2023 Kentucky Derby favorite Arabian Knight current situation

In three months’ time, it’ll all be over, and we will have a new Kentucky Derby winner to wonder at. There’s a long way to go yet, though, and in the latest of our weekly updates on the Derby scene we discuss the Bob Baffert factor regarding the favorite Arabian Knight, run the rule over some new names in the frame, and look ahead to the first of the 50-point ‘win-and-in’ Derby preps coming up at the Fair Grounds a week on Saturday. In this weekly update, we’ll discuss the 2023 Kentucky Derby favorite current situation.

Kentucky Derby

G1, $3,000,000, 1m 2f dirt, 3yo, Churchill Downs, May 6

The professionals say that where the Derby is concerned, it all happens after February 1, so here we are waiting for it all to happen. And to be fair, some big things have already happened.

We have a solid favorite on three-year-old form, with Arabian Knight (+700) at the head of the listings after a very impressive wire-to-wire takedown of the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park over a mile-sixteenth. The son of Uncle Mo splashed through the Arkansas puddles to reinforce the good impression he made on his debut, winning by five and a half lengths from a solid yardstick in Red Route One, and if he wasn’t a Bob Baffert horse the enthusiasm would be even stronger.

But he is a Bob Baffert horse, and must move barns to a – let’s face facts, without prejudice – lesser trainer before the end of this month otherwise he’s out of the big race. Unless Arabian Knight goes to Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Brad Cox, or Bill Mott, it’s a step down from Baffert and his chance must depreciate accordingly. Factor that into your bets.

Arabian Knight’s barnmate and owner-mate Hejazi (+2500) has been the subject of considerable support in the last week, although his victory in a sprint maiden at Santa Anita doesn’t really scream ‘Derby’ in the same way that Arabian Knight sets up a holler. Like Tapit Trice (+2500), a Pletcher contender whose odds have contracted sharply since his slashing eight-length score in an allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream Park last week, Hejazi is good but not definitively good, not Derby-good, not yet.

Perhaps his odds took a hit because two of his classier barnmates may not make it to Churchill Downs. G2 San Vicente winner Havnameltdown (+1000) is a sprinter and dual G1 winner Cave Rock (+1700) hasn’t been seen on the worktab this year, and time is quickly running out. He’s galloping but not breezing, and it remains to be seen whether he is considered ready to join the mini-exodus from Baffert’s barn that would signify earnest.

What else is moving in Derby world? Last week’s G3 Holy Bull winner Rocket Can (+5000) is in the game but that form isn’t super-strong, G3 Robert B. Lewis winner Newgate (+3500), who could yet give superstar rider Frankie Dettori a big Derby chance in his final year in the saddle, is in the same position regarding a new trainer as Arabian Knight, while seven-furlong G3 Swale winner General Jim (+6000) showed promise but needs to show it again in much more testing company. So does Geaux Rocket Ride (+4000), who made an eye-catching debut when winning a six-furlong Santa Anita maiden and drew money on the back of it; file him under ‘could be anything, good or not so good’.

The next step will weed a few out, and sow a few in. Saturday’s preps at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs, and Golden Gate Fields may not show us a great deal, but a week later the G2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds could well bring together Brad Cox barnmates Verifying (+4000), a half-brother to champion Midnight Bisou, and the unbeaten Victory Formation (+2500), plus Arabian Knight benchmark Red Route One (+7500) and possibly the hitherto hugely disappointing Echo Again (+8000), who’s in for a quick drink in the last-chance saloon.

The winner gets 50 Road to the Kentucky Derby points and a certain place in the gate on Derby day. Oh, it’s all happening now.

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Leading Kentucky Derby Horses

Arabian Knight (RTKD points 0) trainer: Bob Baffert

Won G3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park, going gate-to-wire for very impressive score by five and a half lengths; unbeaten in two, stays a mile-sixteenth.

Forte (40) Todd Pletcher

Champion two-year-old colt with three G1 wins – the Hopeful at Saratoga, the Breeders’ Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland; will restart in the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on March 4.

Havnameltdown (0) Bob Baffert

Won G2 San Vicente at Santa Anita over seven furlongs, but is regarded as a sprinter and not expected to pursue the Kentucky Derby trail.

Cave Rock (0) Bob Baffert

Dual G1 winner – Del Mar Futurity and American Pharoah – and runner-up to Forte in G1 BC Juvenile at Keeneland; yet to have a workout in 2023.

Faustin (0) Bob Baffert

Runner-up in seven-furlong G2 San Vicente; bred to appreciate stretching out and next start, around two turns, will be crucial to his Derby hopes.

Instant Coffee (32) Brad Cox

Won G3 Lecomte at the Fair Grounds over a mile-sixteenth in typically tenacious style, nothing flashy about this colt; next stop the G2 Louisiana Derby back in New Orleans on March 25.

Loggins (4) Brad Cox

Runner-up to Forte in G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland; suffered minor setback and has disappeared from the radar, with time running out.

Extra Anejo (0) Steve Asmussen

Very easy – nine and a half lengths – winner at Keeneland over seven furlongs on only start; the G2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on March 25 is next.

Hejazi (0) Bob Baffert

G1-placed but only broke maiden on fourth start, comfortable score at Santa Anita over six and a half furlongs; wait and see until he stretches out for new trainer.

Tapit Trice (0) Todd Pletcher

$1.3m yearling purchase, easy winner of Gulfstream Park allowance optional claimer; stays a mile and choice of points prep will be very interesting.

Victory Formation (10) Brad Cox

Led all the way to win the ungraded Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park over a mile; the next step could be the G2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds a week on Saturday.

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