Is There a Diamond in the Rough in the Arkansas Derby?

The road to the Kentucky Derby is nearing its end, as the last 100-40-20-10 point race of the season is set to be contested this Saturday. The race is the Grade I, $1 million Arkansas Derby, and the venue is Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. It will go as Race 11 on the program with an approximate post time of 7:18 p.m. EST.

Leading the way is Bob Baffert’s #10 CUPID, the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Baffert is seeking his second straight win in the Arkansas Derby after taking the race last year with eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. CUPID put it all together when he won his third career start by open lengths at Santa Anita before coming to Oaklawn and scoring in the Rebel Stakes in wire-to-wire fashion last month. With the ability to win either on or off the pace and a fast last-out speed figure, CUPID is a must-use, but is not unbeatable.

A viable upset candidate is #5 AMERICAN PIONEER (8-1). He steadied around the far turn in his debut while settling for second before drawing off impressively to break his maiden in career start number two. He’ll get a big rider upgrade to Rafael Bejarano and should improve off his already impressive form because he is so lightly raced. And being by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again out of a Malibu Moon mare, he should love the added distance. Finally, trainer Wayne Catalano has picked his spots carefully and with great success at Oaklawn this year, as he is 11-for-37 (30%) at the meet.

#8 WHITMORE (9-2) should be a factor in the stretch run; he was repelled by CUPID when they met in the Rebel but Irad Ortiz sees fit to make the trip down south once more, and this horse should once again get a fast pace to close into.

#4 SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (5-1) should also be rolling late, but his even finish in the Rebel last time out after running impressively in the Southwest Stakes two starts back was disappointing.

The play: $4 win 5, $4 exacta box 5/10, $2 exacta 5,10/4,8 ($20)

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