Oaklawn News

The “Gray Horse” Could be Key to Arkansas Derby Pace

During a brief phone interview following Wednesday’s draw for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn, Bob Baffert touched on his post position – the Hall of Fame trainer wasn’t thrilled with the rail for 8-5 program favorite Improbable – then asked about the “gray horse.”

The gray horse would be Gray Attempt, who may be the controlling speed in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race for owner Dwight Pruett of Texarkana, Ark., and trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs.

Gray Attempt has led at every point of call in his four career victories, including the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 25 – his two-turn debut – and the $125,000 Gazebo Stakes March 23, a 6-furlong race that served as the colt’s final prep for the Arkansas Derby.

“I don’t know if we’ll be on the lead,” Fires said Thursday morning. “I’ve not got a chance to see everybody that’s in there and look at my options. I will when the Form comes out. We’ll try to figure that out. I don’t think he has to be on the lead, but he might.”

After winning the Smarty Jones, Gray Attempt encountered trouble entering the first turn of the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 18 and emerged from an 11th-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile race with a hind-end problem, Fires said. Gray Attempt missed the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby, the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16 at 1 1/16 miles, because of the physical setback and forced Fires to use the Gazebo as an unlikely bridge to nine furlongs.

Gray Attempt is scheduled to break from post 6 under Stewart Elliott, who will ride the son of Graydar for the first time Saturday. Elliott won the 2004 Arkansas Derby on Smarty Jones, the country’s champion 3-year-old male that year.

“We think it’s good,” Fires said of Gray Attempt’s draw. “We were pleased with the post. Of course, I preferred 3, 4 or 5, but 6 is OK.”

Gray Attempt is 8-1 on the morning line for the Arkansas Derby, which Fires won in 2011 with Archarcharch.

School Days

Improbable, the 8-5 program favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), schooled in the gate under the watchful eye of Jimmy Barnes, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s traveling assistant, following the first renovation break Thursday morning.

The Southern California-based Improbable returns to Oaklawn after suffering his first career loss in his 3-year-old debut, the first division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16. Improbable was caught late on the outside by Long Range Toddy and beaten a neck in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.

Improbable was flown to Arkansas Tuesday.

“I was looking to see if I noticed anything this morning that was a little different than the last time I was here,” Barnes said. “He was maybe a little more relaxed than last time. Very good on the track. We do have a special time to train, so it’s quiet out there, which really helped the horsemen. You get the first 15 minutes after the break. Maybe that’s what I’m noticing, and before I had him out there with all the other horses. It’s a pretty busy racetrack. He seems more relaxed here.”

Improbable represents the seventh Arkansas Derby program favorite for Baffert in the last nine years. He won the race in 2012 with Bodemeister and again in 2015 with American Pharoah, who would go on to sweep the Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup Classic and be named Horse of the Year.

Show Him the Money

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen entered Thursday, the 44th day of the scheduled 57-day season, needing $221,449 to break his single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings.

Asmussen runners earned $3,448,729 in 2016, capped by Creator’s victory in the closing-day $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Asmussen figures to break the record this weekend with numerous horses entered in big-money Racing Festival of the South events.

Horses Asmussen is scheduled to send out include Lady Apple in Friday’s $500,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3), Mitole in Saturday’s $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3), Tenfold and Lookin At Lee in Saturday’s $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2), Long Range Toddy, Jersey Agenda, Laughing Fox and Tikhvin Flew in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) and Midnight Bisou in Sunday’s $750,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1).

Asmussen entered Thursday with $3,227,281 in purse earnings at the meet.