TO THE MOON

Un­beaten Mag­num Moon re­turns home, points to Kentucky

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - BOB WISENER

While his per­for­mance Satur­day at Oak­lawn Park may not have been visu­ally per­fect, Mag­num Moon still goes to Kentucky as an un­beaten Arkansas Derby win­ner.

Four lengths clear af­ter an early-evening stroll around the track, four-time win­ner Mag­num Moon so­lid­i­fied him­self as a top con­tender for the 144th Kentucky Derby May 5 at Churchill Downs.

De­spite not start­ing un­til Jan­uary, the Mal­ibu Moon colt earned 150 points in two prep races, 100 in the Grade 1 $1 mil­lion Arkansas Derby af­ter a 50-point pay­day in the Grade 2 $900,000 Rebel March 17.

Win­ning the Arkansas Derby a record fifth time, trainer Todd Pletcher strength­ened his hand for the Louisville clas­sic he has won twice.

Pletcher also trains Audi­ble and No­ble Indy, each with 110 points af­ter re­spec­tive Florida and Louisiana Derby vic­to­ries. Also point­ing to Kentucky is Vino Rosso (107), last-out win­ner of the Wood Memo­rial in New York. If all four race, Pletcher would set a Kentucky Derby record with 52 ca­reer starters, ty­ing the mark of 48 he shares with men­tor Wayne Lukas af­ter en­ter­ing four last year — and win­ning with Al­ways Dream­ing.

“It would be hard to imag­ine that we could have a much bet­ter last month, but we’re just very fortu-

nate and thank­ful and hope they can con­tinue to train well and stay healthy through the Derby,” Pletcher said.

Mag­num Moon, his busi­ness in Hot Springs done, re­turned Sun­day to his win­ter base at Palm Beach Downs in south Florida. He earned a pre­lim­i­nary Beyer Speed Fig­ure of 98, a ca­reer high, lead­ing from gate to wire un­der Luis Saez with a fast-rated nine fur­longs in 1:49.86 and car­ry­ing high weight of 122 pounds. The Kentucky Derby is 10 fur­longs, a mile and a quar­ter, with all starters car­ry­ing 126 pounds.

“He ate ev­ery oat last night and showed good en­ergy this morn­ing,” co-owner Robert Low said in a text to Louisville-based Horse Rac­ing Na­tion. “He flew out early.”

Bounc­ing on top from post six, with a long run to the first turn, Saez slowed the open­ing quar­ter-mile to 23.34 sec­onds and the first half-mile to 48.60 sec­onds.

With last-out Grade 2 win­ner Quip in clos­est pur­suit, Saez let out a notch on the far turn and Mag­num Moon led by two lengths at the head of the stretch. Though veer­ing to the mid­dle of the track, the bay colt in­creased his ad­van­tage to four lengths with no strong chal­lenge emerg­ing.

“Very pleased with the out­come,” Pletcher said by phone. “A lit­tle con­cerned that he drifted out the last part, but it looked like he sort of half­way thought about jump­ing over the tire marks when he went by the eighth pole, where the gate was, and sort of skipped over those.

“Aside from that, I thought he fin­ished with good en­ergy and was pulling away from some nice horses.”

Quip earned 40 points for a Derby start with his neck sec­ond over Rebel run­ner-up Solo­mini.

“My horse ran hard,” said Florent Ger­oux, rid­ing Quip for trainer Rodolphe Bris­set. “Solo­mini is a nice horse, too. I’m very sat­is­fied with (Quip’s) race.”

With 20 points for third place, Solo­mini (54) has punched his ticket to Churchill Downs with­out win­ning a stakes race. The Curlin colt rep­re­sents Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baf­fert, whose un­beaten Jus­tify, the Santa Anita Derby win­ner, is the pos­si­ble fa­vorite in Derby 144.

As in the Rebel, when also rid­den by Flavien Prat, Solo­mini im­proved his po­si­tion in the stretch when pass­ing horses.

“He didn’t break as sharply as we would have liked. He was third best to­day. The win­ner is a re­ally nice horse,” said Justin Zayat, rac­ing man­ager for Zayat Sta­bles LLC, co-owner of Solo­mini. ‘We’ll talk to Bob, but I thought it was a good race and now it’s on to Kentucky.”

In re­lated de­vel­op­ments, My Boy Jack, Oak­lawn’s Grade 3 South­west win­ner in Fe­bru­ary, qual­i­fied for the Derby with 20 points for win­ning Satur­day’s Grade 2 Lex­ing­ton Stakes at Keeneland. Keith De­sormeaux trains and brother Kent, a Hall of Fame jockey, rides the Cre­ative Cause colt, who to­taled 52 points in Derby preps.

Early-sea­son Oak­lawn win­ner Bravazo (54 points) also is in the Derby field thanks to his Fe­bru­ary vic­tory in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Lukas, a Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Derby win­ner, con­di­tions the Awe­some Again colt.

Four horses trained by Hall of Famer Steve As­mussen are on the bub­ble re­gard­ing the Kentucky Derby, Com­bat­ant (32) plac­ing fourth and Dream Baby Dream (20) sev­enth in the Arkansas Derby. Snap­per Sin­clair (22) and Reride (20) also need de­fec­tions to make the 20-horse field.

Sub­mit­ted photo

TO THE MOON: Jockey Luis Saez rides un­beaten Mag­num Moon to win the Grade 1 $1 mil­lion Arkansas Derby Satur­day at Oak­lawn Park and the lead in qual­i­fy­ing points for the Kentucky Derby, which will be run at Churchill Downs in Kentucky on May 5. Photo by Coady Pho­tog­ra­phy.

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