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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Oaklawn Derby Day full of racing excitement

by Wally Hall | April 9, 2021 at 2:27 a.m.

If -- and there's always an if in Arkansas in the spring -- the weather is good, Oaklawn Park could have 7,500 racing fans for Arkansas Derby Day on Saturday because the infield will be open.

If there was no pandemic that's about one-fifth of what they would have drawn for the 13 races that has a total of almost $3 million in purses.

The good news is that it is 7,500 more than were there last year because of covid-19 restrictions.

Derby Day at Oaklawn, when beautiful hats bloom and Arkansas Derby ties are cherished, is a special occasion.

A year ago, Oaklawn President Louis Cella could have followed other tracks and shut down. Instead he became an industry leader by not only keeping his track open for the owners, trainers and jockey, but he brilliantly moved the Arkansas Derby to the first Saturday in May.

That day is generally all about the Kentucky Derby, but it was postponed until September. Racing fans around the world had a derby to celebrate, at least virtually.

This Arkansas Derby drew a smaller field, but it is because the six horses are all Kentucky Derby contenders, and there is no running for fourth or fifth place money. All are focused on Kentucky Derby points and the winner's circle.

This Arkansas Derby looks like a field of champions.

Bob Baffert, the Hall of Fame trainer, is returning two of his top 3-year-olds, Concert Tour and Hozier.

Those stablemates ran 1-2 in the Rebel Stakes with Concert Tour winning by more than 4 lengths.

Of the field, four are technically shippers, but two local horses didn't back down an inch in entering this field.

Caddo River, owner by Hot Springs resident John Ed Anthony, is a well-bred colt who won the Smarty Jones by 10 lengths, but it was not his day in the Rebel. The official line was rank, empty and came out ( too wide).

He was second most of the way but finished fifth.

Anthony and trainer Brad Cox don't run horses they don't think can win.

The other local horse is Last Samurai, owned by Willie Horton. He's another well-bred horse that has been training well since a fifth-place finish in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 27.

Rounding out the field is Super Stock, trained by Steve Asmussen, and he gets Ricardo Santana back in the irons. That trainer-jockey combo is the Baylor basketball of Oaklawn Racing.

Last, but not least, is the well-bred Get Her Number who won the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita but was seventh in the Rebel after running into trouble. He was bumped and three wide. He has a jockey change to Francisco Arrieta.

While the Derby is the highlight of Saturday's card, there are 13 races including the Oaklawn Mile and the Carousel, which like the Derby, has six great runners.

Frank Fletcher's Frank's Rockette figures to be the favorite in the Carousel, which is for fillies and mares.

Frank's Rockette had a streak of six wins broken last year when she ran in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. She was the only filly in the race and at the head of the stretch she got slammed on both sides and finished 11th. She returned to racing in January winning at Oaklawn by more than a length.

That Breeders' Cup Sprint was won by another local favorite Whitmore who looks to be the morning-line favorite even with CZ Rocket back who beat him by a neck in the Hot Springs Handicap in March.

Whitmore, trained by Ron Moquett, has won more than $4 million with 15 career wins, 12 places and 3 shows in a 39 race career. He's never been off the board at Oaklawn.

The fun starts at noon.


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