How to bet the 2018 Arkansas Derby

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

April 12th, 2018

Saturday's $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), the final point-scoring prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1), includes two horses that are safely in the Churchill Downs classic, Magnum Moon and Quip; a trio of "bubble" horses in Solomini, Combatant, and Dream Baby Dream; and a quartet looking to sneak into the Derby picture with what would be a generally surprising upswing in form.

Three of the top five exit Oaklawn's previous classic prep, the Rebel (G2), a race Magnum Moon won comfortably by 3 1/2 lengths. Despite having raced only twice and not at all at two, the colt showed great maturity overcoming a wide trip at times to put away his foes and kick start a remarkable streak of wins for trainer Todd Pletcher in Derby preps (horses trained by him later won the Louisiana Derby [G2], Florida Derby [G1], and Wood Memorial [G2]).

The beaten favorite in the Rebel was Solomini, who placed in three Grade 1 events at two in Southern California for Bob Baffert. Unluckily disqualified from first in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), Solomini would be safely in the Derby field if that had not happened. He will need to run at least fourth here to secure a spot, but what kind of encouragement would connections get from such a finish?

Combatant, third in the Rebel, and Sunland Derby (G3) runner-up Dream Baby Dream would need to run third or better Saturday to make the Kentucky Derby field. The rest would need to finish second or better to punch their ticket to Louisville.

Of the Rebel protagonists, Combatant seems more or less exposed by this point having settled for minor awards in four straight Derby preps. Solomini, who entered the Rebel having not run in three months, is eligible to improve second off the bench. He will have to do so as Magnum Moon could also improve, and perhaps might show that he's the barn's leading Derby prospect.

Only two others in the field seem like serious prospects. Dream Baby Dream doesn't appear one of them despite the improved effort at Sunland with blinkers on. He got a favorable pace setup that day to rally from 11th to second, but keep in mind he was merely earning minor awards against entry-level allowance foes earlier in the Oaklawn meet before that.

Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Quip was game to win that race off a long layoff and against a field that included Sam F. Davis (G3) winner and Blue Grass (G2) runner-up Flameaway, as well as eventual Wood Memorial scorer Vino Rosso. While a productive race, obviously, the pace was slow and Quip was well-positioned to capitalize from second against the stretching-out sprinter World of Trouble. Horses like Flameaway and Vino Rosso had little chance to make up considerable ground.

A wild card in the Arkansas Derby is Tenfold, who enters having won both starts since debuting on February 9. The latest was a neck victory against allowance foes going 1 1/16 miles. Also a son of Curlin, he's evidently talented and with a bright future, but probably not quick enough at this point to threaten the leading contenders.

While not quite something to get the blood pumping, the current trajectories of these horses suggest the Arkansas Derby may indeed play out similarly to what we saw a month ago in the Rebel. MAGNUM MOON is the pick for the win, and here's how we'll play some of the vertical exotics.

$25 Exacta ($25)

Magnum Moon (6) over Solomini (5)

$10 Trifecta wheel ($30)

Magnum Moon (6) over Solomini (5) over Tenfold (3), Quip (8), and Combatant (9)