The 2014 Arkansas Derby saw decorated trainer Todd Pletcher continue gaining steam ahead of the Triple Crown season, as his long shot, Danza, raced to victory at Oaklawn Park Race Track on Saturday.
Matt Shifman of HorseRacingNation.com alluded to the long 41-1 odds Danza had in starting closest to the rail in the No. 1 post position before emerging with the win in this Grade 1 race:
Danza had an impressive 4 3/4 lengths in his winning jaunt around the dirt track that spans nine furlongs, beating out a slew of formidable adversaries. Ride On Curlin finished runner-up, and one of the major favorites in Bayern placed third to round out those who finished in the money.
Here is a look at the final standings, followed by further analysis on how the action unfolded in Hot Springs:
|2014 Arkansas Derby Results|
|1||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||1|
|2||Ride On Curlin||Jon Kenton Court||William Gowan||4|
|3||Bayern||Gary Stevens||Bob Baffert||8|
|4||Tapiture||Joel Rosario||Steven M. Asmussen||3|
|5||Conquest Titan||Calvin Borel||Mark Casse||7|
|6||Commissioner||Mike Smith||Todd Pletcher||6|
|7||Thundergram||Norberto Arroyo Jr.||Mark Casse||5|
|8||Strong Mandate||Luis Saez||D. Wayne Lukas||9|
|Source: BloodHorse.com Knock Em Flat (post No. 2) was scratched.|
Pletcher said afterward that Danza, who was mounted by jockey Joe Bravo, would indeed start at Churchill Downs, wasting no time in shipping him off to prepare for the Run for the Roses, per the Daily Racing Form's Mary Rampellini:
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens won the 2013 Preakness Stakes, so chances were strong that Bayern would come away with a win here. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be, and trainer Bob Baffert was optimistic back in February but didn't want to get ahead of himself after Bayern won his first two starts—his last coming by a whopping 15 lengths.
"This is what you want to see and it gets your hopes up," said Baffert, per Brisnet.com (via NBCSports.com). "I would just make sure he comes out of it and give him plenty of time. He ran fast."
Tapiture was considered the odds-on favorite but just missed the show slot, settling instead for fourth position. The Kentucky Derby's official Twitter account laid out the points distribution for the Arkansas Derby's top finishers:
Mike Wilkening of the Daily Herald points out how Pletcher could have as many as four horses running in the Kentucky Derby:
Super Saver won the 2010 Kentucky Derby for Pletcher and was the last to triumph in Louisville after winning the Arkansas Derby, per ChurchillDowns.com's Darren Rogers:
Here is a look at the payouts for the top three, courtesy of BloodHorse.com. The $2 Exacta paid $561.40, while the $2 Trifecta paid $2,646.00 and the $2 Superfecta paid $5,994.80.
|2014 Arkansas Derby Payouts|
|Ride On Curlin||—||$7.00||$4.00|
This gives Pletcher a second winner in as many high-profile races, as he saw Constitution finish first in the recent Florida Derby. Although Danza shouldn't be expected to prominently contend if he enters the Kentucky Derby given his long odds in Arkansas, this proves that the horse can indeed compete in an elite field.
Danza is also the second straight victor for Pletcher at the Arkansas Derby, joining Overanalyze from 2013. Overanalyze finished 11th in pursuit of the first Triple Crown jewel last season, though, so Pletcher will hope that his upstart dark horse can fare better this time around.
Saturday's outcome just goes to show how it's dangerous to underestimate a formidable jockey-trainer combination as Bravo and Pletcher proved to be. Then again, Stevens and Baffert figured to fare well and barely managed to finish in the money despite having one of the best perceived two horses in the field.
There is always an element of unpredictability to horse racing, so as the Kentucky Derby approaches, it's worth monitoring even the unlikely qualifiers such as Danza. If the objective is to wager coin at Churchill Downs, an early, surprise candidate to do so with has emerged in Danza from the Arkansas Derby.