start under his belt.
Rosario, riding to his instructions, gunned Nadal away from the gate. Nadal and Ginobili vied for the lead all the way down the backstretch, all the way around the far turn and all the way down the lane. Nadal found a way to prevail by three-quarters of a length at the end of the prolonged duel.
Nadal’s final furlong in :13.54 admittedly left something to be desired. But the truth is he showed a lot just to win the race despite being involved in a pace that would cause many to wilt. The splits of :21.81, :44.09 and 1:09.05 were especially draining on a slower-than-it-used-to-be Santa Anita main track.
Additionally, Baffert said after the San Vicente that he had trained Nadal “light” for the race. At the top of the stretch, when Nadal and Ginobili were locked in a fierce battle for the lead, the white-haired trainer admitted that he thought Nadal was going to get beat. According to Baffert, Nadal won the San Vicente on sheer talent.
“He had to gut it out, so he’s got a good foundation now,” Baffert said after the race. “This should set him up pretty good. I think we’ll go to the Rebel.”
Nadal did indeed go to the Rebel for his next race. The game plan for the Rebel was to once again send Nadal early, a strategy that was dictated by Nadal drawing post 1.
It took a very special colt to do what Nadal did to still win the Rebel after what was asked of him early. As in the San Vicente, he had to run hard for every step of the race. This time it was a 1 1/16-mile race.
In the run to the first turn, Nadal vied for the early advantage with No Parole. No Parole had come into the race having won all three of his career starts by a combined 34 lengths, albeit in races restricted to Louisiana-breds.
On the first turn, a fresh American Theorem, who was making his 2020 debut, rushed up to engage Nadal and No Parole for the lead. The preliminary fractions were swift: :22.89 and :46.00.
After being involved in such a hot early pace, both American Theorem and No Parole faltered badly in the final quarter of a mile. American Theorem lost by 27 1/4 lengths. No Parole got beat by 49 lengths.
Interestingly, after Nadal clobbered No Parole in the Rebel, No Parole bounced back last Friday to win a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming sprint by 2 1/4 lengths at Oaklawn.
Considering the early fractions in the Rebel, Nadal had every right to throw in the towel in the last quarter of a mile like American Theorem and No Parole did. But Nadal came home well enough to win, though not before having to withstand bids from Three Technique and Silver Prospector near the top of the lane, then from Excession in deep stretch.
Excession gave it a fine try at odds of 82-1, but he was not able to pull off the upset. Nadal proved a punctual 9-10 favorite. After the finish, Nadal remained in front while galloping out, which also was impressive considering how hard he had run during the entire race.
Nadal’s Rebel triumph was all the more praiseworthy considering it was his first race around two turns, his first race on a wet track and his first race away from Santa Anita.
As for Nadal’s Arkansas Derby opponents, I think Silver Prospector’s five-furlong bullet drill in :59.00 at Oaklawn on April 18 suggests he should not be taken lightly Saturday. A clocking like that really catches the eye when Steve Asmussen is the trainer. You rarely see such a fast workout for a horse conditioned by the Hall of Famer. It indicates to me that Silver Prospector could not be coming into the Arkansas Derby any better.
Granted, Silver Prospector needs to turn it around after finishing sixth, 12 lengths behind Nadal, in the Rebel. But Silver Prospector’s victory in Oaklawn’s Grade III Southwest Stakes on Feb. 17 gives him a license to prove a tough customer this Saturday.
Silver Prospector also was good enough to win the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs last Nov. 30. In that 1 1/16-mile affair, the vanquished included Tiz the Law, who finished third. Tiz the Law, who is two for two this year, won the Grade III Holy Bull on Feb. 1 and Grade I Florida Derby on March 28, both at Gulfstream.
King Guillermo has the look of a major player in the Arkansas Derby off his sparkling victory in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby in his 2020 debut on March 7. He won by 4 3/4 lengths at odds of 49-1.
A concern I have regarding King Guillermo, though, is Tampa Bay Downs’ main track is something of a quirky surface. Sometimes a horse runs a biggie on that track, but then does not fare nearly as well when racing on a different surface.
When Silver Prospector took the Southwest, the runner-up was Wells Bayou. Wells Bayou then won the Grade II Louisiana Derby at 1 3/16 miles in wire-to-wire fashion by 1 1/2 lengths on March 21.
I slightly downgrade Wells Bayou’s Louisiana Derby win because did have it all his own way on the front end early. It’s doubtful he will get such a favorable pace scenario this time. That’s one of the reasons I am not on his bandwagon for the Arkansas Derby.
Nadal’s top Beyer Speed Figure is a 98. I think he is capable of doing better in that regard. Unlike Charlatan, Nadal certainly does not have a substantial Beyer advantage Saturday.
King Guillermo recorded a 99 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the Tampa Bay Derby. Silver Prospector posted a 97 Beyer when victorious in the Southwest. When Wells Bayou won the Louisiana Derby, he was credited with a 96 Beyer.
VIRTUAL KENTUCKY DERBY ON NBC SATURDAY
The Kentucky Derby originally was scheduled to be held this Saturday, but it has been moved to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the Kentucky Derby now to be run later in the year, NBC Sports presents a special broadcast this Saturday beginning at 3 p.m. ET that will take a look back at American Pharoah’s 2015 Kentucky Derby victory. American Pharoah subsequently won the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes to sweep this country’s coveted Triple Crown, a feat that had not been accomplished since Secretariat in 1973.
Speaking of Secretariat, when I was a senior in high school in 1973, I wrote this about Secretariat in my high school newspaper, the Lewis and Clark Journal, on March 22, well before the Kentucky Derby:
“Going out on a limb and living dangerously, I dare say that 1973 will be a historic year as Secretariat will become the first Triple Crown winner since the great Citation in 1948.”
NBC’s broadcast Saturday will feature Churchill Downs’ first-ever virtual horse race -- the Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown. It’s a computer-simulated version of a race consisting of the 13 Triple Crown winners. Created by Inspired Entertainment, this virtual race will use data algorithms, including handicapping information about each horse, to determine the probability of the finish positions.
I am predicting Secretariat will win the virtual race.
The late, great Daily Racing Form writer Charles Hatton in 1973 proclaimed Secretariat to be the Horse of the Century. Hatton, the man who was playing hooky when he saw Sotemia at Churchill Downs in 1912 set the world record of 7:12 4/5 for four miles that still stands today, categorially believed Secretariat was superior to even mighty Man o’ War, let alone Citation, et al.
If Secretariat somehow doesn’t win Churchill’s virtual race, the rumble of ground shaking beneath your feet will be because Hatton is turning over in his grave.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 378 Midnight Bisou (29)
2. 307 Mucho Gusto
3. 194 Zulu Alpha (1)
4. 178 Ce Ce
5. 161 Mr Freeze
6. 128 Maximum Security (7)
7. 110 Tom’s d’Etat
8. 106 By My Standards
9. 95 Combatant
10. 94 Whitmore
Tiz the Law, who ranks 13th, received two first-place votes in the Top Thoroughbred Poll. He maintains the top spot in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll.
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 379 Tiz the Law (33)
2. 329 Authentic (3)
3. 308 Nadal (1)
4. 230 Charlatan (2)
5. 179 Wells Bayou
6. 167 Honor A.P.
7. 123 Ete Indien
8. 109 Sole Volante
9. 81 King Guillermo
10. 69 Maxfield