TO THE MOON
Unbeaten Magnum Moon returns home, points to Kentucky
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.
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.