A major qualifier in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park shifted location on the calendar this year, moving from three to five weeks out from the first Saturday in May. The top two finishers from the 1 1/8-mile race are Kentucky Derby-bound.

First stakes win for up-and-comer

Cyberknife didn’t live up to expectations early in his career, losing three of his first four starts, including a well-beaten sixth in January’s Lecomte (G3), but the light bulb appeared to come on in mid-February when recording a sharp three-length allowance triumph on the Risen Star undercard at Fair Grounds.

The Brad Cox-trained Gun Runner colt carried his momentum forward in the Arkansas Derby, registering a 2 3/4-length victory, and Cyberknife will bring improving form to the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

Hustled from post 8 by Florent Geroux, Cyberknife was four wide with the leaders passing the finish line the first time. He angled in and dropped behind rivals on the bend, entering the backstretch about three lengths back in fourth, and launched an early move along the inside approaching the far turn, splitting pacesetter Kavod and pressing Chasing Time.

Cyberknife put away Kavod by the top of the stretch, surging a couple of lengths clear as he straightened for home, and the chestnut maintained a comfortable advantage to the wire. The pace was solid (:22.10 and :46.54), and Cyberknife possesses the tactical foot to make his own trip.

Speed figs must increase

Cox won two legs of last year’s Triple Crown, and Cyberknife appears to be on an upward trajectory for the two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning conditioner. But Cyberknife will need to run faster after netting only a 94 Brisnet Speed rating in the Arkansas Derby.

By comparison, Epicenter received a 101 Speed figure for his Louisiana Derby win a week earlier.

Whether he can move forward enough at Churchill Downs remains to be seen, but Cyberknife looked promising winning the Arkansas Derby.

One to consider for part

Barber Road always comes running late for a minor award, it’s his modus operandi. The gray colt notched his fifth consecutive stakes placing, rallying fast to edge 7-5 favorite Secret Oath by about a length for second.

The John Ortiz-trained gray colt also finished second in the Southwest (G3) and Smarty Jones S., and third in the Rebel (G3), at Oaklawn.

Barber Road won’t be among the fastest Kentucky Derby runners based upon Speed ratings, but his determination shouldn’t be easily dismissed when considering candidates to fill vertical exotics like the trifecta and superfecta.