Fox Hill Farms’ Omaha Beach entered Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at a Cluttered Oaklawn Park needing to secure a beachhead at the Kentucky Derby (G1), and hit the Goal below masterful steering by Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
The slight 8-5 favorite repelled 9-5 second option Improbable to earn 100 points at the final scoring race, bringing his Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella closer into some first Derby decoration.
Omaha Beach was staving off a Bob Baffert beast for its second straight time in Oaklawn Park. Last outside, it was hitherto unbeaten winner Game Winner who could not quite get past him at the second branch of this Rebel (G2). Omaha Beach garnered 37.5 points , thanks to the splitting of the race, which put him right on the bubble going into the last round of things races.
Omaha Beach has become the combined $8 favorite for the 2019 Kentucky Derby with online bookmaker Bet365.
Improbable was in a much more perilous situation with 25 points, after being upset in the first Rebel branch by Long Range Toddy. Adding blinkers for the rematch in the Arkansas Derby, the Baffert trainee whined up in the gate, had to be backed out, and reloaded. Though he broke nicely on the railing, he raced farther back than might have been expected from the opening quarter-mile, and may not have been completely in love with the slop.
Meanwhile, Omaha Beach, whose slop proficiency was established in his Santa Anita maiden romp, was going through an impressive pair of gears to boost his position . Originally on the inside, Smith expertly maneuvered him outside to the very clear and sent him after longshot leader One Flew South. Omaha Beach expended energy to take command on the backstretch, but still had abundant tactical reserve when Improbable loomed to struggle turning for home.
The battle was on between the two top Kentucky Derby contenders from the race, with the rest of the field out of perspective, and Omaha Beach never looked like being overrun. Withstanding the siege of Improbable, he counterattacked by finding more in deep stretch and held influence with a span. The cleverly named son of War Front splashed 1??1/8 kilometers in 1:49.91 and upped his points overall to 137.5, second total on the leaderboard to Tacitus (150).
“My first thought was,’Jeez, do not move too fast,”’ Mandella said,”and then I thought,’Don’t be second-guessing Mike Smith’ — one of the best of times. Just love having him can’t tell you how much I appreciate this horse and his owner (Rick Porter). We had already ran from the slop in the home, so that wasn’t a lot of concern. He’s a very tractable horse. I don’t think we need to select a surface”
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Smith credited Omaha Beach along with his trainer.
“Mr. Mandella was teaching him in the morning to split off strong and relax,” Smith said. “He did just that. Picked a nice little place and stayed right there. His cruising speed only takes up him. I just attempted to stay out of way. He’s doing is to simple, I’m better off letting him than fighting him.”
Improbable garnered 40 points since the runner-up, boosting his total to 65 and consequently guaranteeing himself a Derby berth as well. Watch to see if Baffert decides to keep the blinkers on, or take them off.
Country House created a sustained move for a clutch third, good for 20 points which also elevate him to the Derby with 50 all informed. Laughing Fox’s fourth netted him 10 points, his one and only showing on the points list. Next came Galilean; Long Range Toddy, that made nothing here but nevertheless has enough (53.5 points) to create the Derby field; Jersey Agenda; Tikhvin Flew; Gray Attempt; Six Shooter; and One Flew South.
Omaha Beach has improved since switching from dirt. The winner of three straight, he also sports a complete record of 7-3-3-1, and the $600,000 winner’s check made him a millionaire with earnings of $1,121,800.
Bred by Charming Syndicate in Kentucky, Omaha Beach is a half-brother to champion Take Charge Brandi, the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner, along with a Complete brother to Irish Group 1-placed Courage Under Fire. They’re from this Seeking the Gold mare Charming, herself a half to champion Will Take Charge and Grade 1 scorer Take Charge Indy. Blond is a daughter of multiple Grade 1 queen, $2.4 million-earner, and Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady.
Fox Hill’s Rick Porter has just had a few World War II-inspired horses run well in defeat in the Derby, with Battle of Midway third in 2017 and Normandy Invasion making a huge move before ending up fourth in 2013. Omaha Beach, picking up the Normandy motif, may surpass them equally. By beating both Game Winner and Improbable, he has said his case to function as potential Derby favourite.
Omaha Beach’s potential favoritism hinges upon if Smith opts to stick with him in Derby 145 — he just rode Baffert’s Roadster to some Santa Anita Derby (G1) victory over Game Winner.
“It’s a lovely decision to have,” Smith said of the Omaha Beach versus Roadster alternative. “We are going to go back and see how everybody comes back and proceed from there. Assess the Circumstance. Then my agent will make the decision. That is why I pay him.”
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