Unbeaten Curlin Top Choice in Arkansas Derby

Undefeated Curlin will try to join some select company when he goes postward in the $1-million Arkansas Derby (gr. II) Saturday at Oaklawn Park.

With a break in the weather, a crowd approaching 70,000 is expected for the 1 1/8-mile race, which will headline the final day of Oaklawn’s 56-day meeting as well as the final day of the famed eight-day Racing Festival of the South.

The last three runnings of the Arkansas Derby were won by standouts Smarty Jones , Afleet Alex, and Lawyer Ron, all of who were solid favorites. Smarty Jones, who was unbeaten going in the 2004 Arkansas Derby, went on to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I). The following year, Afleet Alex ran third in the Derby and won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (gr. I). In 2006, Lawyer Ron ran unplaced in the Run for the Roses, but returned to Oaklawn this year and won the April 7 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. I).

Curtin, a winner of both his starts, including the $300,000 Rebel Stakes Stakes (gr. III) over the track, was installed the 7-5 morning-line favorite.

Robby Albarado has the return call from trainer Steve Asmussen on Curlin, who was assigned post two in the field of 10. The son of Smart Strike, owned by a partnership of Stonestreet Stables, Padua Stables, George Bolton, and Midnight Cry Stables, will be one of five horses in the Derby to pack topweight of 122 pounds.

Bob Holthus, who saddled Lawyer Ron to victory in last year’s Arkansas Derby, will look for a repeat with Officer Rocket, who will break from post three under Luis Quinonez, the leading rider at Oaklawn. A son of Officer who was bred in Great Britain, Officer Rocket finished second in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn and the Rebel in his last two starts. He boasts scores in last year's Arlington-Washington Breeders' Cup Futurity (gr. III) and the Spectacular Bid Stakes (by 13 lengths).

Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, who is seeking his third Arkansas Derby, sends out Deadly Dealer, the 4-1 morning line second choice. A son of Concerto, Deadly Dealer boasts wins in his last two races, including one at Gulfstream March 3 by seven lengths.

The Arkansas Derby also boasts a first-time starter in Olympic Chief. The son of Chief Seattleis trained by Janet Davidson for her husband, Fred. He ships in from Kentucky and is the longest shot, at 50-1.

Arkansas Derby (gr. II)  Race 11  Post 5:47
1 1/8 miles
Post  Horse  Weight  Jockey  Odds
1 Delightful Kiss  118  Russell Baze  10-1
2 Curlin  122  Robby Albarado  7-5
3 Officer Rocket  122  Luis Quinonez  6-1
4 Going Ballistic  122  M. Clifton Berry  12-1
5 Flying First Class  118  Terry Thompson  8-1
6 Storm in May  122  Juan Leyva  15-1
7 Olympic Chief  118  Gen Kato  50-1
8 Slew by Slew  122  Don Pettinger  20-1
9 For You Reppo  118  Kent Desormeaux  6-1
10 Deadly Dealer  118  John Velazquez  4-1

Going Ballistic and Slew by Slew both are trained by Donnie K. Von Hemel, but will run as separate interests.