Barn Notes 3/27/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Zedan Racing Stables’ Muth will be running for style points Saturday at Oaklawn in trying to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record-tying fifth Arkansas Derby victory.

Owing to Baffert’s suspension from Churchill Downs, Muth is ineligible to collect Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the $1.5 million Grade 1 race or run in the first leg of the Triple Crown.

The suspension stems from the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit being disqualified from his 2021 Kentucky Derby victory for a medication violation. Muth, the $2 million sale topper at the OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training, is the 8-5 program favorite for the Arkansas Derby. The 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, which is Oaklawn’s fourth and final Kentucky Derby points race, drew a field of 10.

With the May 4 Kentucky Derby off the table, Baffert has an eye toward the Preakness – the second leg of the Triple Crown – May 18 at Pimlico. Baffert has won the Preakness a record eight times, including last year with National Treasure.

But Muth, whose Oaklawn road trip was delayed a month, is not on the Preakness radar yet, Baffert said.

“I don’t like to think that far ahead,” the Southern California-based Baffert said Monday afternoon. “I don’t want to jinx him. It’s one of these things where things change overnight. We’re all starting to huddle up there, getting the groups together. What I like to do is just let the horse tell me that he’s ready to step up and do something. There’s no rush. I just nominate everywhere. Whoever’s practicing really well that week goes to that particular race. Always done it that way. He’ll tell us, he’ll tell me what he’s ready for.”

Muth was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the county’s champion 2-year-old male after compiling a 2-2-0 mark from four starts. The son of champion Good Magic, unraced outside California, recorded his biggest career victory to date in the $300,000 G1-American Pharoah Stakes (G1) at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 7 at Santa Anita. Muth closed 2023 with a runner-up finish in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.

Muth hasn’t started since winning the seven-furlong $200,000 G2-San Vicente Stakes Jan. 6 at Santa Anita. Muth was scheduled to run in the $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes Feb. 24, but Baffert scrapped the trip because he wasn’t satisfied with Muth’s final work. Baffert has won the Rebel, Oaklawn’s final major Arkansas Derby prep, a record eight times.

Missing the Rebel means Muth will enter the Arkansas Derby after not running for 12 weeks, a layoff considerably longer than Baffert’s four race winners – Bodemeister (five weeks) in 2012, future Triple Crown champion American Pharoah (four weeks) in 2015 and Charlatan (seven weeks) and Nadal (seven weeks) in 2020.

“Those other horses, they were lightly raced and they were just coming around at that time,” Baffert said. “They were really good horses. Charlatan went maiden, allowance, bam, Grade 1. You can do it with that kind of horse. They were really gifted. I think (Muth) is a nice horse. He was second in the Breeders’ Cup and I really thought he could win that. Fierceness, the winner, just ran an incredible race. It wasn’t our day, but he ran well. Came back and won the seven-eighths race the right way. This race is a good race for him. It’s a long summer. There’s no rush for the Derby, so I’m just taking my time.”

Baffert is seeking his record-extending 20th victory in a Kentucky Derby points race at Oaklawn. He’s also won the Southwest a record six times and the Smarty Jones once. Muth has four published workouts at Santa Anita, including three at six furlongs, since late February.

“He didn’t make the Rebel because of the work,” Baffert said. “Everything has to go perfect and at the time, I didn’t feel good about it. But now he’s doing really well. It’s a good test for him, a mile and eighth. It’s a big difference when you start going a mile and an eighth for these horses to see if they can handle it.”

Baffert said trainer Rodolphe Brisset will saddle Muth because Jimmy Barnes is in the United Arab Emirates with Newgate, who is entered in Saturday’s $12 million G1-Dubai World Cup. Barnes normally accompanies Baffert’s horses to Oaklawn as the trainer’s traveling assistant.

The Arkansas Derby anchors a 13-race program that begins at 12:05 p.m. (Central). Probable post time for the Arkansas Derby, the 12th race, is 6:47 p.m. With sunny skies and temperatures approaching 80 degrees, the infield is scheduled to be open Saturday.

In addition to the Arkansas Derby, there are three other stakes races on the program – $750,000 G2-Fantasy for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, $500,000 G3-Oaklawn Mile for older horses and the $250,000 Matron for older fillies and mares at six furlongs.

The Arkansas Derby could award as many as 200 points to its top five finishers (100-50-25-15-10, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Timberlake (66 points) ranks No. 5 on the latest Kentucky Derby leaderboard compiled by Churchill Downs. Mystik Dan has 21 points to rank 20th. Liberal Arts (19) and Just Steel (15) rank 24th and 29, respectively.

The Arkansas Derby field from the rail out: Will Take It, Francisco Arrieta to ride, 121 pounds, 50-1 on the morning line; Timberlake, Flavien Prat, 124, 9-5; Dimatic, Cristian Torres, 121, 20-1; Time for Truth, Rafael Bejarano, 121, 20-1; Liberal Arts, Tyler Gaffalione, 124, 15-1; Informed Patriot, Ricardo Santana Jr., 121, 30-1; Muth, Juan Hernandez, 124, 8-5; Just Steel, Keith Asmussen, 124, 15-1; Mystik Dan, Brian Hernandez Jr., 124, 5-2; and Imperial Gun, Emmanuel Esquivel, 121, 30-1.

Trainer Brad Cox bids for his third consecutive Arkansas Derby victory with Timberlake, who launched his 3-year-old campaign with a two-length victory in the Rebel, which was Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Derby points race. No trainer has won Oaklawn’s Arkansas Derby three consecutive years.

Timberlake concluded 2023 with a victory in the $500,000 G1-Champagne Stakes – a one-turn mile – Oct. 7 at Aqueduct and a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Mystik Dan is unraced since a dazzling eight-length victory over a sloppy surface in the $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes Feb. 3. The son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents had been based at Fair Grounds for trainer Kenny McPeek.

Just Steel and Grade 3 winner Liberal Arts were second and third, respectively, in the Southwest. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is scheduled to start Rebel fifth-place finisher Dimatic, Imperial Gun and Informed Patriot in search of a fifth Arkansas Derby victory.

Informed Patriot finished third in the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1. The Smarty Jones was Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race. Smarty Jones winner Catching Freedom returned to win the $1 million G2-Louisiana Derby last Saturday at the Fair Grounds for Cox.

Muth, Timberlake and Mystic Dan all trained Wednesday morning at Oaklawn. Liberal Arts is scheduled to arrive from his Kentucky base Thursday afternoon, trainer Robbie Medina said Wednesday morning.

Finish Lines

Oaklawn will offer free parking and programs and $1 hot dogs (two per person) each Thursday in March. … Oaklawn is dark Sunday in observance of Easter. The track will also be closed for training. … Apprentice jockey Carlos Barbosa recorded his first career Oaklawn riding double last Sunday, winning the fourth race aboard Diva Treva ($15.60) for trainer Travis Sawn Murphy and the ninth race aboard Natorade ($9) for trainer Tom Van Berg. Barbosa trails Joseph Bealmear 12-10 in the race for leading apprentice at the meeting.