OPINION — Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: All eyes will be on Oaklawn this weekend

Saturday afternoon when the shadows are growing longer, much of America will turn its attention to Hot Springs, home of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort and the Arkansas Derby and the Fantasy Stakes, the premier races of the day for colts and fillies.

The Arkansas Derby has a solid field of 10 with nine pointed at the Kentucky Derby and the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. The Fantasy has a full field of 12 who are hoping to make it to the Kentucky Oaks, run on the first Friday in May at Churchill.

Unless something drastic happens with Muth, who most likely will be favored in the Arkansas Derby, he is ineligible to get the 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.

As of this morning, the official trainer for Muth is Bob Baffert, who is still sitting out a Churchill Downs suspension that happened when his horse, Medina Spirit, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2021, had a medication violation. Medina Spirit died late in 2021 as a 3-year-old.

Baffert is the the hottest trainer in the world the past 20 years and has won the Arkansas Derby four previous times, and each time he had an assistant trainer at Oaklawn.

That most likely will happen again this year instead of him turning his horses over to a different trainer so they could get a shot at the Kentucky Derby.

If Muth's owners aren't concerned with the Run for the Roses, so be it.

Like Baffert or not, who has been fined at Oaklawn for a medication violations involving Charlatan and Gamine , he added a major chapter to Oaklawn's rich history in 2015 when he sent American Pharoah to to the track for the Arkansas Derby as his last race before the Kentucky Derby.

American Pharoah won the Arkansas Derby and went on to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont, breaking the 37-year drought of no Triple Crown winners.

Muth is coming in off a clear win in the 7-furlong San Vicente Stakes at Baffert's home track, Santa Anita. Muth was a $2 million purchase by Zedan Stable, owned by Amr Zedan from Saudi Arabia, who also owned Medina Spirit.

Muth stalked the field until the head of the stretch and won by more than two lengths and was pulling away.

Timberlake, winner of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, will be one of the top challengers. He is owned by the successful WinStar Farm and trained by Baffert's biggest rival when it comes to winning, highly respected Brad Cox.

The third favorite will be Mystik Dan, winner of Oaklawn's Southwest Stakes, who is owned by Lance and Daniel Hamby and is trained by Kenny McPeek.

Mystik Dan and Will Take It, a maiden, are the only horses in the field not nominated for the Triple Crown but a $900,000 share of the $1.5 million purses is open to all.

The Fantasy favorite will be My Mane Squeeze, who is undefeated in two races this year -- both at Aquaduct -- and is 4-0-2 in six career outings, all in the state of New York.

There are a total of six shippers in this race who are looking at a total purse of $750,000 in the Grade III contest.

A local favorite should be Lemon Muffin, winner of the Grade III Honeybee at 28-1 odds who is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, the 88-year-old beloved "Coach' who saddled his first thoroughbred in 1978 and since then has won a record 20 Breeders' Cup races and 14 Triple Crown races.

Lukas moved his stable to Oaklawn several years ago and has become a big part of the landscape and success of the track.

Like Baffert, Lukas started out training quarter horses, but this Saturday their mounts will have the eyes of millions on them.

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