Kentucky Derby Prep School: Omaha Beach looks to have that crucial quality

Omaha Beach: trainer Richard Mandella has been moved to excitement over his work. Benoit photo

The G1 Arkansas Derby is the final race in Kentucky Derby qualification that awards 100 points to the winner. As a result, the final few places in the big race are still up for grabs, not least for the two horses likely to dominate the market for this absorbing contest.

As we have done throughout this series, in this final episode we present a look at the most likely winner, together with a suggested value play. The record of value plays for all races is as follows:

  • Limonite (G2 Risen Star) 5th, 17.5-1
  • Bourbon War (G2 Fountain of Youth) 2nd, 4.3-1
  • HAIKAL (G3 Gotham) WON, 4.4-1
  • Outshine (G2 Tampa Bay Derby) 2nd, 6.1-1
  • Galilean (G2 Rebel Stakes Div 1) 3rd, 3.6-1
  • OMAHA BEACH (G2 Rebel Stakes Div 2) WON, 4.4-1
  • Spinoff (G2 Louisiana Derby) 2nd, 4.3-1
  • MAXIMUM SECURITY (G1 Florida Derby) WON, 4.8-1
  • Hoffa’s Union (G2 Wood Memorial) 7th, 8.7-1
  • Somelikeithotbrown (G2 Blue Grass) 4th, 9.8-1
  • Nolo Contesto (G1 Santa Anita Derby) 4th, 16.2-1


RACE: $1 million G1 Arkansas Derby
TRACK: Oaklawn Park, Arkansas
DISTANCE: One mile, one furlong
DESCRIPTION: Regional final fed by G3 Smarty Jones (Jan 25), G3 Southwest (Feb 18) and G2 Rebel (two divisions, Mar 16) 

Top choice: OMAHA BEACH

It’s the writer’s view that Game Winner and OMAHA BEACH are the best two 3-year-old colts in the U.S. The pair ran 1-2 in the second division of the G2 Rebel Stakes when the run of the race favoured the latter.

There was nothing in it, and Game Winner’s subsequent defeat in the G1 Santa Anita Derby should do nothing to dent confidence: the son of Candy Ride was clearly the best horse in the race after discounting both ground loss, and the effect of pace multiplied by that ground loss (world #2 Mike Smith was brilliant on the winner, taking back in the hottest part of the race).

This belief will be tested here. World #2 Bob Baffert, Game Winner’s trainer, pitches another really good horse at Omaha Beach in the shape of Improbable. The latter was defeated by Long Range Toddy in the first division of the Rebel, running a very similar time to Omaha Beach.

Baffert adds blinkers this time, in the belief that Improbable hung the latch in his last race here at Oaklawn. That may be the case, but both divisions of the Rebel were run at less than all-out pace for a dirt race, and it is surely a knock against Improbable that he could not hold on from a horse who did not own the same G1-winning credentials coming in. Derby horses must not just prove they can stay the longer distances thrust upon them as 3-year-olds, but they need to improve for them.

Certainly, Omaha Beach appears to be just that type of colt. Close inspection of the film last time shows that, although Game Winner closed on him in the stretch, he was actually much the stronger of the two horses after the line. Since then, trainer Richard Mandella – he of the four winners at Breeders’ Cup 2003 – has been moved to excitement over the colt’s works. Visually, Omaha Beach appears to be moving within himself in these workouts, but the times keep coming back as the fastest of the morning.

Value pick: GALILEAN

We did not do very well in this section last week, mainly because the three trials turned out to be pretty chalky. No excuses then, but two of the three went to the top choice, while Roadster is certainly not a horse who will ever offer value, given his sky-high reputation.

With ‘must do better’ on the report card – heck, we are still in profit for all 11 bets – the horse for one last hurrah is GALILEAN, who was put up in this section when running third to Long Range Toddy (inside trip there, drawn very wide today) and Improbable (likely a much shorter price here) in the aforementioned division one of the Rebel.

The writer really likes this colt. He’s not, as his name suggests, by the great Galileo, but instead by Uncle Mo, who flew high in the TRC Global Rankings for sires – he reached world #7 on April 23, 2017 – before slumping to his present #77. But is still capable of getting a good horse.

Galilean may not have been quite at his best when Improbable beat him. This time, he is three pounds better off, an advantage likely to be not reflected in the odds (traditional U.S. horseplayers consider it night on irrelevant, but fortunately the laws of physics work in the U.S. too). True, he was beaten by more than two lengths by Improbable there, but, as previously pointed out, his victory in the listed King Glorious Stakes at Los Alamitos in January was much inferior to Improbable’s in the G1 Futurity there over a slightly longer trip.

Galilean made all there. He is out of a mare by El Prado, and the feeling is that the Rebel did not quite draw out the stamina in him. But the main point is that he did not break sharply. See how you think that affected his chance yourself:

Surely Galilean will go well. He will need some luck to beat the top two. That is for sure. But the odds will provide some compensation for that.

Previously in this series

Who might have learned enough to shine in the Risen Star?
Hidden Scroll must show he’s up to it between the ears
Can Instagrand repay some welcome independent thinking?
Is this a Bob Baffert benefit?
Now the better stayers start to come into their own
Can Hidden Scroll take his second chance?
Analysis of a crucial weekend

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