Bob Baffert likes the Oaklawn Park route to the Kentucky Derby (G1), prepping Triple Crown winner American Pharoah twice over the Hot Springs track last year, and the Hall of Fame trainer will try to win his second straight edition of the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on Saturday with Cupid.
The 1 1/8-mile event is the final major prep race in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, offering points on a 100-40-20-10 scale to the top four finishers.
A maiden winner two starts previously, the late-blooming Cupid will be making his second straight Arkansas foray after recording a commendable 1 ¼-length victory in the March 19 Rebel (G2). The Tapit colt broke a step slowly, rushed forward to show the way on a clear lead and after racing greenly in upper stretch, re-rallied gamely to withstand the late rally of runner-up Whitmore.
Installed as the 2-1 morning line among 12 runners, Cupid will retain the services of jockey Martin Garcia.
Whitmore has finished second in the Southwest (G3) and Rebel at Oaklawn and merits serious respect on Saturday. The late-running gelding is trained by Ron Moquett and will keep Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle.
Creator and Suddenbreakingnews also bring a strong late kick to the equation. Creator finished third when making his stakes debut in the Rebel and is eligible to keep improving for trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. Southwest winner Suddenbreakingnews experienced a troubled trip when fifth in the Rebel and the Donnie Von Hemel-trained gelding will try to rebound with Luis Quinonez.
Dazzling Gem opened his racing career with a pair of wins at Oaklawn before finishing third in the TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2). The Brad Cox trainee can flatter Kentucky Derby-bound Gun Runner with a strong showing beneath new rider Joe Talamo. American Pioneer is an intriguing new face in the stakes ranks after posting a convincing maiden win over the oval last out for Wayne Catalano and Rafael Bejarano will be up.
Other contenders include Unbridled Outlaw, who finished third in the Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs last September and will be making his second start of the year for Dale Romans; and Gettysburg, who will represent four-time Arkansas Derby-winning conditioner Todd Pletcher.
Cupid photo courtesy of Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography