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story.lead_photo.caption Trainer Richard Mandella walks Omaha Beach around the barn after morning training at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs on Wednesday. Omaha Beach, who won the second division in the Rebel Stakes on March 16, is 2-1 on the morning line for Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen

HOT SPRINGS -- Post positions for the 11 entrants in the $1 million, Grade I Arkansas Derby for 3-year-old horses were drawn in Oaklawn Park's main hall Wednesday.

Typical of the annual event, all horsemen on hand seemed pleased and confident.

Shippers enter as current favorites for the race, which covers 1⅛ miles. Improbable, from the California barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, will start from the rail and is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. Fox Hill Farm's Omaha Beach, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, is listed at 2-1 and will race from the third gate.

"The most important thing is to get here in good shape, and he did that," Mandella said of Omaha Beach. "We did that, and he's doing very well."

The Arkansas Derby is the 11th of 12 races set for Saturday, a card that includes the Grade III, $500,000, 6-furlong Count Fleet Sprint Handicap; and the Grade II, $750,000, 1⅛-mile Oaklawn Handicap. Each of those races are for horses 4 years old and up. Post time for the Arkansas Derby is scheduled for 6:43 p.m.

Omaha Beach shipped from California to win one of the two Grade II, $750,000 Rebel Stakes raced at Oaklawn on March 16. The other was won by Long Range Toddy, a regular through the first three of Oaklawn's Kentucky Derby qualifying races. Long Range Toddy is trained by nine-time Oaklawn training leader Steve Asmussen, owned by Willis Horton of Marshall, and ridden by longtime Oaklawn jockey Jon Court, the track's riding champion in 2000.

Long Range Toddy, the Rebel winner by a neck over Improbable, is the Arkansas Derby's 5-1 third choice and is listed to start from the far outside gate.

Long Range Toddy has earned Derby points in his past four starts and is a lock to qualify. He currently ranks 11th among Derby-eligible horses with 53.5 points.

"That gives you a boost of confidence," Court said. "It's nice to know you're not one who necessarily has to continue to prove himself. It lets you know you have a competitive edge."

Dwight Pruett of Texarkana owns Gray Attempt, the 8-1 morning-line fourth-choice trained by Arkansas native Jinks Fires. Gray Attempt, a son of Graydar, has led through the first quarter-mile of his past five starts, including his wire-to-wire win in Oaklawn's $150,000, 1-mile Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 25.

He earned 10 Derby qualifying points for his win in the Smarty Jones, but he missed the Rebel after an injury in the Grade III, $500,000, 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18 at Oaklawn to cut two weeks from his training. He started the Southwest from the rail, and his connections said before the Arkansas Derby draw that they hoped their entrant would start from gate Nos. 3-6. He drew No. 6.

"We're kind of down in there but not right on the rail," Fires said. "Things can happen from there where everybody comes right down on you. We know what happened from the rail in the Southwest. That was terrible, but we're very satisfied with where we are in this race."

Gray Attempt was injured after a collision in the first turn forced him into a bounce from the rail. He finished last of 11 in the Southwest.

He will start the Arkansas Derby off a win three weeks earlier in Oaklawn's $125,000, 6-furlong Gazebo Stakes.

"We have a good opportunity," Pruett said. "We couldn't ask for a better blessing than what we have. I feel real good about our chances. We'll see."

Derby post positions

Grade I, $1 million

WHEN 6:43 p.m. Saturday, 11th of 12 races

WHERE Oaklawn Park, Hot Springs

PP HORSE JOCKEY ML

1 Improbable Ortiz 8-5

2 Six Shooter Cohen 30-1

3 Omaha Beach Smith 2-1

4 Tikhvin Flew Baze 30-1

5 Laughing Fox Santana 20-1

6 Gray Attempt Elliott 8-1

7 Galilean Prat 10-1

8 Country House Rosario 12-1

9 One Flew South Borel 50-1

10 Jersey Agenda Vazquez 30-1

11 Long Range Toddy Court 5-1

Sports on 04/11/2019

Print Headline: Returning shippers are early favorites

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