HOT SPRINGS -- There are no sure things when in horse racing and weather, but handicappers and forecasters have predicted two near certainties for Oaklawn Park today -- the 83rd running of the Arkansas Derby and heavy rain.
Eleven horses are entered in the Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby for 3-year-olds in the 1⅛-mile race. There is almost a 100 percent chance of rain.
Several entrants already have found success on the sand, clay and silt of Oaklawn's 1-mile racetrack. Two colts shipped from the California barns of Hall of Fame trainers, and two others from the stables along Oaklawn's backstretch have wins on the road to the Kentucky Derby.
The Arkansas Derby offers 170 Derby qualifying points, with 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
California shippers Improbable, at 8-5, and Omaha Beach, at 2-1, rank second and fourth, respectively, in horseracingnation.com's Kentucky Derby media poll. They are the morning-line favorites for the Arkansas Derby, which is scheduled as the 11th of 12 races with a post-time of 6:43 p.m.
Season-long locals Long Range Toddy, owned by Willis Horton of Marshall and trained by Steve Asmussen, and Gray Attempt, trained by Arkansas native Jinks Fires and owned by Dwight Pruett of Texarkana, are 5-1 and 8-1 morning-line selections, respectively.
Gray Attempt, a front-running son of Graydar, won Oaklawn's $150,000, 1-mile Smarty Jones Stakes, good for 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points Jan. 25.
Gray Attempt's latest training session came on a muddy Oaklawn track Monday when he worked five furlongs in 58.60, the fastest of 22 works at that distance. He galloped out through 6 furlongs in 1:11.40.
"We felt very good about that," Fires said. "We just wanted him to go like he wanted to, and he seemed real comfortable all the way around. He looked real good, and he looked like he really didn't mind the wet track. That could really help him come race day if it does what they say it will."
The National Weather Service predicts rain chances this afternoon in Hot Springs between 85 percent and 100 percent with a possibility of 2 or more inches of accumulation.
Fires trained Archarcharch to an Arkansas Derby victory in 2011.
Long Range Toddy has piled up qualifying points in each of the past four months, a run that began with his win in the $400,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park in Oklahoma City on Dec. 16. It continued into the 2019 Oaklawn season with a second-place finish in the Smarty Jones on Jan. 25, a third in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18, and a win by a neck over second-place Improbable in the first division of the split Rebel Stakes on March 16.
Gray Attempt's early run of success was stopped by a collision in the first turn of the Southwest Stakes that led to a last-place finish in the field of 11 and multiple injuries that caused him to miss two weeks of training and a start in the Rebel. He returned with a seemingly effortless dash to win the $125,000, 6-furlong Gazebo Stakes in 1:09.72 on March 23, an effort Fires and Pruett said was little more than a paid training session for the Arkansas Derby.
"We felt good about that race," Fires said. "He came out of it real good, and he seemed to get a lot out of it. I think he's about as ready as he'll get."
"You know, I feel really good about his chances," Pruett said. "I think he has a good shot of doing something special. I really do. Jinks tells me he's ready, and I believe it."
Improbable, a lightly raced son of City Zip trained by Bob Baffert, was undefeated in three career starts, including a win for 10 qualifying points in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity in Southern California on Dec. 8. Combined with his 16 points from the Rebel, Improbable has 26 to rank 25th among horses vying for a spot in the 20-horse Derby starting gate. He will likely need at least a third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby to make the Derby field.
Omaha Beach, a son of War Front trained by Richard Mandella, spent the entirety of his 2-year-old campaign on turf, but he finished second in his first dirt start on Jan. 4 at Santa Anita Park and won his second over 7 furlongs on a sloppy track at Santa Anita in 1:21.02 on Feb. 2.
Omaha Beach was assigned the third gate during Wednesday's Arkansas Derby draw.
"It's a good draw to begin with, but any draw would have been fine," Mandella said. "We're happy to be here."
Jockey Mike Smith rode Fox Hill Farm's Omaha Beach to a win by a nose in the Rebel's second division over Game Winner, a Baffert-trained California-based colt who finished second in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby last Saturday.
Smith flew into Hot Springs from California on Thursday.
"I have a lot of confidence in this horse," Smith said. "He went into the Rebel doing great, and he got a lot out of that race. He took a big step forward then, and I think he still has a lot of room for improvement."
Sports on 04/13/2019
Print Headline: Decorated field braces for rain in 83rd running of Arkansas Derby