McPeek Eying Arkansas Derby With Recent Winners

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

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

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Interlock Empire

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

McPeek Eying Arkansas Derby With Recent Winners

Add a pair of recent Oaklawn winners for trainer Kenny McPeek to the list of early probables for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 1.

McPeek said unbeaten Mendelssohns March and Interlock Empire will both “probably” run next in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, which is Oaklawn’s fourth and final Kentucky Derby points race. Mendelssohns March (2 for 2) overcame traffic to clear his first allowance condition at 1 1/16 miles in his March 9 local and dirt debut. Interlock Empire, at odds of 17-1, broke his maiden by five lengths at 1 mile March 11 at Oaklawn.

“Mendelssohns March has been ultra-impressive in the morning and in the afternoon,” McPeek said. “Interlock Empire’s race the other day was a pleasant step forward for him. He was shot out of a cannon the last part there and I like that (jockey) David Cabrera was able to get him to relax and finish like he did. It’s a little ambitious, but it seems to me the Arkansas Derby’s pretty well wide open at this point. You only get so many shots. I think there’s 1.25 million reasons to try.”

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.

Post positions for the Arkansas Derby will be drawn March 27.

Digging for Diamonds

Lovely Ride, a two-time stakes winner at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting, is pointing for the inaugural $150,000 Dig a Diamond Stakes April 29, trainer Robertino Diodoro said. The Dig a Diamond is for older fillies and mares at 1 mile.

Lovely Ride tested some of the country’s top older females in her last start, finishing sixth in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles March 11 at Oaklawn. The speedy Lovely Ride led much of the race before weakening in the final furlong and being beaten 4 ¾ lengths by 2022 Kentucky Oaks champion Secret Oath.

“She came back good,” Diodoro said. “I felt bad for her because I thought she ran her guts out and it was a little different quality of horses running her down when they hit the top of the lane. She tried hard. Most likely, the plan will be to have her ready for the end of April.”

Lovely Ride opened the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting with victories in the $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes at 1 mile Dec. 10 and the $150,000 Pippin Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 7. She finished second, beaten a half-length, in the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 4 at Oaklawn.

Bayakoa winner A Mo Reay returned to win the $500,000 Beholder Mile (G1) March 11 at Santa Anita.

Finish Lines

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen saddled two winners Friday, pushing his career Oaklawn total to 847. Asmussen won the fourth race with favored 2022 Texas Derby winner King Ottoman ($4) and the ninth race with Skelly ($9). Only the late Bob Holthus (867) has more career Oaklawn training victories. … Favored Traverse ($4.60) became the first two-time winner for trainer Riley Mott in Friday’s eighth race, a $106,000 allowance for older fillies and mares at 1 mile. A homebred for famed Claiborne Farm, Traverse represented the sixth career victory and fifth at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting for Mott, 31, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott who went out on his own Nov. 1. Traverse has won four of her last five starts, including a Feb. 12 allowance at Oaklawn. … Traverse represented the second consecutive victory on Friday’s card for jockey Isaac Castillo. … After winning with his final three mounts Thursday, Francisco Arrieta’s first two mounts Friday also resulted in victories. Arrieta won the first race aboard Mystery Mo ($6) for trainer Scott Becker and the third race aboard favored Too Pretty ($3.20) for trainer Dan Peitz. Arrieta was Oaklawn’s co-leading rider in 2021-2022 with 62 victories. He entered Saturday with 53 victories this season. … Condensation is pointing for the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies April 1, trainer Chris Hartman said. Condensation finished second in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) Feb. 25 in her last start. The Honeybee and Fantasy, both 1 1/16 miles, are Oaklawn’s final two Kentucky Oaks points races. … Defining Purpose, who won Oaklawn’s inaugural $150,000 Year’s End Stakes for 2-year-old fillies Dec. 31, is probably headed to the $600,000 Ashland Stakes (G1) April 7 at Keeneland, trainer Kenny McPeek said. Defining Purpose finished sixth in the Honeybee.