04/18/2016 3:21PM

Road to the Derby: Arkansas Derby

Coady Photography
Creator wins the Arkansas Derby and earns a career-high 96 Beyer Figure.

Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby; 1 1/8 miles; Oaklawn; April 16, 2016
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Creator, by Tapit
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Owner: WinStar Farm LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 96

CREATOR, third behind CUPID and WHITMORE four weeks earlier in the Rebel, continued his forward progress this spring by capturing the Arkansas Derby, the last of the 34 races in which horses could earn points toward a berth in the 2016 Kentucky Derby on May 7.

Creator was still a maiden on the morning of Feb. 27, but he won that day, came back to finish third in the Rebel on March 19, and then won the biggest race of the meet at Oaklawn, with his Beyer Figures improving in those three races from 80 to 90 to a career-best 96.

A scalding pace – 22.81 seconds, 46.33, 1:10.61 - that odds-on favorite Cupid failed to handle resulted in a race shape in which the first three finishers were among the four farthest behind after six furlongs. Creator certainly benefited from that scenario. He also will be coming back in just three weeks for the Kentucky Derby. In his favor is that he is getting better with every race and doesn’t look like he’ll be hampered at all going out to 1 1/4 miles.

In the Arkansas Derby, Creator had no early speed leaving the gate and trailed into the first turn. Still last into the far turn, he began to close ground while initially saving ground and then was gradually angled off the rail to wind up about four paths wide into the lane. He was angled even wider in upper stretch to go around DAZZLING GEM, brushed with Whitmore, emerged with the lead a furlong out, and was under heavy urging to prevail. For a horse who comes from well out of it, he had a fairly clean trip.

Runner-up SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, the victim of traffic trouble in the Rebel when fifth, had no early speed, per usual, and was ninth into the first turn while in the clear and toward the inside. He was asked to go with three furlongs remaining, but was initially outrun by Whitmore to his outside and Creator to his inside while three paths wide, had one horse beat entering the lane while being angled six paths wide, then closed well down in the center of the track. It took him awhile to get going but he ran on well the final quarter-mile in a race that flattered his closing charge.

Whitmore, who was third, was squeezed between horses shortly after the start and took a wicked stumble, likely from clipping heels, and went into the first turn in 10th, just behind and to the outside of Suddenbreakingnews. Still well back with three furlongs to go, he began to rally four paths wide, was fanned about five wide into the lane, brushed with Creator in midstretch, and couldn’t quite go with the top two in the final sixteenth.

Dazzling Gem, who was fourth, was rated in mid-pack while just off the rail into the first turn. He commenced a rally four paths wide on the far turn, was already under heavy punishment a quarter-mile out, was right with the leaders a furlong out, but tired in deep stretch. He’s been asked to do a lot in a short amount of time. He’s currently on the outside looking in on the Derby points list, and the best thing for his development might be staying on the outside.

GETTYSBURG, who was fifth, ran well considering the race shape. He broke well from his outside post, initially was on his wrong lead, but switched over before reaching the finish the first time while outrunning Cupid to the turn and securing the rail. He set fast fractions, even with John Velazquez trying to take a decent hold of him, was allowed to roll along nearing the far turn, turned back Cupid a quarter-mile out, led to just outside the furlong pole, but understandably tired from his early efforts. He is owned by the same people who own Creator and ended up helping set the table for Creator.

DISCREETNESS, who was sixth, broke toward his left leaving his inside stall but was quickly corrected by Jon Court, had no early speed and was only in front of Creator into the first turn, was even with Suddenbreakingnews with a half-mile go to, was angled about five paths wide into the lane, was squeezed back between Creator and Whitmore in upper stretch while unable to match strides with them at that point, and went evenly thereafter.

CUTACORNER, who was seventh, bobbled a bit leaving the gate, was on the rail while mid-pack around the first turn, saved ground on the far turn, had to wait a moment in traffic about five-sixteenths out, got a dream run inside in upper stretch, raced on his wrong lead through the lane and lacked a sufficient rally.

GRAY SKY, who finished eighth, was a bit anxious in the saddling paddock. He bumped with Cupid leaving the gate, went into the first turn just behind the leaders while three paths wide, advanced on the leaders while three paths wide on the far turn, was second entering the lane, but tired through the stretch.

AMERICAN PIONEER, who was ninth, was forwardly placed on the first turn, just behind Gettysburg while hugging the rail. He stayed in that ideal spot down the backstretch and through the far turn, but was simply outrun with zero excuse. This was only his third start, so it was a big ask.

Cupid, who was 10th, wasn’t as quick leaving the gate as those adjacent to him and got bounced around a bit, was outrun in those initial strides by Gettysburg and had to check off Gettysburg’s heels nearing the finish line the first time, secured a stalking position just behind and outside Gettysburg around the first turn, stayed in that spot down the backstretch, was asked for his best beginning midway on the far turn, but never could get past Gettysburg, then faded through the lane. He subsequently was found to have an entrapped epiglottis and was removed from consideration for the Derby.

UNBRIDLED OUTLAW, who was 11th, was just behind the leaders in an ideal stalking spot around the first turn, stayed there to the far turn, started to lose ground midway on the far turn, and readily backed up in a poor try.

LUNA DE LOCO, who finished last of 12, brushed with Cupid leaving the gate, then an eighth of a mile into the race had to check sharply, losing position. He raced three paths wide while mid-pack around the first turn, started to give way midway down the backstretch, and was trailing badly by the time the field reached the stretch.