Zerillo’s Arkansas Derby Day Picks: Best Value Bets and Exotics for Oaklawn Park (May 2)
Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images.
- The 2020 Arkansas Derby takes place on Saturday, May 2 with the first of two races beginning at 6:29 p.m. ET.
- Sean Zerillo previews the split-division Arkansas Derby as well as the 12 other races at Oaklawn Park.
Saturday’s 14-race card in Hot Springs, Arkansas features arguably the best collective group of races that we’ve seen this year at any track, and both the Oaklawn Handicap (G-2) and split-division Arkansas Derby (G-1) will serve as a fitting close to the final week of the Oaklawn Park meet.
Saturday’s racing at Oaklawn Park goes to post at 1:00 p.m. ET – which starts the early $0.50 Pick 4.
The middle $0.50 Pick 4 begins with Race 6 at 3:44 p.m. ET, while the Pick 5 sequence starts in Race 10 at 5:54 p.m. ET, and the Late Pick 4 goes off with Race 11 at 6:29 p.m. ET – the first division of the Arkansas Derby, featuring Bob Baffert’s No. 1 Charlatan (1-1).
The second division of the Arkansas Deby, featuring Baffert’s No. 5 Nadal (5-2), goes to post as Race 13, at 7:47 p.m. ET, after a loaded field for the Oaklawn Handicap in Race 12, at 7:04 p.m. ET.
The weather has been pristine all week at Oaklawn Park, and Saturday’s forecast looks no different, so track conditions should remain fast throughout the day.
Race 1 (Early Pick 4)
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
The early Pick 4 contains four-consecutive six-furlong sprints but begins with a lukewarm favorite in the No. 1 Timely Tradition (3-1) – who ran a career-best 86 Beyer figure six weeks ago at Aqueduct.
And with 11 first-time runners lined up for the second race of the day, I’m not looking to invest too much money into the early portion of this card.
I’m likely skipping this race entirely, but if you want the quick rundown:
The No. 2 Full of Grace (4-1), No. 3 Miss Imperial (9-2), and No. 4 Hawt Mess (12-1) represent the early speed, while the No. 7 First Alternate (6-1), No. 9 A.P. Princess (10-1) and No. 12 She’s a Dime (12-1) are each viable contenders looking to work out midpack trips or come with one late closing kick.
This looks like a race to hunt for a price, but I would play it small, if at all.
Picks: 12, over 1, 4, 3
Time: 1:32 p.m. ET
As I mentioned above, this six-furlong maiden-special weight for three-year-old fillies contains 11 first-time starters.
The only horse with race experience is the No. 1 She’s The Boss (5-1) who moves over from the turf, and trainer Phil D’amato is nine for 47 (19%, $2.69 ROI) with maidens in their second start.
However, the also-eligible No. 13 Gurl You Fine (12-1) is one to consider if she makes the field — with six-lifetime starts (0-1-2) — though her best Beyer figure (69) is still below par (73) for this field.
The No. 6 Scolding (7-2) for Steve Asmussen caught my attention. She has been putting in substantial works leading up to her debut, which you don’t always see with horses from this barn, and Asmussen wins 16% of the time with first-time starters (45 for 280) and 22% of the time in maiden special weights (141 for 642).
When Asmussen has his top jockey, Ricardo Santana Jr., in the irons, the pair win at a 20% clip over the past two years, with a 21% win rate at the current Oaklawn meet.
Scolding looks like a fun small win bet in her debut, but I wouldn’t play her below 3-1.
Also note that the No. 10 Bonus Baby (6-1) has been working well for trainer Jeremiah Englehart, who wins at a 17% clip in maiden special weights, and 21% with first-time starters.
Picks: 6, over 10, 1, 8
Time: 2:04 p.m. ET
I cannot find too many fast horses paired with high-percentage trainers in this field.
The only two runners with last-out Beyer figures higher than 70 are the stakes-placed No. 2 Captain Don (7-2) and the No. 3 Bebop Shoes (6-1), though the No. 13 Sir Brahms (9-2), with a 68-last-out, would jump near the top of my list if the gelding draws into the field.
Others of interest include the No. 10 Call Me Derby (8-1) who needs to improve from a career-best 60, and the lightly-raced No. 12 Golden Diablo (9-2), going out for a barn with a 20% win rate in allowance races, and a 23% success rate with last-out winners.
Picks: 2, over 3, 12, 10
Time: 2:36 p.m. ET
Now, we’re beginning to press into the thick of this card, and finally, get to the first race where I have a real opinion.
There are two triple-crown nominated horses in this field, in the No. 5 Quality Warrior (15-1) for Hall-of-Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and the No. 11 Bank (3-1) for Steve Asmussen.
But while the former owns a career-best 49 Beyer figure, from April 11, and Lukas has a meager 4% win rate in maiden special weights, Bank has the highest last-out and career Beyer figure (78) from April 5 – his first start off of the claim for Asmussen, and his first since last October.
Asmussen is 93-for-443 (21%) second off of a layoff between 45-180 days, and Bank should continue to progress in this spot.
The No. 7 Major Attraction (7-2) has the figures (71, 74) to compete. However, trainer Wayne Catalano is just four for 76 (5%) at this level, and the No. 8 J Z My Man (5-1), a son of American Pharoah, will also take money; though I’m not keen in betting a Pharoah colt that Bob Baffert mostly let go from his barn.
I’d be more concerned about the No. 9 Uncle Addouma (4-1) for underrated trainer Michael McCarthy, but he only has one win in 27 tries with first-time starters.
I’ll bet on Bank to win, and likely single him to begin a Pick 3.
Picks: 11, over 7, 8, 9
Time: 3:10 p.m. ET
This is a very deep 1 1/16 mile optional claimer for older horses, and I can make a case for about six different runners.
But with a single option to use in horizontals before this race, and just two or three options I’m considering after, this is a perfect race to spread into all of those options and hope that at a price reaches the winner’s circle.
And In Race 7, I’m back with another single, so we’ll also spread in here to begin a Pick 3.
The main speed horse than I want to use is the favorite, the No. 12 Pirate’s Punch (3-1), who has the only triple-digit Beyer figure in the field and comes in off of a bullet work (1st of 106 runners) on April 25. The only drawback is the wide post position.
However, the No. 5 Lombo (15-1) was much improved in his last start after being gelded, and that 96 Beyer figure and open-length win at this track makes him a contender.
This distance is likely perfect for Bill Mott’s No. 11 Endorsed (7-2), who was five wide at the turn in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 7 but has run five consecutive speed figures between 92-99.
The No. 9 Bankit (9-2) figures to take a bunch of money for Asmussen, and this dead closer should run better after catching wet surfaces in his past two starts.
The No. 3 Rated R Superstar (8-1) has a similar running style and ample pace to chase in this race, but I think that he’s a cut below the other closers.
Instead, I may prefer the No. 8 Two Thirty-Five (8-1), who has more tactical speed than many in here, and his 98 Beyer from a stakes race two-starts back is amongst the best career figures in this group.
Picks: 9, over 12, 11, 5
Race 6 (Middle Pick 4)
Time: 3:44 p.m. ET
I’m not head over heels for the horses that I’m using from in this 1 1/8 mile maiden special weight, but I do think that they’re the top options, unless the No. 14 Divine Armor (7-2) finds his way off of the also-eligible list.
The triple-crown nominated No. 4 Friar’s Road (7-2) makes his third start for Michael McCarthy, but second, of his three-year-old season, coming off of an 87 Beyer figure in a one-mile race on March 15, and should appreciate the added furlong here.
However, he likes to come from off of the pace, and perhaps the No. 2 Second Line David (8-1) gets the jump on him in the stretch. Note that trainer Joe Sharp is eight for 24 ($3.50 ROI) with jockey Martin Garcia in the irons over the past two years.
I’ll also be using the No. 5 Hunt the Front (4-1) coming off of three consecutive second-place finishes, hoping that he can finally break his maiden this time out.
Lastly, it’s hard to ignore any Brad Cox runner, and particularly when they’re running their second start off of a layoff when he has a 34% win rate (57 for 169) with a $2.43 ROI. Cox also wins 24% of maiden special weight races, so the No. 3 Wild Union (6-1) could be live, but also needs to make a substantial improvement.
Picks: 4, over 2, 5, 3
Time: 4:16 p.m. ET
I’m not sure how you pick against Bob Baffert and the No. 8 Gamine (7/5) in this 1 1/16 mile optional claimer for three-year-old fillies.
Physically, Baffert compared her to one of his top Kentucky Derby contenders, Authentic, and she looked like a true Kentucky Oaks contender after romping in her debut by more than six lengths, with an 87 Beyer figure.
The No. 10 Speed (2-1) with an 86 Beyer figure from three starts back, is the only other runner with comparable figures. Still, Baffert dominates at the allowance level, with a 31% win rate (31 for 98), and he is five for seven with Martin Garcia on the mount at the current Oaklawn meet, and the pair is 10 for 33 at all tracks over two years.
The No. 13 Ain’t No Elmers (81 last out) is one to consider from the also-eligible list. Otherwise, this is pretty clear 8, 10 exacta play.
Picks: 8, over 10, 5, 12
Time: 4:47 p.m. ET
For single-race wagering, I’m not particularly interested in anything from this 1 1/16 mile allowance race, but for purposes of Middle Pick 4 tickets, I’ll look to spread into several different options, especially after using no more than a couple of options in the two previous races.
Horses I’ll use include the No. 1 Benintendi (8-1), No. 2 Wild Popit (10-1), No. 5 Fra Mauro (9-2), No. 7 Don Vito Corleone (12-1), No. 8 Dukes Up (10-1), No. 10 Moretti (5-2), and No. 11 Defender (20-1), and we’ll hope to get the biggest price home.
Picks: 7, over 8, 5, 11
Time: 5:19 p.m. ET
The No. 3 Fearless (3-1) will take a lot of money for Todd Pletcher, who wins 25% of the time at the allowance level (60-for-239) and he’s the most likely winner, especially if he runs to his 99 Beyer from two starts back at Gulfstream Park, at the same distance.
However, there are four other options that I will spread money into to end the Middle Pick 4, including the nine-time winner No. 1 Popular Kid (4-1), late-running No. 5 Sonny Smack (6-1), Asmussen’s No. 7 Rotation (9-2), and the No. 8 Lord Guinness (15-1).
I doubt you’ll get 15-1 on Lord Guinness, who missed the break in the Oaklawn Mile and went five wide at the first turn – but his back figures, including a 98 Beyer from two starts back, makes him extremely interesting at a price.
Picks: 3, over 8, 1, 5
Race 10 (Pick 5)
Time: 5:54 p.m. ET
If you’re playing the Pick 5, I would recommend spreading both early and late, while trying to limit plays in the middle – using up to two or even three singles.
We begin with a 1 1/16 mile allowance race for three-year-olds, and I’ll start with the favorite No. 11 Rushie (5-2), with the best last-out Beyer in the field at 88, running second behind Charlatan – who you’ll see in the next race.
However, that’s only a narrow margin over the No. 10 Prodigious Bay (5-1), who finally graduated from the maiden ranks with an 85 Beyer on April 11 at Oaklawn, winning by four lengths.
Both have early speed and will try to take the lead from their wide post positions – one probably won’t get all the way there.
A son of champion sprinter Munnings, the No. 2 Ginobili (7-2) could be the post-time favorite. You can draw a line through his last race, when he missed the break in an optional claimer on April 5, but his 90 Beyer from two starts back, placing behind Nadal in the San Vincente, is the career-best figure in this field.
Likewise, the No. 7 Candy Tycoon (3-1) ran poorly in the Florida Derby on March 20, but you can make enough excuses for that trip, and look back to his following 83 and 84 Beyer figures from January and February, along with his high-percentage trained Todd Pletcher, to make a viable case.
Picks: 11, over 2, 10, 7
Race 11 (Late Pick 4)
Time: 6:29 p.m. ET
The first division of the Arkansas Derby is the weaker of the two divisions, but contains possibly the most talented three-year-old male horse in the world, in the No. 1 Charlatan (1-1) for Bob Baffert.
He has run consecutive triple-digit Beyer figures (105, 106) in his first two lifetime starts, more than 14 points clear of the next-fastest horse in this field, and he’ll have an even easier time of it after the lone other speed (Shooter’s Shoot) scratched from this race.
Charlatan could get loose on an easy lead and put away this field from gate to wire after breaking from the rail.
The likely second choice, the No. 4 Governeur Morris (9-2), has excellent connections, and Pletcher always has his horses ready to run in grades stakes, but he needs to take a step forward off of consecutive 88 Beyer figures. He’s talented, but I don’t see substantial improvement in his works quite yet.
I prefer No. 11 Basin (8-1) for the Asmussen barn, who has made two starts on sloppy surfaces since returning as a three-year-old. Though his maiden victory also came on a sloppy surface, different tracks play differently in wet weather.
However, if you’re looking. to get a price horse or two into some exactas and trifectas, I’m looking at three options.
The No. 8 Anneau D’or (6-1) has the second-highest career Beyer in the field, and if you draw a line through his Risen Star on February 15, where he didn’t like the added blinkers, he’s much more interesting.
Dallas Stewart knows how to get horses into the money on the first Saturday in May, so the No. 9 Winning Impression (15-1) will be on my tickets, especially after a bullet work (1st of 84) on April 24.
Lastly, the No. 10 Crypto Cash (20-1) should improve in his second start off of the layoff. He stumbled to last at the start in his first effort as a three-year-old but recovered to finish fourth, and the price will be right.
Picks: 1, over 9, 11, 10
Time: 7:04 p.m. ET
Purely based upon expected value, my favorite win bet of the day is the No. 12 By My Standards (9-2) for trainer Bret Calhoun, in arguably the best betting race of the day; and maybe the entire year to date, in the nine-furlong Oaklawn Handicap.
By My Standards is 4-for-5 lifetime, with his only miss coming in the mud at the 2019 Kentucky Derby, but he was one of the best looking horses in workouts all week leading up to that race and has substantially improved in his four-year-old season.
He has two bullet workouts on April 11 (1st of 33) and April 25 (1st of 106) leading up to this race, following his three-length win in the New Orleans Handicap, and though he needs to improve again, he looks to be sitting on the best effort of his life.
Calhoun is 9-for-26 (35%, $4.18 ROI) in graded stakes, and 16 for 48 (33%, $6.53) when deploying jockey Gabriel Saez over the past two years, and in a competitive field I think that you’ll get odds of 5-1 or better by post time. The only question is whether his talent translates outside of the Louisana Fair Grounds.
I’ll undoubtedly have By My Standards keyed on some tickets, but this is an unbelievably deep race, with seven horses coming in off of a win in a stakes race. It’s a grade two race in name, but grade one in caliber.
The horses you cannot leave off include the No. 4 Mr. Freeze (6-1), who will look to take the lead in a field full of pace -and the No. 9 Tacitus (9-2) who remains the most talented runner in the field.
But the former has distance questions, and I have doubts about his ability to close in the final furlong, while the latter has done a lot of shipping after traveling to the Saudi Cup and the UAE Derby.
The No. 7 Combatant (4-1) will be a popular choice with his late-running style, but he won a weak division of the Santa Anita Handicap in March, and I think he’s in against better competition this time.
The No. 2 Trophy Chaser (12-1) comes in with consecutive triple-digit Beyer figures. Still, they were earned in February and March in South Florida, and he appears rejuvenated in two-turn races.
The No. 11 Tax has a ton of back class, but this is his first start since January, and second since last November – I’m not sure what kind of form he’s currently in.
Lastly, No. 6 Warrior’s Charge (8-1) will be a threat on the lead. He’s won four of five races, with the only loss coming to War of Will in the Preakness Stakes, where he controlled the pace through the first three calls.
Good luck figuring out this daunting field.
Picks: 12, over 9, 4, 2
Time: 7:43 p.m. ET
The second division of the Arkansas Deby contains three favorites who all want to be forwardly placed in Baffert’s No. 5 Nadal (5-2), the No. 4 King Guillermo (3-1), owned by former MLB All-Star Victor Martinez, and the No. 11 Wells Bayou (7-2) who went gate to wire in the Louisana Derby for Brad Cox.
In the Rebel Stakes, Nadal’s connections sent him to the lead early from his inside post, knowing that being forward was crucial on the sloppy track. He put away all other pace pressure and still went on to victory, with closers clunking up behind him. Based upon how the race played out, it was a more impressive effort than it looked:
However, Baffert will look to change his running style a bit now, having him breeze further back from his workmates in recent training while learning to close in on his target. Nadal may not be as naturally gifted as his stablemates Charlatan or Authentic, but he knows when to turn his switch on and off, and he should prove at rating just behind the need the lead types.
King Guillermo is a lovely story, and a good horse who has been working well since his win in the Tampa Bay Derby, but that field hasn’t come back particularly strong, and I feel that both he and Wells Bayou will try to run away with this race from the jump before dueling each other out of contention.
Nadal should take over from there, but if he makes his move too early, a one-run closer like the No. 1 Finnick the Fierce (15-1) has a chance.
However, I think the real backup contenders are the No. 7 Silver Prospector (10-1) with a 97 Beyer from two starts back in a win over Wells Bayou, the No. 10 Farmington Road (12-1), who has an incredible late kick with zero tactical speed, and the juvenile champion No. 3 Storm the Court (6-1), who should be sitting off of the pace near Nadal, making the third start of his three-year-old cycle.
Nadal may be a better workhorse than his stablemate Charlatan, finishing with bullets in five of six works since March 8. People are looking for excuses to go against the lesser of Baffert’s two, in the more wide-open field.
I think it’s more likely that both run to impressive wins.
Picks: 5, over 7, 10, 3
Time: 8:14 p.m. ET
The final race of Oaklawn’s meet, the Trail’s End, is an absolute doozy – a 14 furlong (1 3/4 mile) route, an extra two furlongs compared to the Belmont Stakes; which is a distance that American racehorses rarely run.
If you’re still alive by this point, you’re going to want to have spread money into multiple options, and I’ll use up to four horses in here.
The No. 14 River Echo (8-1) runs back after a one-mile win at Oaklawn on April 25, but that was his first race since last December, and he should still be fresh.
I’ll have to include the favorite in the No. 5 Carlos Sixes (4-1), who is in excellent form and should have the pedigree for longer distances.
The No. 4 Magic Vow (5-1) was beaten by a neck at 12 furlongs last September and finished third behind the favorite and an impressive next-out winner in his previous start on April 16.
Lastly, the No. 10 Wild About You (10-1) is a good router, with a 6-2-0 record in nine starts going 10 furlongs or more, including a win at this distance from 2016.
Picks: 14, over 4, 5, 10
Bets for Oaklawn Park, May 2
Favorite Win Bets
- Race 4: No. 11 Bank (3-1)
- Race 7: No. 8 Gamine (7-5)
- Race 11: No. 1 Charlatan (1-1)
- Race 12: No. 12 By My Standards (9-2)