The parade of longshots in major Kentucky Derby trail prep races continued April 16 when Archarcharch came from off the pace to post a stunning win in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) before a crowd of more than 62,000 at Oaklawn Park (VIDEO).
Archarcharch won the Arkansas Derby at odds of 25-1. Less than two hours earlier, Brilliant Speed won the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland at 19-1. Those upsets came after similar results in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) a week earlier.
Jockey Jon Court made it back-to-back wins in the Arkansas Derby with Archarcharch, who looked like an easy winner past mid-stretch but had to dig down to hold off 9-1 shot Nehro by a neck in the final strides.
Court won last year's Arkansas Derby aboard Line of David.
Archarcharch will attempt to join Smarty Jones (2004) and Sunny's Halo (1983) as Arkansas Derby winners to complete the Kentucky Derby double.
William "Jinks" Fires trains Archarcharch ($52.40) for owners Robert and Loval Yagos. The son of Arch out of the Woodman mare Woodman's Dancer was bred in Kentucky by Grapestock and cost $60,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in September 2009.
Fires is Court's father-in-law.
Asked if he could believe he had won his first Arkansas Derby, Fires responded: “Well I thought that a couple times, but it didn’t quite work out a whole lot. We had a lot of belief in this horse."
Fires said the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is the next start for Archarcharch. “We will stay here a couple days and let him rest up before head up to Churchill. Back off him a bit and let him rest up. We will see how he comes out of it. He looks good so far.”
The final time for the 1 1/8-mile test of 3-year-olds was 1:49.34 on a fast track.
Dance City, who held up the start for several minutes when he refused to load in the starting gate, finished third, with Sway Away fourth.
The Factor , the 4-5 choice in the field of 13, was outrun for the early lead and finished seventh after fading in the stretch.
Stewards posted the inquiry sign after it appeared that Sway Away and Dance City mixed it up in the stretch run, but they made no change in the order of finish.
This was a popular win with the locals in Hot Springs. Archarcharch has been based at Oaklawn with the popular Fires since winning the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds in December. He was a well-beaten fourth as the even-money favorite in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 17.
Archarcharch bounced back to win the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 21 by one length, but finished a distant third, 6 1/2 lengths behind The Factor, in the March 19 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at 1 1/16 miles.
"His first race here was on a thawing out track, and he came out with a hock problem," Fires said of the Smarty Jones. "We were able to hose it and work on it and he came back like he did in the Southwest. Then last time (in the Rebel) he was kicked all over by the horse next to him in the gate. He’s a tough little horse.”
The Arkansas Derby was nothing like the Rebel in other ways as well. The Factor was able to dictate terms that day for Martin Garcia, setting a fast lonely pace and drawing away easily to win by more than six lengths. This time he was a stalker and things didn't go as planned for Garcia.
The Factor was away cleanly but out-broke by J P's Gusto, who sped to a two-length lead over Dance City, with The Factor another two lengths back while angled to the outside of the leaders. J P's Gusto, ridden by Cliff Berry, burnt the opening quarter mile in :22.54 and the half in :46.53. He was already showing signs of weakening as he completed six furlongs in 1:11.22.
Dance City, proving tough for Javier Castellano in spite of his pre-race antics, challenged for the lead along with The Factor. But Sway Away, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, proved the biggest danger on the outside while making the lead a little too soon at the three-sixteenths pole. The Factor dropped out of it as they approached mid-stretch with Archarcharch, racing in seventh on the final turn, charging on the far outside to take over leaving the eighth pole.
Archarcharch opened up a clear lead briefly, but it wasn't over yet as Nehro and Corey Nakatani made a big late push before running out of time. The runner-up had a good trip, racing unhurriedly while saving some ground and angling four wide for the homestretch. He closed furiously, surging at the wire to just miss.
“This has just been a dream come true," Court said of the victory. "We had a good start. We had a great position. Last time, we just had to go because no one else went with The Factor. This time, we were able to sit back and watch the speed duel unfold. We’re just so excited. Winning for Mr. Yagos and my father-in-law makes it all that much sweeter. Kentucky Derby here we come.”
LIke the winner, Nehro, also the fast-closing runner-up in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) last month for trainer Steve Asmussen, figures to get plenty of attention in this year's Run for the Roses as well.
“It’s kind of been that kind of year (two seconds in a row)," Asmussen said. "He ran fabulous. They stood in the gate forever (because of the delay). He’s a very good horse and he stood there, but it was a long time. There was all that traffic and he came running late. I’m very proud of him. I think he showed some quality today. All the pace in the race suited us today. He tried like heck.”
Dance City, 1 1/2 lengths farther back, also ran big in just his fourth career start and his first try in stakes company for trainer Todd Pletcher. He figures to be one to watch later in the Triple Crown season.
Sway Away, who was rank early and wide for most of the journey, understandably weakened to fourth while lugging in late to bother Dance City. He finished another 1 1/2 lengths farther back while well clear of fifth-place Alternation . Then came J W Blue, The Factor, J P's Gusto, Elite Alex, Saratoga Red, Brethren , Caleb's Posse , and Truman's Commander.
“I thought we had it won turning for home, but then he put his head in the air and stopped just like that," trainer Jeff Bonde said of Sway Away. "I guess we have to start that move a little later. We tried."
Archarcharch earned $600,000 for the win, his third in six lifetime starts, which boosted his career bankroll to $832,744.
“This horse is something special," said co-owner Yagos. "Jinks gave us confidence in this horse since day one. We haven’t gotten to take a deep breath since he crossed the wire. Jon and Jinks and the whole barn have done a great job with Archarcharch. This is a big thrill for the family and everyone involved."
Sent off as the eighth choice, he paid $52.40, $16.80 and $8.20 across the board and keyed a $416.80 exacta. Nehro, ridden by Nakatani for the first time, returned $9 and $5.60. Dance City was $14.20 to show and completed a $1 trifecta worth $5,282.90. The $1 superfecta with Sway Away was $29,993,80.
Trainer Bob Baffert was unhappy with the way the race unfolded for The Factor.
“I think (Garcia) tried to take him out and teach him something today, but he wasn’t comfortable with that," Baffert said. "I think he displaced. Martin really had to snatch him in the first turn. He goes with them, they’re going to go in 21. With those two horses (J P’s Gusto and Dance City) it was just ridiculous.
“I’m upset that he didn’t get to show something today. I wish he could have been on the outside. He’s just never been in a spot like that. We’re just going to go back (to Southern California) and lick our wounds.”
As far as his Derby plans for The Factor, Baffert said: "We’ll see how he is. Right now, I’m not even going to comment on that."