04/16/2016 9:13PM

Much-improved Creator upsets Arkansas Derby

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Creator, under Ricardo Santana Jr., goes from last to first in the Arkansas Derby, earning a berth in the Kentucky Derby.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Less than two months ago, about to make the sixth start of his career, Creator was still winless. But over the past seven weeks, the talent at which he had hinted, that caused him to be favored in four of his first six races, finally started coming to the fore.

His progress coincided with his arrival here at Oaklawn Park, and on Saturday, Creator showed just how far he had come in that time by winning the meet’s biggest race, the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, earning a berth in the May 7 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

 Creator ($25.20) rallied from last in the 12-horse field under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., took the lead a furlong out, and held safe Suddenbreakingnews - who closed from 10th -  to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Whitmore, 11th after a half-mile, finished third, another 1 1/2 lengths back, in a race where late runners swept the trifecta.

 Creator thus put a gray son of Tapit in the winner’s circle following the race, but it wasn’t the one heavily favored to be there. Cupid, conqueror of Creator in the Rebel and the 4-5 favorite, folded after prompting a hot pace and wound up 10th.

 In a race worth 170 points overall, and 100 to the winner, the results vaulted Creator, Suddenbreakingnews, and Whitmore into the top 20 on the points list – compiled by Churchill Downs -- that is now finalized after all 34 scoring races have been completed. Cupid is also in the top 20, but his status in the Derby is highly in question following such a poor performance.

 A maximum of 20 can run in the Derby, so the scoreboard watching and defections will be of paramount importance to those on the bubble between now and entry time May 4. Creator is safely in, improving at the right time, and clearly will benefit from the Derby’s 1 1/4 miles after finishing well for third in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel and first in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby.

 “He’s a horse who’s getting good at the right time,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Creator for the WinStar Farm of Kenny Troutt. “I loved the way he came home and went through the wire.

 “It’s obvious how much more distance has helped him,” Asmussen said.

 Creator completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:50.14. By comparison, the older horse Effinex covered the same distance in 1:49.00 when winning the Oaklawn Handicap earlier on the card.

 Creator’s cause was aided by a hot early pace set by Gettysburg, who crossed over from the outside post and took the lead into the first turn, setting fractions of 22.81 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.33 for a half, and 1:10.61 for six furlongs. He hung in bravely to finish fifth – a half-length behind fourth-place Dazzling Gem – but Cupid, who was second and just to his outside through the first six furlongs, tired badly and beat just two horses.

 “Empty. He was done at the three-eighths today,” said Martin Garcia, who rode Cupid. “He was too anxious today going to the gate.”

 Creator gives Asmussen his second Derby contender. He also has Gun Runner, who won the Louisiana Derby last month.

Creator won for the first time on Feb. 27 at Oaklawn in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race, just 15 days after he had a tough trip finishing second in a maiden race at Fair Grounds. He came back three weeks later and was a late-running third in the Rebel.

 “He’s done extremely well here,” Asmussen said. “The Rebel was his third race in five weeks at two different racetracks, and the month into this race gave him a little bit of a break.

 “Now he’ll come back in three weeks. Fitness will come into play.”

 Creator was scheduled to fly to Kentucky on Sunday. He will head straight to Churchill Downs, where he will try to continue his upward trajectory in the biggest race in which he’ll ever compete.