Archarcharch and Nehro, first and second, respectively in the $1 million Arkansas Derby April 16, are both destined for Churchill Downs and the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 7, according to their connections.
Both qualified for a slot in the 20-horse starting gate with their efforts in the 1 1/8-mile race on closing day at Oaklawn Park.
There were plenty of smiles at the Jinks Fires' barn the morning after Archarcharch pulled off a 25-1 stunner in the Arkansas Derby, winning by a neck over the fast-closing Nehro. Not only was it the first Arkansas Derby win for the 70-year-old Fires, a native of Rivervale, Ark., who lives in Hot Springs, but it was also his first grade I win.
Fires said his phone has not stopped ringing since the victory.
“He’s great,” he said of Archarcharch. “It’s been incredible. Everybody has called. It felt like everyone in Arkansas was in the winner’s circle.”
Assistant Pat Tanner reported that the son of Arch is in fine shape after recording his second stakes win of the Oaklawn Park series for 3-year-olds.
“He’s doing great,” said Tanner. “He’s like he was never in a horse race yesterday.”
Tanner said Archarcharch would head for Churchill Downs April 18 to begin preparations for "The Run for The Roses."
For owner Bob Yagos, the euphoria had yet to wear off after watching his star colt, ridden by Jinks' son-in-law jockey Jon Court, close strongly to pass 4-5 favorite The Factor and hold off a furious rally by Nehro at the wire.
“I sure feel like we were in a horse race yesterday,” said Yagos, an owner of a salvage yard in Jacksonville, Ark. “I told everyone that if we keep up this stress my hair is going to turn as white as Bob Baffert.”
At trainer Steve Asmussen's stable, assistant Darren Fleming reported that Nehro, a son of Mineshaft , was “great” the morning after the race and would fly to Kentucky and Churchill Downs April 19.
For the second straight race, Zayat Stable’s Nehro had to settle for a runner-up spot in a photo finish of a major Kentucky Derby prep race. Fortunately for the colt, he’s picked the right time to lose, including his belated run in the Arkansas Derby. The narrow loss matched a similar result last month in the rich Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and assured Nehro of a slot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
“Those are $800,000 worth of inches there,” Fleming said.
Costly, yes, but Nehro now has $400,000 in graded stakes earnings, qualifying him safely for the Derby field even though he has only one Oaklawn Park maiden-race victory to his credit from five starts.
It was a big day for the Asmussen team on Oaklawn's closing day card. They won three times from nine starters with three second-place results, including Nehro’s and Albergatti in the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes.
Derby plans were uncertain for several other Arkansas Derby participants.
Dance City, who was third, and Sway Away, who ran fourth, are 36th and 34th on the earnings list currently.
Dance City, his stablemate Brethren , who finished 11th in the Arkansas Derby, and Sway Away are all scheduled to leave Hot Springs April 19 on a flight to Kentucky where they will wait and see how the actual Derby field develops.
“With Sway Away and the Derby we are going to lay back and see where it goes,” said trainer Jeff Bonde, who had a very productive Racing Festival of the South with Smiling Tiger winning the $200,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (gr. III) April 14 and Road Ready taking the $75,000 Bachelor Stakes a day later.
The only other Arkansas Derby runners with enough earnings currently to make the Kentucky Derby field are the Bob Baffert-trained The Factor ($272,500), who finished seventh in the Arkansas Derby, and the Joe Petalino-trained J P's Gusto ($544,000), who was eighth after setting a hot pace.