Derby Day - Matt Dinerman


By Matt Dinerman (Track Announcer)

Arkansas Derby Day 2024 is as good as it gets. On the docket: high quality races, good betting opportunities, and a festive, energetic atmosphere on track for the patrons who visit Oaklawn’s historic facility. For those interested in a second or third (or fifth or tenth) opinion, here are my top three selections for all 13 races. Good luck, have fun, and go get ‘em!

Race 1: #1 Ethereal Road has woken up since moving to Oaklawn this season. After a two-length loss behind next out G3 Razorback runner up Magic Tap, ‘Road placed second to Midnight Rising, a contender in the G3 Oaklawn Mile later in the card. This is an easier group than what he’s seen in his last few starts. Deep closer #7 Escapologist hopes to get a quick tempo to chase. Earlier this meet, the son of Good Magic settled for minor awards behind stakes quality types Money Supply and Notary. #2 U.S. Army figures to be part of the action early. A stakes winner at Remington Park last winter, he’s the classiest and best of the speed brigade.

Race 2: If #1 Burlsworth can route, the rest will need to have their running shoes on to beat him. Pedigree suggests he’ll be fine with added ground: he’s the first foal out of a dam who was versatile but better as a router, and his second dam could route too. He drops from open maiden special weight company to the Arkansas-bred ranks-legit class relief-and boasts the highest last race speed figure. #2 Turquoise Blue got bet on debut and failed to fire in a state-bred maiden special weight sprint. His sire, Air Force Blue, was a solid turf router, and the dam could route on dual surfaces. #5 Pearcy Road makes his second start off a lengthy layoff and should be more cranked this time around after a poor showing over a wet surface sprinting. Last year, Pearcy’ placed second in a route race.

Race 3: #3 Handsome Herb sports quick workouts for Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen in preparation for his 2024 debut. In both lifetime starts (as a 2-year-old) last year, he showed front-running speed before finishing not too far behind stakes caliber racers Gettysburg Address and Stretch Ride. #8 Coach Jimi D did everything but win in his last start, defeated by a very talented first-out winner at this condition. This is his second start off a six-month hiatus, meaning he could be ready for an even better run. Expect him to receive a perfect “stalk and pounce” trip. #9 Jester Sang ran an even fifth on debut and can take a step forward for Mac Robertson, who over the years has posted strong numbers with his trainees making their second start in a form cycle.

Race 4: #5 Strava was a neck short of taking home the gold medal in a tough allowance race on February 9. He earned a strong 89 Beyer, a figure that would be good enough to beat this field. He is likely to sit close in a trial with not much genuine early speed. #3 Dash Attack gets a dip down in class after three consecutive poor runs against stakes company. He also cuts back to a distance (one mile) that he has never lost at (3 for 3). His best efforts, like Strava, have come when he’s near the front. The royally bred #2 Alejandro will be rolling from off the pace. He wheels back in two weeks after a third-place finish behind stakes caliber router Rocket Can.

Race 5: #3 Tap the Champagne has pedigree that hints routing is what she wants to do. Her first start in a two-turn race last month resulted in a third-place finish. The trip was far from ideal; she steadied multiple times and took a while to regather her momentum, yet still placed third in what wasn’t a bad effort at all. With a smoother journey and a route race under her belt, she is eligible to improve and beat post time favorite #2 Bonaqua, who ships in from California for trainer Bob Baffert. Like our top pick, Bonaqua tried routing for the first time in her last start. She placed second as the 2-5 favorite with no excuses. #1 Who’s Ticket was prominent on a contentious pace and faded in her first route appearance on February 24. Well-bred filly deserves another shot.

Race 6: After he was sent to the sidelines for over ten months, #1 Shopper’s Revenge returns to the races with a steady series of morning drills. Class is there to win this allowance: he was terrific when he broke his maiden and ran fourth in the G2 Louisiana Derby last year. Problem is he has never raced at a distance shorter than 7 furlongs. This is a 6-furlong contest: will he need more ground? #4 Bourbon Bash has earned above average speed figures as of late but continually hits the board. One you can certainly trust to finish in-the-money, but his 1 for 20 record (with ten other in-the-money finishes) will make plenty feel like he’s beatable at what will be an underlay. #3 Late Nite Radio was fourth home at this level in his first start of the meet and may be able to take a leap forward now that he’s got a run over the track. One to consider underneath in exotics.

Race 7: #3 Riyadh Moon stalked a quick pace three weeks ago and was the only one close to the lead who showed any finish. We forecast the fractions in this heat to be much slower which will only benefit Riyadh Moon. #8 Ak Sar Ben Derby broke slowly, made an eye-catching move swinging for home, rallied down the lane and finished his day with a big-time gallop out in his first career start on December 8. He will love the move to two turns. The Brad Cox trained #1 Militant ran decent enough when third in a two-turn maiden race to kick off his career. He takes a slight bump up in class and picks up the services of top jockey Flavien Prat. Improvement is always possible with second time starters, especially ones that route first time out.

Race 8: #5 Captivating Boy ran the race of his life on February 25, setting a wicked quick pace before getting tagged by a horse who ‘freaked’ and earned a massive speed figure. Captivating Boy had every right to throw in the towel but did not, finishing the race strong and hitting the wire second. He’s had ample time to recover since and can get loose on the lead again. Catch him if you can. #10 Sun Thunder is the route version of Bourbon Bash (from Race 6): he doesn’t win often but hits the board frequently while earning respectable speed figures. #1 King Russell has finished second in his last two starts at this condition. He’s a grinder who probably won’t outkick the top pick but can finish in-the-money with his usual effort.

Race 9: The G3 Oaklawn Mile begins the All Stakes Pick 4 (Races 9-12). #7 Frosted Grace possesses back class. Before a victory last time out when he earned a strong Beyer speed figure (92), the Mike Maker trainee finished third behind next out G3 winner Money Supply. An old pro, Frosted Grace thrives in Hot Springs, with three wins and two seconds from five lifetime starts over the local strip. #4 Midnight Rising is on the improve after a pair of allowance victories this meet. Although not the class of the race, he could be competitive with his career best form in mind. #6 Last Samurai is the class but hasn’t raced in almost eight months. If you try to beat last year’s Razorback (G3) and Essex (G3) winner, it’s probably today. #8 Silver Prospector is worthy of consideration coming off an allowance victory while #5 Necker Island stretches out in distance from efforts against the best sprinters in Arkansas and has had success going a mile in the past.

Race 10: Ten filly and mare sprinters in the 6-furlong Matron. We give the nod to #6 Zeitlos, an ultra-consistent sprinter who was much the best in the Carousel Stakes last out. She sat farther off the pace than usual, weaved her way through horses, and won the contest with more in the tank. This is a tougher assignment, yes, but the thought is she’s up for the task. #7 Royal Spa was last seen surging home as the runner up to Alva Starr, who could be one of the top filly and mare sprinters in the country this year. Royal Spa will be rolling in the final furlong. #8 Daddysruby adds blinkers and will attempt to wire this group from an outside post. Her two-back victory in the G1 La Brea at Santa Anita was gutsy, but she regressed in her most recent start against California-breds. #6 Mucho Macho Girl seeks to rebound after a third-place finish behind Zeitlos in the Carousel. #5 Leeloo possesses the speed figures and class to win this but has run her fastest races over wet ground. Forecast calls for a fast track.

Race 11: The G2 Fantasy attracts a large field. #8 West Omaha had a far from stellar trip in her last start. Sent off as the even money favorite in the G3 Honeybee, West Omaha got squeezed at the break, raced between horses while keen throughout, and never found a good rhythm. She somehow managed to rally for third. With a more favorable journey, she can turn the tables on several rivals whom she faced in the Honeybee. #1 My Mane Squeeze seeks her fourth win in a row after decisive scores against New York bred stakes company. In against open company here, she stacks up based on speed figures alone. #11 Lemon Muffin broke her maiden in the Honeybee, which was also her first start going a route. While her win wasn’t a fluke in our opinion, racers who break from post 11 at the current Oaklawn meet are 0 for 22. #4 All Things Go was an impressive maiden winner and has loads of route pedigree on the bottom side of her breeding. #7 Recharge won the Sunland Oaks against lesser and gets a class test. #12 Thorpedo Anna possesses plenty of raw ability but loses the post-position draw and comes off a layoff. Those are hurdles to overcome.

Race 12: Ten entrants contest a mile and an eighth in the $1,500,000 G1 Arkansas Derby. #9 Mystik Dan freaked in the slop when stalking the pace, riding the rail to the lead in upper stretch and tearing away for an eight-length romp in the G3 Southwest. It was arguably the most impressive 2024 Kentucky Derby prep win we’ve seen. Some may say the monster effort was due to an affinity for the wet going, but keep in mind he broke his maiden over a fast track and earned a 96 Beyer for the effort. We think he’s the real deal. #2 Timberlake only had five works in his arsenal off a layoff and still handily defeated his rivals in the G2 Rebel. He’ll likely be more cranked up this time for trainer Brad Cox, who seeks to become the first trainer ever to win three consecutive Arkansas Derby’s. #7 Muth is a heavy hitter from the Bob Baffert barn that hasn’t done much wrong, finishing first or second in all five lifetime starts. Runner up finisher in last year’s G1 Breeders Cup Juvenile, the $2,000,000 2-year-old in training purchase was last seen rolling over sprinters in the G2 San Vicente at Santa Anita. Although Baffert always has his horses fit and ready, Muth isn’t necessarily as fast, or at least significantly faster, than our top two picks on their best day. Graded stakes winner #6 Liberal Arts was third home in the Southwest and likely needed the race off a break. He’ll be more tuned up this time. #10 Imperial Gun was a super impressive maiden winner who tactically didn’t receive the trip he needed to be successful in his first start against winners in an allowance on Rebel Day. He’s eligible to outrun his odds.

Race 13: #10 Thestral finished second to next out G2 Azeri winner Tiny Temper two starts ago in what was a big effort. She returned a week and a half later and ‘bounced’. She freshens up and ships to Oaklawn with a strong work pattern for trainer Tom Amoss. #5 Absinthe will be close to the pace in her first start as a 4-year-old. The Steve Asmussen trainee showed ability early in her career and may be live right off the shelf. #3 Wildwood Bye was the runner up at this level last time out and ran okay two races ago while suffering traffic issues.

Good luck!