All was positive at the barn of trainer Jinks Fires Sunday morning as the winning connections of Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) gathered to bask in the afterglow of the neck victory by ARCHARCHARCH (Arch).
Fires and assistant Pat Tanner reported the colt was in fine shape after scoring his second stakes win in the Oaklawn Park three-year-old series and would be headed to Louisville, Kentucky, Monday for a date in the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1).
"He's doing great," Tanner said. "He's like he was never in a horse race yesterday."
For owner Bob Yagos, the euphoria had yet to wear off after watching his star colt and jockey Jon Court close strongly to pass 4-5 favorite THE FACTOR (War Front), trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, and hold off a furious rally by NEHRO (Mineshaft) at the wire.
"I sure feel like we were in a horse race yesterday," said Yagos, an owner of a salvage yard in Jacksonville, Arkansas. "I told everyone that if we keep up this stress my hair is going to turn as white as Bob Baffert."
The stress levels and excitement are sure to rise now that the team is moving on to Kentucky, but Archarcharch looks to them like "the complete package" and his upbringing on the Yagos' farm will help in the circus-like atmosphere at Churchill Downs.
"Just before we sent him to be broken, he lived with us on the farm, and that's right next to the salvage yard," Yagos said. "He's been used to forklifts and trucks and equipment since he was a baby.
"And we are also right in the flight path for an Air Force base. We get those big C-130s coming and going all the time. He's sure going to be used to all the noise."
Fires's phone has not stopped ringing since the victory -- his first career Grade 1 win.
"He's great," he said. "It's been incredible. Everybody has called. It felt like everyone in Arkansas was in the winner's circle."
For the second straight race, Zayat Stable's Nehro had to settle for a runner-up spot in a photo-finish of a major Kentucky Derby prep race. Fortunately for the colt, he's picked the right time to lose. The neck loss matched a similar result last month in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2).
"Those are $800,000 worth of inches there," said Darren Fleming, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen.
Fleming reported Nehro was "great" Sunday morning and would fly to Kentucky and Churchill Downs Tuesday where he will prepare for a run in the Kentucky Derby.
While the losses were costly for the up-and-coming Nehro, the fact that they came in million-dollar graded stakes was opportune. He now has $400,000 in graded stakes earnings, qualifying him safely for the Derby field even though he has only one Oaklawn Park maiden-race victory to his credit from five starts.
It was a big day for the Asmussen team on Saturday's closing day card. They won three times from nine starters with three second-place results including Nehro's and Albergatti (Unbridled's Song) in the $100,000 Northern Spur S.
Fleming personally owned 3RD race allowance winner Chef Eric (Eddington) and 12TH race runner-up General Partner (Pulpit).
"It was a lot of fun," Fleming said. "My horse lost the Trail's End (final race on the card), but finished second, and the Derby loss, it kind of makes you a little disappointed, but everybody ran well and it looks like Nehro is really set up now with the way he ran to peak at the right time."
While Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch and runner-up Nehro are guaranteed spots in the Kentucky Derby based on their graded earnings, the Derby status is not so certain for the third and fourth-place finishers DANCE CITY (City Zip) and SWAY AWAY (Afleet Alex), who are 36th and 34th on the earnings list currently. The Kentucky Derby is limited to the 20 runners with the most graded earnings.
Dance City, his stablemate BRETHREN (Distorted Humor), who finished 11th in the Arkansas Derby, and Sway Away are all scheduled to leave Hot Springs, Arkansas, Tuesday on a flight to Kentucky where they will wait and see how the actual Derby field develops.
"With Sway Away and the Derby we are going to lay back and see where it goes," said trainer Jeff Bonde, who had a very productive Racing Festival of the South with Smiling Tiger (Hold That Tiger) winning the $200,000 Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) Thursday and Road Ready (More Than Ready) winning the $75,000 Bachelor S. Friday.
Bonde was also sending Smiling Tiger to Kentucky, but his main objective was going to be the Metropolitan H. (G1) -- the 'Met Mile' at Belmont Park May 30.
The only other Arkansas Derby runners with enough earnings currently to make the Kentucky Derby field are The Factor ($272,500) and the Joe Petalino-trained J P'S GUSTO ($544,000), who finished seventh and eighth respectively.
"We'll see how he is," said Baffert, who was very non-committal about the Derby following the race. "Right now, I'm not even going to comment on that. We're just going to go back and lick our wounds."
Plans for J P's Gusto were not set as of Sunday morning. The horse was sent by Gem Stables of Dr. John Waken to Petalino in February specifically for the Arkansas Derby series. He had originally been based in Southern California with trainer David Hofmans. Should the ridgling move farther east, the owners have employed other trainers when racing in New York and Maryland.