American Pharoah arrived back at Oaklawn Park from Santa Anita on Wednesday as the 1-2 favorite in the Arkansas Derby.
The Zayat Stable colorbearer arrived via a Tex Sutton flight from his Southern California base along with several other Racing Festival of the South contenders. He will once again be partnered with jockey Victor Espinoza, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner.
“We didn't want to be the one-hole so I was happy with the draw,” said trainer Bob Baffert after American Pharoah drew post 6. “We should be fine. He just needs some racing luck.”
Just to the outside the favorite will be Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes winner Far Right, who was made the 9-2 second choice in the 1 1/8 mile race. Trainer Ron Moquett elected not to run the Notional ridgeling in the Rebel Stakes, won easily in the mud by American Pharoah, so the Arkansas Derby will be the first meeting between the top two contenders.
Bold Conquest has faced both. He finished third in the Rebel and was fourth in the Southwest Stakes. He’ll be looking to stamp his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with an improved performance Saturday. He drew post 5 and will have the services of meet-leading jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
“In an eight-horse field when they're going a mile-and-an-eighth, nobody can complain (about post position),” said Bold Conquest’s trainer Steve Asmussen.
Madefromlucky, a distant second in the Rebel, makes the return trip to Oaklawn from his South Florida base seeking to give trainer Todd Pletcher his third consecutive Arkansas Derby victory. Pletcher has pulled the upset the last two years with Overanalyze in 2013 and Danza last year. Madefromlucky drew post 4 and will be ridden by John Velazquez.
“In an eight-horse field, I am not overly concerned with any post position but right in the middle is a fine place to start,” said Pletcher.
The Arkansas Derby field also attracted Mr. Z, another Zayat runner who was third in both the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes before a last-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. Bridget’s Big Luvy shipped in from Maryland on April 1 after winning the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel in his last start.
The complete field for the 79th running of the Arkansas Derby, in post position order, with riders and morning line odds: The Truth or Else, Calvin Borel, 15-1; Mr. Z, Ramon Vazquez, 10-1; Bridget’s Big Luvy, Angel Cruz, 20-1; Madefromlucky, John Velazquez, 6-1; Bold Conquest, Ricardo Santana Jr., 20-1; American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza, 1-2; Far Right, Mike Smith, 9-2 and Win the Space, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1.
Edited Oaklawn release with additional content by Dick Downey