Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks the Arkansas Derby's two divisions (Charlatan, Nadal), plus other big races at Oaklawn and Gulfstream
It’s a big day today: Oaklawn Park’s Arkansas Derby, which will be run in two divisions, is the headliner, but there are four other stakes, one at Oaklawn and three at Gulfstream. We’ll cover them all.
The weather will be fine in Hot Springs, mostly sunny with temperatures around 80. While the forecast is good for Gulfstream as well, we’ll post a reminder to check track conditions before the races: we’re approaching the time of year when it rains just about every afternoon in Florida, and there have been downpours each of the last two days that affected track conditions, with races moved from grass to dirt the biggest consequence. The dirt will be fast at Oaklawn, and we’ve handicapped for fast and firm at Gulfstream, but please check actual conditions before every race.
We’ll also go a bit out of chronological order: we’ll look at the two divisions of the Arkansas Derby first, and then look at the rest of the races, sorted by post time. Let’s go.
Oaklawn Park, Race 11, 6:29 pm ET
Grade 1 Arkansas Derby (First Division), 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The Arkansas Derby has waxed in importance the past 15 or 20 years, becoming a premier Derby prep, as trainers have learned that the Arkansas route to the Kentucky Derby has worked quite well for quite a few horses. It is partly because of that trend, and partly because the coronavirus pandemic has closed all the other major tracks, but the field for the Arkansas Derby is probably the strongest ever, with so many horses entered that the race had to be split into two divisions. Eleven drew into this first division, which appears to be the stronger of the two.
Any analysis of this race has to begin with the horse on the rail 1-Charlatan. Trained by Bob Baffert, Charlatan has run only twice, but both starts were wins, and both were nothing short of sensational: He earned Beyer Speed Figures of 105 and 106 winning maiden and allowance races at Santa Anita. These are the highest figures we can remember a horse earning in his first two career starts. For context, since 2010, only one horse has earned a figure that high for winning the Kentucky Derby (American Pharoah earned a 105 in 2015; the other nine were all lower). Two speed figures this high to start a career -- two figs fast enough to win the Kentucky Derby most years -- is very heady stuff.
The figs don’t lie, but if there is one reason to have reservations about backing Charlatan at a short price, it’s that he beat only three horses in his first race, and four in his second. Betting against California horses who earned big figs getting soft trips beating up on short fields, but are coming East to face a much tougher test, has become something of a pet project of ours in recent years, with Venetian Harbor, who lost yesterday’s Fantasy Stakes at 4/5, being the most recent example.
The problem with this angle is that we think Charlatan is too good: He’s just too much better than the other colts in the race. We cannot bet him, because he’s going to be 1/5, but neither can we endorse a play against him, because we think he is a potential star, and by far the likeliest winner of the race. We suggest watching this, and enjoying what we think will be a special performance, but since we’re supposed to put a play here, we’ll throw a token $5 on 4-Gouverneur Morris, a Todd Pletcher trainee who may be ready to take a big step forward. The play: Oaklawn Park, Race 11, $2 to win on 4-Gouverneur Morris.
Oaklawn Park, Race 13, 7:43 pm ET
Grade 1 Arkansas Derby (Second Division), 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The second division of the Arkansas Derby drew eleven entrants, just like the first division, and another thing the two races have in common is that Bob Baffert sends out the favorite: Here it’s 5-Nadal, the undefeated son of Blame who won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in the slop last out. We think Baffert is sitting on a pair of aces here, and must be relieved that Nadal and Charlatan did not draw into the same race, as we think Nadal is the horse to beat here. He’s got high early speed, and on a track that has been favoring that running style all week, we think Nadal is going right to the front, and not looking back. We think he wires this group, and will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 13, $40 to win on 5-Nadal.
Gulfstream Park, Race 9, 4:53 pm ET
$75,000 Honey Ryder Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Old Fillies
Twelve go in the Honey Ryder. We’re betting on a fast early pace, the early leaders backing up late, and a big longshot to pick up the pieces: it’s 6-Stunning Sky, who starts for trainer Mike Maker. She has shown steady progression in her five career starts, with each race being better than the last, but what we like about her most today is that she is the best stretch-runner in this group. With a lot of early zip in the field, we’re expecting the leaders to go fast early; that will leave them vulnerable late, and we think that Stunning Sky will come from the back to pick up the pieces. She’s 15-1, and may be an even bigger price at post time. Look for her to be last early, and flying late. We will bet her to win and to place. The bets: Gulfstream Park, Race 9, $25 to win/$10 to place on 6-Stunning Sky.
Gulfstream Park, Race 10, 5:25 pm ET
$100,000 Big Drama Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, Florida-breds 3 & Up
The big drama is a dirt sprint for Florida-breds, and eight of them will go to the post. Chad Brown’s 3-Network Effect is a strong play: He’s got good speed figures, he cuts back from a mile to seven furlongs, which we love, and he’s making his second start of the year, which should result in a top effort. Look for him to sit just behind the first flight of horses early, and to blow by the pacesetters at the top of the stretch. We will bet him to win at 2-1, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 10, $50 to win on 3-Network Effect.
Gulfstream Park, Race 11, 5:57 pm ET
$75,000 English Channel Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Olds
The English Channel drew a field of twelve, but we have eyes for only one: 4-Gufo, who starts for trainer Christophe Clement. He’s a late runner, and while he needs some pace in front of him for his stretch rally to be effective, we think he’ll get that today, as there are several speedy types in here who should set legitimate early fractions. He’s another runner who will probably be last early, but will be making up ground with big strides late. He probably won’t win by much -- deep closers rarely do -- but we do think he’ll get up in time to take the prize here. We will bet him to win at 3-1. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 11, $40 to win on 4-Gufo.
Oaklawn Park, Race 12, 7:04 pm ET
Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 4 & Up
The Oaklawn Handicap drew a big field of fourteen, and it’s a wide open race, with the co-favorites 9/2 on the morning line. We like 2-Trophy Chaser, who starts for trainer Juan Avila.He’s a 4-year-old who has been a new horse this year: after running in shorter races in 2019, Avila stretched him out at Gulfstream Park in February, and he responded strongly, winning an allowance race at today’s nine furlong distance, and he backed that up by winning the Grade 3 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on March 7. He got good speed figures in both, and we think he looks poised to move forward again today. He looks like a late bloomer to us, a horse who reached physical maturity later than most of his contemporaries, and that, coupled with the fact that he seems to thrive at longer distances like the nine furlongs of this one, makes him very live here, we think. He’s got a pace-pressing style that should be very effective, and while we do not think we will get his 12-1 morning line odds, we should still get a very square price on him. Look for Trophy Chaser to stalk the pacesetters, and to win the race going away with a move at the top of the stretch. We will bet him to win. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 12, $40 to win on 2-Trophy Chaser.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.