With a purse of $1.25 million and 100-40-20-10 Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification points on the line, Cyberknife fended off all challengers to win Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (G1), in the process stamping his credentials as a fast-developing Run for the Roses contender.
A few months is a long time on the Kentucky Derby trail, and Cyberknife’s performance in Oaklawn Park’s final Derby qualifier stood in stark contrast to his effort in the Jan. 22 Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds. The Brad Cox trainee failed to fire in the Lecomte, racing off the pace and unleashing only a mild rally before flattening out to finish sixth.
But after romping to a Feb. 19 allowance win at Fair Grounds, Cyberknife looked like a different horse in the Arkansas Derby. The son of hot young sire Gun Runner was sent off as the 58-10 third choice behind 7-5 favorite Secret Oath, a filly fresh off a flashy victory in Oaklawn’s Honeybee S. (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
When the gates opened, Cyberknife broke a bit inward, but recovered to race in fourth place as longshot Kavod carved out a fast opening quarter-mile in :22.11. Secret Oath wasn’t so lucky; after breaking half a step slowly, she got squeezed between rivals and dropped half a dozen lengths off the early tempo.
The complexion of the race changed significantly down the backstretch. As Kavod slowed down the pace through half a mile in :46.54, the field bunched up, allowing Cyberknife to edge closer while Secret Oath dropped back to last place. The filly attempted to get back on track with a sweeping outside rally through six furlongs in 1:11.22, but Cyberknife got the jump under jockey Florent Geroux, pouncing past Kavod and seizing a daylight lead into the homestretch.
Secret Oath advanced to second place at the eighth pole, but couldn’t sustain her lengthy rally and weakened late. As Cyberknife forged to the finish line clear by 2 3/4 lengths, Barber Road rallied up the inside to finish second by three-quarters of a length over Secret Oath. Doppelganger, Kavod, Ben Diesel, We the People, Un Ojo, and Chasing Time came next, but none finished with 4 1/2 lengths of the top trio.
Racing in the colors of Gold Square, Cyberknife reached the finish line in 1:50.42 for 1 1/8 miles. Bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the chestnut colt was produced by the Flower Alley mare Awesome Flower, a six-time stakes winner who placed multiple times at the graded level.
“You watch these horses train and you have high hopes. Sometimes, they pick you up, sometimes they let you down. In this case, he picked us up today,” Cox told Oaklawn after the race. “We thought he was a good colt. He got some good (speed) figures last time. I don’t really know what happened in the Lecomte—from a maiden win to the Lecomte was just too much too quick for him. He looked great in the Lecomte and then straightened up and was just nowhere, backed out of it.
“So, he certainly trained like a big horse and ran like one today. I was a little concerned he (Florent Geroux) may have been moving just a touch early into a hot pace. But, obviously, it worked out. Very, very proud of him.”
Geroux was likewise pleased with Cyberknife’s peformance.
“Great effort with some high hopes for him. We always thought he was very talented,” said Geroux. “Looks like he finally put it together and he’s probably not even 100% as he was zigzagging down the lane. I’m hoping he’s going to be a little straighter on the first Saturday in May. But, a very talented horse.”
Having secured 100 Kentucky Derby qualification points, Cyberknife is assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Barber Road is likewise poised for qualifying after placing in four straight Derby scoring races at Oaklawn, along the way accumulating 58 points.
“Winning effort once again,” said John Ortiz, who conditions Barber Road on behalf of WSS Racing. “The distance proved to be the right angle that we’re looking for. Obviously, we still might need a little bit more. I think we secured a spot for the Kentucky Derby starting gate. (Jockey) Reylu (Gutierrez) did a fantastic job. Once again, we’ve still got to work out our traffic situation, but the horse has got guts. You know what, you’ve got to run through traffic in the Kentucky Derby and you need a horse that’s got guts. I think we’ve got the right thing and I’ve got the rider for it.”
Secret Oath picked up 20 points for finishing third and currently sits 22nd on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. However, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly has accumulated 80 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks and has the option to regroup for a Kentucky Oaks bid if Derby qualification doesn’t pan out.
“We got outrun today. Made that big move (on the second turn) and I thought she would sustain it, but she didn’t,” said Lukas. “The race didn’t unfold like you’d hope it to. It just didn’t come together. We got bumped at the start and that got her back too far and then she made that monster move (on the second turn). It’s hard to sustain it.”
Four Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races remain to be run, with the Wood Memorial (G2), Blue Grass S. (G1), and Santa Anita Derby (G1) comprising a trio of important 100-40-20-10 qualifiers next Saturday. The April 16 Lexington S. (G3), worth 20-8-4-2, concludes the series.