Hall of Fame conditioner Bob Baffert has dominated Oaklawn Park's series of graded preps for the Kentucky Derby, winning the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby a combined eight times since 2010. He will again be a major factor in Saturday's renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, saddling War Academy and Den's Legacy for the 1 1/8-mile fixture that highlights a blockbuster closing day program at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, course.
There a couple similarities between War Academy and the Baffert-trained Bodemeister, who romped by 9 1/2 lengths in last year's Arkansas Derby en route to runner-up efforts in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Like Bodemeister, War Academy enters Saturday's race with just three previous starts to his credit and will be piloted by Mike Smith. Unlike the free-running Bodemeister, War Academy has from the beginning shown an ability to rate. That was evident in both his debut victory at Hollywood Park in November and in an allowance victory at Santa Anita last month. In between those two scores was a fourth-place finish in the seven-furlong San Vicente, a race War Academy might have needed following a three-month absence.
Den's Legacy is more comparable to Baffert's dual classic winner Real Quiet, who also entered his final Kentucky Derby prep in 1998 a veteran of 11 starts. Den's Legacy is less accomplished than Real Quiet was at this point in the season, but has proven to be a consistent check earner. Following a victory in the Generous on turf in his juvenile finale, Den's Legacy has started the year off with seconds in the Sham and Robert B. Lewis, and a third in his first attempt over the Oaklawn strip in the March 16 Rebel.
The resurgent D. Wayne Lukas barn will be represented in the Arkansas Derby by Oxbow, who missed by a head to stablemate Will Take Charge in the Rebel after leading through most of the stretch. The Awesome Again colt was a dominating 11 1/2-length hero of the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in January, and then was a close fourth in the Risen Star over the same track before the Rebel.
Overanalyze, who gave owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher victories last season in the Remsen at Aqueduct and the Futurity at Belmont Park, will attempt to rebound off a disappointing effort in the March 2 Gotham at the Big A. Favored at 8-5 but drawn outside in post 11 in that 1 1/16-mile affair on the inner dirt, Overanalyze was hung wide around both turns and failed to muster a rally in a fifth-place effort.
"Overanalyze seems to have moved forward in his training since the Gotham," Pletcher said. "We expect improvement in his second start after the layoff. (Jockey) Rafael (Bejarano) has had a lot of success at Oaklawn Park and we were lucky to get him on short notice."
John Velazquez, the regular rider for Overanalyze, is presently sidelined due to injuries suffered in a spill at Aqueduct last weekend.
Falling Sky will attempt to stretch his speed nine furlongs for the first time Saturday. The wire-to-wire winner of the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs two back, the Lion Heart colt could not contain the unbeaten Verrazano going 1 1/16 miles in last month's Tampa Bay Derby, finishing 7 1/4 lengths third to the subsequent Wood Memorial winner.
Frac Daddy finished up the track in both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby earlier this year, failing to show progress off a solid second-place finish in last November's Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. Texas Bling, meanwhile, failed to seriously threaten in either the Southwest and Rebel following a near-miss second in the January 21 Smarty Jones.
The Arkansas Derby field is completed by stakes victor Heaven's Runaway, a distant third in the Southwest last time; multiple stakes-placed Divine Ambition, who was cross-entered in Saturday's Blue Grass at Keeneland; and allowance winner Carve.