HOT SPRINGS -- Magnum Moon proved his flexibility, and his next challenge is to break a curse.
Under jockey Luis Saez, Magnum Moon led from the start to win the $1 million Grade I 1⅛-mile Arkansas Derby in 1:49.86 before an estimated crowd of 64,500 at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, the final day of the track's 2018 season and the Racing Festival of the South.
Magnum Moon, owned by Robert and Lawana Low of Springfield, Mo., had raced from off the pace in his three previous career starts, all victories as a 3-year-old.
With his 150 Road to the Kentucky Derby points from this win and Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes on March 17, Magnum Moon is assured a spot in the 20-horse gate of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on May 5. The 150 points were the most of any horse this year.
No horse has won the Kentucky Derby without having run a race as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882, a fact known among racing enthusiasts as the Curse of Apollo. Robert Low said he and his colt are ready to take it on.
"We have to bust it up," he said. "We've got to bust it up."
Trainer Todd Pletcher has four of the five top points earners on the Road to the Derby, with Magnum Moon, Audible, Noble Indy and Vino Rosso. He said Magnum Moon, a son of Malibu Moon, showed his versatility in the Arkansas Derby.
"I think he's shown he doesn't need a certain kind of race to win," Pletcher said.
Magnum Moon led through splits of 23.34 for the quarter-mile, 48.60 for the half, 1:13.39 for three-quarters, and a mile in 1:37.87, but never by more than 2 lengths over Quip, who ran second throughout. He was able to open up 2 more lengths in the final eighth of a mile to win by 4.
"I thought it was very good," Pletcher said. "Very pleased with the outcome. I thought he finished with good energy and was pulling away from some nice horses. He's won a number of different ways now, and I think he's proven that he's the kind of horse that's able to make his own race."
Magnum Moon did drift into the middle of the track late, but Pletcher said he did not think it was a product of fatigue.
"I was a little concerned when he drifted," Pletcher said. "But it looked like he sort of halfway thought about jumping over the tire tracks when he went by the eighth pole where the gate was and sort of skipped over those."
Pletcher referred to tracks from the starting gate on the home stretch.
Quip, by Distorted Humor, finished second under jockey Florent Geroux by a neck over third-place Solomini. Steve Asmussen trainee Combatant, who was last in the field of nine under rider Ricardo Santana Jr. through the first half-mile, closed throughout the final turn and stretch to finish fourth, a head behind Solomini.
Quip trainer Rodolphe Brisset said he did not expect Magnum Moon to take the lead.
"I guess that's just the way the race set up," Brisset said. "We could have tried to go on the lead. I think Florent did the right thing."
Since Combatant's 1-mile maiden win at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 29, the son of Scat Daddy finished second in three consecutive stakes races, including Oaklawn's Smarty Jones and Southwest. He finished third in Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes to Magnum Moon and Solomini.
Though his results have been similar to Asmussen's trainee Lookin At Lee, who finished third last season in Oaklawn's Southwest Stakes and Arkansas Derby before his second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Asmussen said that from a standpoint of maturity, the colts are much different.
"Lee, you'd ride into battle and come back," Asmussen said. "Combatant is still physically developing. Lee was just ultra-consistent, just steady. Combatant is still young, a little physically but more mentally. Lee was never young. He was never young. When he walked into the barn at two, he was old. Combatant is a good horse that's going to continue to get better."
Low, 68, said he has considered Oaklawn his home track since he was young and his father brought him to the races.
"It's very gratifying to win this race," Low said. "Of course, we'd love to win a Kentucky Derby, but to win an Arkansas Derby is really, really special, and I was so worried about him coming out of the gate with the lead. My heart just sank. I said, 'Oh no. This is new territory,' but he is so intelligent. He just kind of figured it out and put himself in the right spot."
Sports on 04/15/2018
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