Arkansas Derby split: Charlatan in first division; Nadal, Wells Bayou in second

Apr 26, 2020 Kellie Reilly/

Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (G1) offers the immediate opportunity of scoring Kentucky Derby points, on an otherwise uncertain racing landscape in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus a total of 22 sophomores crowded the entry box. Oaklawn Park responded by splitting the feature into two divisions, worth $500,000 apiece, and Kentucky Derby officials agreed to maintain the full points structure – 100-40-20-10 – for each division.

Hall of Famer Bob Baffert has unbeaten contenders in both divisions. Charlatan makes his stakes debut on the rail in the first division, while Nadal finds himself in the second and deeper division.

Nadal is making his second trip to Oaklawn, after surviving a brutal pace war in his two-turn debut in the March 14 Rebel (G2). Now he seeks to carry his speed an extra sixteenth in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. Drawn in post 5 with Joel Rosario on Saturday, Nadal figures to get pressed early by Louisiana Derby (G2) hero Wells Bayou, who is drawn widest of all in post 11.

Other prime players in the second division are King Guillermo, aiming to prove his 49-1 upset of the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) was no fluke; Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion Storm the Court, yet to win since that shock and exiting a third in the San Felipe (G2); Silver Prospector, the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and Southwest (G3) winner who was sixth in the Rebel; and Farmington Road and Taishan, the respective second and third from the April 11 Oaklawn S.

Adding to the depth of Division 2 are Cal Cup Derby victor Fast Enough, last seen closing for third to Nadal in the Feb. 9 San Vicente (G2), and trail veteran Finnick the Fierce, awarded an Oaklawn allowance via disqualification in his latest. Recent Sam Houston allowance winner Code Runner and Tampa Bay maiden scorer Saratogian appear ambitiously spotted.

In the first division, Charlatan takes his first serious test of class after brilliant maiden and allowance performances at Santa Anita. Breaking from the rail could pose an additional challenge for the up-and-comer, who also gets a new rider in Martin Garcia.

Charlatan’s leading opponents are Gouverneur Morris, runner-up in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and most recently fourth in the Florida Derby (G1), and Anneau d’Or, the near-misser in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) who flopped in a Risen Star (G2) division. Hopeful (G1) winner Basin has not moved forward this term, placing third in the Rebel and fourth in the Oaklawn S. Graded veteran Wrecking Crew, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, comes off a fifth in the San Felipe.

The rest are stepping up in class – Winning Impression, who was demoted in the allowance won by Finnick the Fierce; last-out allowance winner Shooters Shoot; Rushaway fourth Crypto Cash; Tampa Bay Derby also-ran Mo Mosa; Jungle Runner, unplaced in three straight since taking the Clever Trevor; and Private Terms runner-up My Friends Beer.

The two Arkansas Derby divisions highlight a 14-race closing-day card that kicks off at noon (CT) on Saturday. The Hot Springs track has managed to keep on racing amid the pandemic, without spectators and employing safety protocols.

Oaklawn President Louis Cella commented on the track’s role in supporting the industry and fans alike.

“Because of our national crisis, we and the entire world of sports are in uncharted waters requiring unprecedented actions,” Cella said. “We’re trying to make the best of a very, very difficult situation. On the one hand, it is the worst of times to be racing without fans in our grandstand. On the other, we have a large number of exceptional 3-year-olds wanting to run in our Arkansas Derby. We simply did not want to see anyone lose that opportunity.

“We are not alone in our suffering,” Cella added. “All of America is hurting. By maintaining some semblance of a racing program, at least we’ve been able to help horse owners, their employees, trainers, and jockeys while providing sport for racing fans across the country to enjoy.” 

Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery recognized Oaklawn’s valuable contribution and added that more Derby points races will be forthcoming.

“We’re in the midst of an unprecedented year,” Flanery said. “We recognize that there are numerous 3-year-olds currently in training with limited racing opportunities, and our prominent partner Oaklawn Park is in a unique and important position to immediately fill a void for horsemen.

“An extension of the Road to the Kentucky Derby will continue to evolve in the weeks ahead. Our Churchill Downs team is united in our commitment to holding the very best Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5, and it will certainly be one of the most memorable of our lifetimes.”

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