The 2020 Arkansas Derby has the green light from Arkansas authorities to take place this Saturday at Oaklawn Park. This top Kentucky Derby prep race has now been split into two divisions due to 22 horses entering. Two winners will walk away with enough qualifying points to be assured of a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Like most of the sports world, horse racing has been on hold during the COVID-19 crisis. A few Kentucky Derby prep races managed to sneak in right before more serious restrictions on live events were handed down. But for the past month, the sport has been quiet at a time when it’s usually drawing its most fervent attention.
That will change on Saturday with two divisions of the Arkansas Derby, held at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, take place one after another in the early evening hours. In previous years, the Arkansas Derby had always been a single-race event, but unique circumstances called for something different. Each of the two races on the schedule will carry a purse of $500,000 and will feature a field of 11 top three-year-olds.
Ironically, Saturday was the original scheduled date for the Kentucky Derby, which has been postponed to September 5th at Churchill Downs due to COVID-19. The two splits of the Arkansas Derby will give horses a chance to qualify for the Run for the Roses. With 170 qualifying points going for each winner, there is almost no possibility that the two winners Saturday will be kept out of the field in Kentucky should they be healthy enough to race at that time.
Each of the two divisions of the 2020 Arkansas Derby will take place at a distance of 1 1/8 miles on the dirt surface at Oaklawn Park. The first split takes place with a post time of approximately 6:29 PM ET. As for the second split, it will go off at 7:43 PM ET.
As is often the case in the world of American Thoroughbred racing, trainer Bob Baffert seems to be holding all the cards. Baffert trains the morning line, unbeaten favorites in each of the two divisions.
In the first division, Charlatan, winner of his first two career starts at Santa Anita, goes off as a prohibitive even-money favorite. Even though the three-year-old has not yet faced stakes competition, the impressive nature of his performances so far figures to earn him the bulk of the betting attention.
The second betting choice in the first division is Gouverneur Morris at 9-2, while Anneau d’Or gets the nod as the third choice at 6-1. Many in the field are deep long shots, which is a clue as to how highly-regarded Charlatan is.
In the second division, the odds are a little bit tighter. Baffert’s trainee Nadal, winner of all three of his races to date, gets the nod as the 5-2 favorite. But King Guillermo, a surprising winner in another Derby prep race, the Tampa Bay Derby, in his last start, is right behind him at 3-1.
Other top contenders in the second 2020 Arkansas Derby division include Wells Bayou, the 7-2 third choice who won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in his last start, and Storm The Court, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner.
Right now, there are no other Kentucky Derby prep races on the schedule between now and September. While some are expected to be added if restrictions are lifted somewhat, there is no guarantee that will happen.
As a result, all eyes in the horse racing world will be on the Arkansas Derby’s two races on Saturday, which should gather a lot of betting attention. Even casual racing fans, who might be missing other sports, could be watching closely. It figures to make for a memorable evening at Oaklawn Park.