Crunch time. The clock is ticking toward the Kentucky Derby – just three weeks away – and final tickets stand to be punched after Saturday’s Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
The Arkansas Derby offers 100 points to the winner toward a spot in the starting gate the first Saturday in May, while Keeneland’s Stonestreet Lexington Stakes gives 20 and could produce a starter for America’s greatest race.
There’s plenty of other action on tap, with a strong undercard at Oaklawn including a rematch of Whitmore and C Z Rocket and stakes from Aqueduct, Fonner and Mahoning Valley to keep you busy.
Everything starts overseas, where it's Grand National Day at Aintree with the usual loaded card.
Here’s the primer for Saturday, April 10. Be safe and good luck.
Aintree. Race 1. 8:45 a.m. Grand National Day begins here. Twenty-two runners line up for the opening Grade 3 EFT Systems Handicap Hurdle.
Aintree. Race 2. 9:25. Will Rachael Blackmore enjoy another stellar Saturday? She rides favorite Ballyadam in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle. Jay Bee Why impressed us in his maiden hurdle win back in December.
Aintree. Race 3. 10:00. Shishkin returns for the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase after a facile win in the Arkle at Cheltenham.
HRRN. 10:00. Sean Clancy is In the Room with jockey Jon Court. Listen here.
Aintree. Race 4. 10:35. And the curtain closes. Tom O’Brien picks up the ride on Thyme Hill after regular rider Richard Johnson retired last weekend. The five-time winner missed Cheltenham and should be potent in the Grade 1 Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle. The end of an era.
Aintree. Race 5. 11:15. Fifteen handicap chasers clash in the Grade 3 Betway Handicap Chase.
Aintree. Race 6. 12:15 p.m. The big one. The Grade 3 Randox Grand National. Sit back and enjoy the spectacle of 40 horses, 30 fences and 4 1/2 miles.
Oaklawn Park. Race 1. 1:02. Arkansas Derby Day starts with 6-furlong maiden for Arkansas-breds.
Keeneland Race Course. Race 1. 1:05. The second Saturday of the spring meet starts with $40,000 sprint claimer.
Aintree. Race 7. 1:20. The finale. Hope you’re ahead.
Aqueduct. Race 2. 1:53. Great to see grass racing back in New York. Here’s a 9-furlong maiden for fillies and mares.
Mahoning Valley Race Course. Race 5. 2:06. The co-featured $75,000 Cheryl S. White Memorial for fillies and mares. Ben Colebrook runs Prodigy Doll, fourth in Smart Halo last fall at Laurel, for the first time in her 2021 debut. Tivis improved to 2-for-2 last time and could be the one to beat.
Oaklawn. Race 3. 2:08. Eight fillies and mares for $93,000 maiden at 6 furlongs.
Keeneland. Race 3. 2:12. Turnagain Tide, a $750,000 Into Mischief yearling, chased highlight regarded Idol in debut last September at Churchill and makes second start in 1-mile maiden for Brad Cox.
Mahoning Valley. Race 6. 2:34. Esplanande, second in last year’s Grade 1 Spinaway and second to Tivis in her comeback, veers away from that one to take on males in the $75,000 Howard B. Noonan at the same 6-furlong trip.
Oaklawn. Race 4. 2:42. The high-dollar maiden races keep coming, here’s one for 3-year-olds at 6 furlongs that lures Following Sea from California for Bob Baffert.
Keeneland. Race 4. 2:45. Typical tough turf allowance for 3-year-olds with Juddmonte entry of Fulsome and Floriform leading the way.
Aqueduct. Race 4. 3:00. Fresco, a a winner at Saratoga last summer (left, Tod Marks Photo) and finalist for champion New York-bred honors in the 3-year-old filly division (did you see this year’s commemorative program, produced by the team at The Saratoga Special for the NYTB?), returns in 6-furlong state-bred turf allowance.
Aqueduct. Race 5. 3:32. Horologist, a multiple graded stakes winner last year before finishing ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, returns against Queen Nekia and Mrs. Danvers in the $100,000 Top Flight Invitational.
Oaklawn. Race 6. 3:55. Frank’s Rockette, winner of the American Beauty, takes on Edgeway, Casual and three others in the $250,000 Carousel to lead off the stakes.
Gulfstream Park. Race 7. 4:18. Jimmy Toner, we’re going to miss him again this summer at Saratoga (check out our 2021 publishing schedule), sends out first-time starter See Out in 9-furlong turf maiden.
Keeneland. Race 7. 4:24. Night Ops is short price on the morning line for the Grade 3 Ben Ali despite not winning since July 5 in the Grade 3 Cornhusker. He meets just four in first stakes of the day, including Silver Dust and Beau Liminarie.
Oaklawn. Race 7. 4:29. Skip Intro improved from first start to second start before a freshening. Now the Liam’s Map colt makes return in 6-furlong maiden for Ron Moquett.
Keeneland. Race 8. 4:57. Elle Z won a turf sprint allowance at last year’s fall meet and returns for the $100,000 Giant’s Causeway off a win in off-the-turf stakes at Fair Grounds. Wesley Ward, off to his usual strong start at the meet, sends out Karak potentially at a price with John Velazquez.
Aqueduct. Race 8. 5:19. Rinaldi, another finalist for champion New York-bred honors last year for Team Bond, makes 2021 debut against open company in $100,000 Danger’s Hour. Decorated Invader and Analyze It won’t make the task easy in the least. The former won three stakes in a row last spring and summer, including the Grade 2 Hall of Fame at Saratoga, while the latter finished a close third in 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile before a near two-year layoff and a victory in last September’s Grade 3 Red Bank at Monmouth.
Gulfstream. Race 9. 5:22. Still plenty of top barns in South Florida. Consider this 7 ½-furlong turf maiden with runners for Todd Pletcher (Jet Speed), Michael Matz (Kake’scharmingboy), Christophe Clement (Voodoo Zip) and Brendan Walsh (Counterstrike).
Keeneland. Race 9. 5:30. The Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington. A lot of water over the dam since Charismatic used the Lexington as steppingstone to Kentucky Derby and Preakness success. There are 20 points on the line for a spot in the Kentucky Derby field here, although 1 1/16-mile co-feature looks more like a Preakness prep these days. Proxy sits 20th on the current list with 34, so he could get into the conversation with a victory.
Fonner Park. Race 8. 5:39. Judge On The Run and Love At Night, 1-2 in the Orphan Kist, meet again in the $15,000 Runza. Same for First Alternate and Such Great Heights, 1-2 in the Bold Accent. The latter pair are favored over the former.
Oaklawn. Race 9. 5:49. Wells Bayou (left, Coady Photography), last year’s Louisiana Derby winner who finished fifth in a division of the Arkansas Derby, takes on last year’s Oaklawn Handicap winner By My Standards, Pat Day Mile winner Rushie, Blackberry Wine and others in $400,000 Oaklawn Mile.
Keeneland. Race 10. 6:03. Micheline looks to keep strong season rolling for Mike Stidham and Godolphin in the Grade 1 Coolmore Jenny Wiley. Homebred daughter of Bernardini comes off win in the Grade 2 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs and meets Tamahere and Etoile for Chad Brown, Juliet Foxtrot for Brad Cox and La Signare for Brendan Walsh.
Fonner. Race 9. 6:06. The $20,000 Dowd Mile. Mr. Tickle and Blue Harbor, a neck apart in the Tondi, are back for 1-mile feature.
Keeneland. Race 11. 6:38. Finish the day with 7-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds. Chad Brown sends out Stage Raider, Pioneerof The Nile colt and half brother to Triple Crown winner Justify, for his second start.
Santa Anita Park. Race 6. 6:47. Exaulted, third in the Grade 2 San Carlos, drops in class for 7-furlong optional.
Oaklawn. Race 11. 7:05. Time for the rematch. Whitmore, last year’s champion male sprinter, and C Z Rocket have split their last two decisions. The former won the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint while the latter scored minor upset last time in the Hot Springs. They meet again in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, a race Whitmore has won three of the last four years.
Oaklawn. Race 12. 7:41. The headlining $1 million Arkansas Derby. Concert Tour romped in the Grade 2 Rebel (right, Coady Photography) and takes on stablemate Hozier again, along with Super Stock, Caddo River and Get Her Number. How good is Concert Tour? We might not know since he's meeting almost the same field, but he'll undoubtedly go to Louisville with a lot of buzz if he gets it done again.
Oaklawn. Race 13. 8:16. Two-turn maiden for 3-year-olds closes the card.