Four Arkansas Derby graduates have secured a spot in the Kentucky Derby – if they choose to run – including Creator, the last-to-first winner of Saturday's $1 million Grade I race at Oaklawn, under Ricardo Santana Jr.
Creator, who is trained by Steve Asmussen, earned 100 points for his 1 ¼-length victory over Suddenbreakingnews before an estimated crowd of 65,000 on the final day of the Oaklawn meeting. Coupled with a third-place finish in Oaklawn's final major prep for the Arkansas Derby, the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 19, Creator has amassed 110 points to rank sixth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
The May 7 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs has been limited to 20 starters since 1975. If more than 20 enter, starting preference is given to horses with the highest point totals in the 34-race “Road to the Kentucky” series. At least 20 horses have entered the Kentucky Derby every year since 2004.
The Arkansas Derby, which drew 12 starters, was the country's final Kentucky Derby prep race.
Suddenbreakingnews (50 points) and Arkansas Derby third-place finisher Whitmore (44) rank Nos. 12 and 16, respectively, and are safely in the field. Cupid, 10th as the 4-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby, has 50 points to rank No. 13. Cupid earned those 50 points for his Rebel victory.
Dazzling Gem, who finished fourth in the Arkansas Derby, is on the Kentucky Derby bubble, ranking 25th with 30 points.
Creator will be flown to Kentucky Monday, said Elliott Walden, president/CEO and racing manager for WinStar Farm, which owns the gray son of Tapit.
“He came back good,” Walden said Sunday afternoon. “Everything's great.”
Creator, who gave Asmussen his third Arkansas Derby victory, ran 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:50.14.
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Suddenbreakingnews will be vanned Tuesday to Kentucky, adding “you'll probably see him in the entry box” for the Kentucky Derby.
Suddenbreakingnews, who finished fifth in the Rebel, rallied from well back to grab second under regular rider Luis Quinonez. The gelding was 10th after three-quarters of a mile.
“The only puzzling thing was Louie said he was struggling with the race track a little bit, and really didn't start moving until they straightened away down the lane,” Von Hemel said. “Around the turn, I was really worried about whether he was going anywhere at all.”
Suddenbreakingnews was a last-to-first winner of the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15 at Oaklawn.
Von Hemel's only Kentucky Derby starter, Clever Trevor, finished 13th in 1989.
Whitmore, beaten 2 ¾ lengths by Creator, is also headed to the Kentucky Derby, the gelding's co-owner/trainer, Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, said Sunday morning. Moquett said Whitmore came out of the race fine physically and will be flown Monday to Kentucky. The gelding will spend two days in Lexington (oxygen therapy), Moquett said, before arriving at Churchill Downs.
Moquett said Whitmore rider, Irad Ortiz Jr., thought he might go down after the horse on the outside, Luna de Loco, “came over on him,” about 100 yards out of the gate. The trainer said Whitmore lost position because of a “stumble” and was farther back than expected (11th through a half-mile) “after the race matured enough to where everybody was running full speed.”
“That horse is obviously a good horse,” Moquett said of Creator. “I'm not taking anything away from him. Yesterday, the horse that had the ability also a trip that enabled him to do it. There's something to be said about our horse being in trouble. I believe we're not a trouble-prone horse, but three times in a row and you start thinking.”
Whitmore finished second in the Southwest after having to steady and was second in the Rebel when caught five-wide on the second turn. Moquett said he hopes Ortiz Jr., the country's top jockey this year in purse earnings, will ride Whitmore back in the Kentucky Derby. He also rode Whitmore for the first time in the Rebel.
“I like familiarity,” Moquett said.
The Arkansas Derby represented the first Grade 1 victory for Santana, 23, Oaklawn's leading rider the last four years.
Asmussen also won the Arkansas Derby in 2002 with Private Emblem and 2007 with Curlin. However, he is 0 for 13 in the Kentucky Derby, with Private Emblem finishing 14th and Curlin third. He also finished second with Nehro in the 2011 Arkansas and Kentucky derbies.
Rebel Stakes winner Cupid, who was the 4-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby field of 12 but came up empty in the stretch to finish 10th, was to be on the same flight and was headed to trainer Bob Baffert's Churchill Downs division.
Cupid earned enough Kentucky Derby points with his Rebel win (50) that he stands high enough on the leaderboard to qualify for one of the 20 spots in the starting gate May 5.
“He's fine this morning and he'll fly out tomorrow,” said Jimmy Barnes, the assistant to Baffert, who is headed home to Southern California or a few days before flying to Kentucky.
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