Arkansas Derby and Fantasy Fields Coming into Focus

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, or (501) 363-4305

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Arkansas Derby and Fantasy Fields Coming into Focus

Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series will produce four different winners. But two trainers will have a chance to win multiple races in the series that concludes with the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1.

Two-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Brad Cox is scheduled to send out one of the favorites in Angel of Empire, who returns to Oaklawn after winning the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds in his last start.

Angel of Empire, a son of 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire, finished second behind stablemate Victory Formation in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1 at Oaklawn. The Smarty Jones was Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race.

Trainer Keith Desormeaux will be searching for his second series victory this year with long shot Kolomio, a son of multiple Grade 1 winner Constitution who is owned by Big Chief Racing (Matthew Bryan). Desormeaux, on behalf of Big Chief Racing, claimed Kolomio out of his last start, a third-place finish in a 1-mile turf race Feb. 3 at Santa Anita, for $50,000.

“I got lucky enough to get him,” Desormeaux said. “It was a two-way shake and horse has just been training out of his mind over the last five or six weeks. We’ve got a bad case of Derby fever with Confidence Game and Single Ruler stoking the coals. We’re going to give it a shot.”

Desormeaux captured Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Derby points race, the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25, with Confidence Game. He also had Single Ruler entered in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) Saturday at Fair Grounds.

“This is what Derby fever does to you,” Desormeaux said. “Man, I better check my temperature now that I’m saying all this stuff out in the open. It seems like real wackiness, but it’s a lot of fun. And Big Chief Racing claimed the horse and we’re old friends. That’s Exaggerator’s owner and it would be just a great story and a lot of fun to get Matt back to the Derby.”

Desormeaux and Bryan, in partnership, campaigned Exaggerator, the 2016 Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up.

Post positions for the Arkansas Derby and $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles April 1 will be drawn Sunday at 11:40 a.m. (Central) in the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle.

The Arkansas Derby will offer 200 points to the top five finishers (100-40-30-20-10, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

The Oaklawn racing department listed 11 Arkansas Derby probables Saturday morning – Airtime for trainer Robertino Diodoro, Angel of Empire, Bourbon Bash (D. Wayne Lukas), Harlocap (Steve Asmussen), Interlock Empire (Kenny McPeek), King Russell (Ron Moquett), Kolomio, Mendelssohns March (McPeek), Red Route One (Asmussen), Reincarnate (Tim Yakteen), Rocket Can (Bill Mott) and Two Eagles River (Chris Hartman).

Rocket Can won the $250,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) Feb. 4 and finished second behind champion Forte in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) March 4. Both 1 1/16-mile races were at Gulfstream Park. Rocket Can is owned by prominent North Little Rock, Ark., businessman Frank Fletcher, who is seeking his first victory in the Arkansas Derby, a race he covets the most.

Red Route One and Reincarnate finished second and third, respectively, behind Confidence Game in the Rebel. Confidence Game, Desormeaux said, could run next in the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 8 at Keeneland, $400,000 Lexington Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 15 at Keeneland or train up to the Kentucky Derby.

Victory Formation and unbeaten Arabian Knight, winner of the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28 at Oaklawn, are off the Arkansas Derby trail. The Southwest was Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race.

Fantasy probables, according to the Oaklawn racing department, include Condensation for trainer Chris Hartman, Grand Love (Asmussen), Olivia Twist (Todd Fincher), Pate (Mike Maker), Royal Spa (Rodolphe Brisset), She’s Lookin Lucky (Matt Shirer), Taxed (Randy Morse), Towhead (Maker) and Wet Paint (Cox).

The Fantasy is Oaklawn’s third and final Kentucky Oaks points race. Wet Paint has won the first two legs in the series, capturing the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28 and the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25. Wet Paint is unbeaten in three career starts on dirt. All three races, including the Martha Washington and Honeybee, have been on off tracks.

The Fantasy will offer 200 points to the top five finishers (100-40-30-20-10, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks, the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies. Wet Paint (70) entered Saturday as the Kentucky Oaks points leader. She worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 Saturday at Oaklawn.

Post positions for two other stakes races April 1 - $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for older horses and the inaugural $200,000 Hot Springs for 3-year-olds at 1 mile – will be drawn Monday.

Finish Lines

Friday’s final two races were canceled because of severe weather. … Favored Devil’s Tower ($3.80) became the third three-time winner at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting in Friday’s sixth race, a starter-allowance sprint for older horses. It marked the seventh career Oaklawn victory for Devil’s Tower and his 10th in 21 starts overall. A 5-year-old gelded son of Into Mischief, Devil’s Tower represented the second victory on the card for jockey Francisco Arrieta and the 31st at the meeting for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. Hartman also trains Klassy Bridgett, the meet’s first three-time winner who was entered in Saturday’s $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters. … Trainer Valorie Lund, who recently moved a handful of her better horses from Turf Paradise to Oaklawn, recorded her first winner of the meeting in Friday’s seventh race with Asena ($35.80). Tyler Baze rode Asena for prominent Minnesota owners Barry and Joni Butzow in the $104,000 allowance sprint for fillies and mares. … Weather permitting, the infield will be open for the first time this season Sunday.