Baffert seeking 5th Derby

Trainer Bob Baffert walks off the track after his horse Arabian Lion won The Woody Stephens ahead of the Belmont Stakes horse race, June 10, 2023, at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. 
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
Trainer Bob Baffert walks off the track after his horse Arabian Lion won The Woody Stephens ahead of the Belmont Stakes horse race, June 10, 2023, at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

HOT SPRINGS -- Muth will be running for style points Saturday at Oaklawn Razing Casino Resort in trying to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record-tying fifth Arkansas Derby victory.

Owing to Baffert's suspension from Churchill Downs, Muth is ineligible to collect Kentucky Derby qualifying points or run in the first leg of the Triple Crown.

The suspension stems from the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit being disqualified from his 2021 Kentucky Derby victory for a medication violation. Muth is the 8-5 program favorite for the Arkansas Derby. The 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, which is Oaklawn's fourth and final Kentucky Derby points race, drew a field of 10.

With the May 4 Kentucky Derby off the table, Baffert has an eye toward the Preakness -- the second leg of the Triple Crown -- May 18 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Baffert has won the Preakness a record eight times, including last year with National Treasure.

But Muth, whose Oaklawn road trip was delayed a month, is not on the Preakness radar yet, Baffert said.

"I don't like to think that far ahead," he said Monday afternoon. "I don't want to jinx him. It's one of these things where things change overnight. We're all starting to huddle up there, getting the groups together. What I like to do is just let the horse tell me that he's ready to step up and do something. There's no rush.

"He'll tell us, he'll tell me what he's ready for."

Muth was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the county's champion 2-year-old male after compiling a 2-2-0 mark from four starts. The son of champion Good Magic, unraced outside California, recorded his biggest career victory to date in the $300,000 Grade I American Pharoah Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 7 at Santa Anita. Muth closed 2023 with a runner-up finish in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.

Muth hasn't started since winning the seven-furlong $200,000 Grade II San Vicente Stakes on Jan. 6 at Santa Anita. He was scheduled to run in the $1.25 million Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 24, but Baffert scrapped the trip because he wasn't satisfied with Muth's final work.

Missing the Rebel means Muth will enter the Arkansas Derby after not running for 12 weeks, a layoff considerably longer than Baffert's four winners of the race -- Bodemeister (five weeks) in 2012, future Triple Crown champion American Pharoah (four weeks) in 2015 and Charlatan (seven weeks) and Nadal (seven weeks) in 2020.

"Those other horses, they were lightly raced and they were just coming around at that time," Baffert said. "They were really good horses. Charlatan went maiden, allowance, bam, Grade I. You can do it with that kind of horse. They were really gifted. I think [Muth] is a nice horse. He was second in the Breeders' Cup and I really thought he could win that. Fierceness, the winner, just ran an incredible race. It wasn't our day, but he ran well. "

Baffert is seeking his record-extending 20th victory in a Kentucky Derby points race at Oaklawn. He's also won the Southwest a record six times and the Smarty Jones once. Muth has four published workouts at Santa Anita, including three at six furlongs, since late February.

"He didn't make the Rebel because of the work," Baffert said. "Everything has to go perfect and at the time, I didn't feel good about it. But now he's doing really well. It's a good test for him, a mile and eighth. It's a big difference when you start going a mile and an eighth for these horses to see if they can handle it."

Baffert said trainer Rodolphe Brisset will saddle Muth because Jimmy Barnes is in the United Arab Emirates with Newgate, who is entered in Saturday's $12 million Grade I Dubai World Cup. Barnes normally accompanies Baffert's horses to Oaklawn as the trainer's traveling assistant.

The Arkansas Derby anchors a 13-race program that begins at 12:05 p.m. Probable post time for the Arkansas Derby, the 12th race, is 6:47 p.m. With sunny skies and temperatures approaching 80 degrees, Oaklawn's infield is scheduled to be open Saturday.

In addition to the Arkansas Derby, there are three other stakes races on the program -- $750,000 Grade II Fantasy for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, $500,000 Grade III Oaklawn Mile for older horses and the $250,000 Matron for older fillies and mares at six furlongs.

The Arkansas Derby could award as many as 200 points to its top five finishers (100-50-25-15-10, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

At a glance


Grade I, Purse $1.5 million, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles


1 Will Take ItFrancisco Arrieta

2 TimberlakeFlavien Prat

3 DimaticCristian Torres

4 Time for TruthRafael Bejarano

5 Liberal ArtsTyler Gaffalione

6 Informed PatriotRicardo Santana Jr.

7 MuthJ.J. Hernandez

8 Just SteelKeith Asmussen

9 Mystik DanBrian Hernandez Jr.

10 Imperial GunEmmanuel Esquivel

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