Will Oaklawn Park Be the Scene for the Return of the Pharoah?
On Saturday Bob Baffert’s trainee Concert Tour will go to post as the huge favorite in the Arkansas Derby. He earned that honor with a 4-length victory last time out in the Rebel Stakes.
The most impressive aspect of his Rebel win wasn’t the large margin of victory. And it wasn’t his finishing time of 1:43.18, only the fifth fastest in the past six years. The most impressive part of Concert Tour’s Rebel victory was his impersonation of Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.
Comparing Concert Tour to American Pharoah
In 2015, on his way to winning the Kentucky Derby, American Pharoah won both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. If you want to treat yourself to an amazing thoroughbred performance, watch a replay of American Pharoah’s Arkansas Derby win. Pay special attention to the hands of rider Victor Espinoza. As American Pharoah clicks off one super-fast fraction after another, Victor never moves his hands. The horse does everything on his own, with no urging, and he still registers blazing internal fractions and the second-fastest Arkansas Derby winning time in 30+ years.
That performance put American Pharoah at the top of my list in my “2015 Kentucky Derby Preview.”
Last month in the Rebel Stakes, Concert Tour grabbed the lead early, held it throughout the race and powered to victory without jockey Joel Rosario ever asking him to hustle. Very Pharoah-like, except for the pedestrian internal fractions and the less than spectacular final time.
The question this week is whether Concert Tour can go one level higher and duplicate American Pharoah’s superb prep performance in the 2015 Arkansas Derby. Can he rip through the early furlongs and still glide to victory like a champion down the stretch?
Concert Tour won two sprint races prior to stretching out for the Rebel. His sprint times, like his Rebel final time, rate as average for the graded stakes level for young horses. That suggests he’s a notch below American Pharoah, but that’s still a lofty spot to be in. And his Rebel final time is actually much faster than that of American Pharoah. Do we see a pattern here of Bob Baffert settling for a “good enough” performance in the Rebel and then aiming to make the final prep race the best one?
Comparing Concert Tour to His Rivals This Weekend
Concert Tour’s main rival in the Arkansas Derby will be a horse he defeated easily in the Rebel. Habitual frontrunner Caddo River was asked to take a stalking position behind Concert Tour in the Rebel. Often these speedy types waste a lot of energy fighting their jockey in this scenario. Caddo River finished the race like a lot of restrained speed types: he tired badly down the stretch. Either he learned an important lesson from that and will cooperate more fully with jockey Florent Geroux this time around, or Geroux will just let him blast away early and hope he can carry that speed to the wire. Either way you should expect Caddo River to apply more pressure early and not let Concert Tour coast through the early stages.
If Caddo River is allowed to run full bore from the start, Concert Tour will face a true Grade 1 challenge. With his fastest half-time clocked at a modest 1:12.0, Concert Tour will need to channel the great Pharoah to handle a wicked 1:11.0 thrown at him by a freewheeling Caddo River.
Looking Ahead to the Kentucky Derby
The Arkansas Derby, even with a small field of six, should prove to be an important Kentucky Derby prep race. Concert Tour and Caddo River both have a shot at meeting or exceeding the Gold Standard I lay out in The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby.
To see the accuracy of that standard in years past, I’ll be posting free excerpts from my prior Kentucky Derby Previews at LazyBettorUSA.com. Or you can read the full 2015 preview for free at Smashwords.com.