Omaha Beach confirmed himself as a leading Kentucky Derby contender in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), withstanding a bid from Improbable to score by a length. A winner of three straight for owner Fox Hill Farm and trainer by Richard Mandella, Omaha Beach led most of the way over the sloppy Oaklawn Park track with Mike Smith.
Smith, who also rides Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster, now has an important decision to make regarding his Kentucky Derby mount.
“It’s a lovely decision to have,” Smith said. “We’re going to go back and see how everyone comes back and go from there. Evaluate the situation. Then my agent will make the decision. That’s why I pay him.”
Omaha Beach earned a 100-point prize winning the final event in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, ensuring his spot in the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs on May 4. The dark bay son of War Front was in a tenuous position after pocketing 37.5 points in his stakes debut, the second division of the March 16 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park. A nose winner over the Bob Baffert-trained Game Winner last out, Omaha Beach knocked off that rival’s stablemate Improbable in the Arkansas Derby.
A slight 8-5 favorite, Omaha Beach didn’t flash to the front at the break but circled rivals wide into the first turn and seized the advantage entering the backstretch, reaching the half-mile mark in :47.50. He settled nicely on a short lead, recording splits in 1:12.46 and 1:37.53, and finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.91.
“I had a great trip,” Smith said. “Little nerve wracking in the gate because a few of them didn’t want to load, but he handled it all well. He got a little uptight, but then relaxed. He jumped extremely well. There were several horses that wanted the lead. Mr. Mandella has been teaching him in the morning to break off strong and then relax. He did just that. Picked a nice little spot and stayed right there. His cruising speed just takes him up there. I just basically tried to stay out of way. He’s doing it so easy, I’m better off letting him than fighting him.”
“He looked like he was well within himself and Mike just let him enjoy his job, just stride out and go where he went,” Mandella added. “My first thought was, ‘Jeez, don’t move too quick’ and then I thought, ‘Don’t be second-guessing Mike Smith’ – one of the greatest of all times. Just appreciate having him and can’t tell you how much I appreciate this horse and his owner (Rick Porter). We’d already ran in the slop at home, so that wasn’t much of a concern. He’s a very tractable horse. I don’t think we need to pick a surface.”
Improbable, the 9-5 second choice following a second in the first division of the Rebel, made a run at Omaha Beach along the far turn and into the stretch but could never draw even. After entering on the outside of the top 20, the Grade 1-winning juvenile ensured his Kentucky Derby participation with the runner-up finish. Jose Ortiz was up on Improbable and also rides Wood Memorial (G2) winner Tacitus.
Louisiana Derby (G2) third and Risen Star (G2) runner-up Country House stamped his Kentucky Derby ticket while never a threat to the top two, increasing his total to 50 with the 20-point prize for third. He rallied five-wide into the stretch but lacked the necessary finishing kick and wound up 5 ¾ lengths back of Improbable at 8-1.
It was another length to 27-1 outsider Laughing Fox in fourth. Galilean, Long Range Toddy, Jersey Agenda, Tikhvin Flew, Gray Attempt, Six Shooter and One Flew South completed the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky by Charming Syndicate, Omaha Beach hails from the Seeking the Gold mare Charming and counts champion two-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi as a half-sibling. His second maternal dam, Broodmare of the Year and multiple Grade 1-winning Take Charge Lady, produced three-year-old champion male and sire Will Take Charge; and Grade 1 winner and sire Take Charge Indy.
Omaha Beach placed in his first three starts on turf before switching to the main track with a second in a January 4 maiden special weight at Santa Anita . He broke his maiden over the same oval a month later, romping by nine lengths in the slop, and then captured the second division of the Rebel. The regally-bred colt has now bankrolled $1,121,800 from a 7-3-3-1 record.