Defeats Improbable By One Length
By Dick Downey
Omaha Beach returned to the scene of his victory in the Rebel Stakes and produced a repeat performance, this time defeating Improbable instead of Game Winner.
The race was delayed for about 20 seconds after Improbable became anxious in the gate at post 1 and was backed out twice. Once the bell rung, both he and Omaha Beach got off to a good start.
One Flew South, Jersey Agenda, Gray Attempt and Long Range Toddy led the field through the first turn and a quarter-mile in 23.08, but Omaha Beach, ridden by Mike Smith, was soon right behind One Flew South and then passed that one to take the lead with a half-mile gone in 47.50. At that point, Improbable and Jose Ortiz were sixth, but only two lengths back, while Jersey Agenda, Long Range Toddy competed for the third spot.
Coming into the far turn, Omaha Beach led Improbable by a length after six furlongs in 1:12.46, and Omaha Beach wouldn't let Improbable advance any further the remainder of the race. He finished the 1 1/8 mile in 1:49.91 on a track rated sloppy, winning by a length.
Country House, with Joel Rosario in the irons, and Laughing Fox, ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr. came on in the far turn to secure the third and fourth place spots, and that's where they stayed the remainder of the trip, beaten 6 3/4 and 7 3/4 lengths by the winner.
The remaining order of finish was Galilean, Long Range Toddy, Jersey Agenda, Tikhvin Flew, Gray Attempt, Six Shooter and One Flew South.
With their one-two-three finishes, Omaha Beach, Improbable and Country House rose above the Kentucky Derby points bubble. All three now have more than enough points to make the Derby starting gate.
Kentucky Derby points from the Arkansas Derby:
Omaha Beach 100 (total 137.5, all earned at Oaklawn)
Improbable 40 (total 65)
Country House 20 (total 50)
Laughing Fox 10
Long Range Toddy had 53.5 Derby points going in.
After the race, winning trainer Richard Mandella said Omaha Beach is getting better all the time, then quipped maybe it's just that the purses are getting bigger. Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, the winning owner, will be paid $600,000 from the $1 million purse.
Omaha Beach, the 2-1 second choice in the morning line, was sent off as the 8-5 favorite by bettors. He returned his $2 backers $5.40 to win, $3.00 to place and $2.80 to show. Improbable was the 9-5 second choice.
For more about Omaha Beach, his race history, breeding and connections click here.
Winning trainer Richard Mandella: “He looked like he was well within himself and Mike just let him enjoy his job, just stride out and go where he went. 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. 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.”
Winning Owner Rick Porter: “I think the horse certainly fits with the other horses. We’ll see how he comes out of the race and see how things are going. We’ll decide, probably, tonight (regarding the Kentucky Derby).”
Winning jockey Mike Smith: I had a great trip. 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 his way. He’s doing it too easy, I’m better off letting him go than fighting him.
Omaha Beach or Roadster in the Kentucky Derby?: “It’s a lovely decision to have. 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.”
Trainer Bob Baffert, second with Improbable: “The horse, happy with the way he ran. I was a little bit worried in the starting gate. He was acting up in there. I had a few moments there of maybe he was going to rear up or do something and get left. Luckily, they unloaded him and put him back and he left there well. I thought Jose Ortiz did a masterful job of riding him. We got beat by a good horse. They showed how these California horses are good horses.” Baffert added that he believes the colt doesn’t need blinkers.
Trainer Bill Mott, third with Country House: “We’ll talk to the owners. That’s what we were looking for (points), and he ran well.”
Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., fourth on Laughing Fox: “We had a great trip. We didn’t win, but I feel like we did because he improved so much off his last race. He’s a good horse.”