While Forte will be a standout favorite in the Florida Derby on Saturday, the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park later in the afternoon appears as if it will be a much more competitive affair on the track and at the betting windows. A field of 11 will travel 1 1/8 miles, with Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-30-20-10 distributed to the respective top five finishers.
Reincarnate, a rough-trip third in the Rebel (G2) last time out, has been installed the early 5-2 favorite for the Arkansas Derby. Upset winner of the Sham (G3) two back when making the pace, Reincarnate found himself far back early in the Rebel, figuratively eating a lot of slop, yet still managed to rally for third while enduring a bumping episode in midstretch.
Red Route One outfinished Reincarnate by 1 1/2 lengths in the Rebel while a length adrift of the winning Confidence Game. Catching sloppy tracks in three of his last four starts, Red Route One might prove more effective over a fast track. His deep closing tendencies figure to leave him at the mercy of the pace, though trainer Steve Asmussen is taking a precautionary step by adding blinkers to the colt’s equipment on Saturday.
Brad Cox, who won the Arkansas Derby last year with Cyberknife, relies on Angel of Empire, who pulled off a 13-1 upset of the Risen Star (G2) last out. Angel of Empire has won three of five overall, his only modest showing having been on grass. Bypassing a rematch with Forte at Gulfstream on Saturday is Rocket Can, a distant second to the champion in the Fountain of Youth (G2) last time. Rocket Can had previously captured the Holy Bull (G3) over fellow Bill Mott trainee Shadow Dragon.
In addition to Reincarnate, potential pace players in the Arkansas Derby include Two Eagles River and Harlocap. Two Eagles River enters off a four-length allowance win over Disarm, the runner-up in last weekend’s Louisiana Derby (G2), while Harlocap looks to show more stamina after fading to sixth in the Risen Star.
Wet Paint will look to make it a sweep of Oaklawn’s two-turn Kentucky Oaks (G1) preps in the $600,000 Fantasy (G3) over 1 1/16 miles. The Godolphin homebred was a come-from-behind winner over wet tracks in the Martha Washington S. and Honeybee (G3) earlier in the meet, but faces the prospect of a fast track if the long-range forecasts for dry weather hold up. In five starts, the daughter of Blame has won three times on off dirt tracks while losing solo tries on turf and synthetic.
The pace of the Fantasy figures to be fairly honest for Wet Paint. Grand Love could show improved speed in her second start of the year after finishing an even third in the Honeybee, while that race’s pacesetter and runner-up, Condensation, figures to be sent from post 10.
A fascinating stakes newcomer is She’s Lookin Lucky, who broke her maiden by a more than 13 lengths at Fair Grounds in early February and then was second to the promising Punchbowl in an allowance over the Oaklawn strip on March 5.
A fast track might improve the chances of rivals recently beaten by Wet Paint, such as Towhead and Olivia Twist, while Pate and Royal Spa look to reproduce their best sprint form over a longer distance.
The Fantasy will award Kentucky Oaks qualifying points of 100-40-30-20-10 to the respective top five finishers.
Smile Happy reenters stakes company in the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) earlier in the card. The four-year-old son of Runhappy, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at two and placed in the Risen Star (G2) and Blue Grass (G1) last season, made a successful return to action on March 16 in a nine-furlong allowance at Oaklawn.
The competitive field also includes Grade 3 winner Hopper, who shortens up after running fourth in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita H. (G1), and local division mainstays Silver Prospector and Caddo River.