Recent trends in the Arkansas Derby

March 29th, 2022

The $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) will have its earliest running in decades this Saturday, moving from a prep three weeks out from the Kentucky Derby (G1) to five weeks. Here are a couple of trends worth noting about the race since 2010, plus a special look at filly participation given the presence of Secret Oath in this week's edition.

Winners have been favorites or big longshots

There have been 13 editions of the Arkansas Derby since 2010 (two divisions were held in 2020), and there has been almost no middle ground when it comes to the pari-mutuel payoffs on the winners.

During the span in question, the race has been won by the post-time favorite seven times. Another five editions were won by horses that started at double-digit odds, ranging from 11-1 to 41-1. The only horse in the "middle," so to speak, was 2013 winner Overanalyze, who started as the 3.70-1 second choice.

Asmussen longshots

North America's all-time winningest trainer, Steve Asmussen, has been an Oaklawn mainstay for years, and his horses are routinely well supported at all levels. That said, it's interesting to note that his two latest Arkansas Derby successes were both among the double-digit winners since 2010.

Creator, who later captured the Belmont S. (G1), was an 11-1 winner for Asmussen in 2016, while Super Stock upset five rivals last year at odds of 12-1.

Asmussen's lone entrant this week, Chasing Time, does not figure to be among the top several choices in the wagering.

Lukas fillies

As noted in this space a couple weeks ago, Secret Oath's presence in the 2022 edition of the Arkansas Derby brings to mind Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas' multiple attempts in the 1980s to win this very same race with a filly.

Unfortunately, drawing comparisons between Althea (1984), who won, and Family Style (1986), who ran third, with Secret Oath is not possible given the differences in training philosophy between the two eras and the situations involved.

Althea, the reigning juvenile filly champion in her year, shipped to Arkansas after winning both early-season stakes appearances against fillies at Santa Anita. After finishing a luckless second in the Fantasy (G1), where she lost her footing at the start and encountered additional trouble down the backside, Althea was wheeled back a week later for the Arkansas Derby and dominated by seven lengths. She set a hot pace and equaled the 1 1/8-mile track record at the time (1:46 4/5).

Family Style was also the reigning juvenile champion when facing the Arkansas Derby starter two years later, but had lost six in a row and gone unplaced in three of her prior four starts. She, too, was wheeled back a week after losing the Fantasy as the favorite, and actually did well to finish third against the boys in the Derby over a sloppy track.

Unlike Secret Oath, both Althea and Family Style had prior experience facing the boys. Althea won both the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (G2) and Del Mar Futurity (G1) by wide margins, though she was a dull sixth in the Hollywood Futurity (G1). Family Style also contested the Hollywood Futurity, where she finished a well-beaten sixth in a race that included future classic winners Snow Chief and Ferdinand.

Another difference is that Secret Oath is the probable favorite on Saturday. In contrast, both Althea and Family Style were hunters, rather than the hunted, from a pari-mutuel perspective. Althea was the 3-1 second choice in the wagering behind future Preakness (G1) winner Gate Dancer, who ran third, while Family Style was part of a 2.90-1 entry that was second choice in the wagering to Wheatly Hall, who finished second.