Arabian Knight in Good Order After “American Pharoah-type” Score in Southwest

January 29, 2023

Arabian Knight lives up to the hype in the G3 Southwest (Coady Photography)

By Robert Yates – Oaklawn Barn Notes

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Oaklawn, Protege’s name was curiously missing when entries came out Jan. 23.

Asked why late Saturday morning, Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, the colt’s trainer, whimsically responded: “He caught a case of Arabian Knight flu.”

Roughly 5 ½ hours later, Moquett’s medical opinion was validated when heavily favored Arabian Knight, under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, cruised to a front-running 5 ½-length victory in the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races, and remain unbeaten in two lifetime starts. 

“He came out great,” Baffert said via text Sunday morning.

Arabian Knight ($2.80) represented the record sixth Southwest victory for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and his record-extending 19th overall in a Kentucky Derby points race at Oaklawn. The Southern California-based Baffert was richly rewarded – again – with an 11th-hour decision to ship another swift 3-year-old to Oaklawn.

Arabian Knight was under consideration for the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) at 7 furlongs Sunday at Santa Anita before Baffert opted for another road trip following the colt’s 5-furlong workout there Jan. 21. News broke the following day that Arabian Knight would make his 3-year-old, stakes and two-turn debut in the Southwest.

“That’s why I decided at the last minute,” Baffert said in the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle following the Southwest. “What I do is I nominate my horses everywhere and whoever’s doing great that week gets on a plane.”

Arabian Knight, as a heavy favorite, was a front-running 7 ¼-length winner of his Nov. 5 career debut at Keeneland. Racing over a fast main track on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, Arabian Knight covered 7 furlongs in 1:21.98 to generate an eye-catching 97 Beyer Speed Figure. Baffert brought him up to the Southwest off workouts, eight at Santa Anita since Nov. 28. Arabian Knight received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 96 for the Southwest.

“His first performance was off the charts, but I gave him a lot of time in between,” Baffert said. “I’ve been just bringing him along at a very easy pace. It was good. You give them time between races.”

Next-race plans for Arabian Knight are pending, Baffert said. Arabian Knight is owned Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. (Amr F. Zedan), which purchased the son of champion Uncle Mo for a sale-topping $2.3 million at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training.

“There’s no rush,” Baffert said. “I just want to keep him healthy and happy. You saw what he did today. It was like an American Pharoah-type race.”

American Pharoah, an Eclipse Award winner at 2 for Baffert, made his 3-year-old debut in Oaklawn’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles in 2015. After bobbling at the start, American Pharoah shot to the front, controlled the pace and rolled home by 6 ¼ lengths over a sloppy, sealed surface. American Pharoah ($2.80) covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.78. He returned to Oaklawn to dominate the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) before sweeping the Triple Crown and securing Horse of the Year honors.

Arabian Knight also raced over a sloppy, sealed surface Saturday after light rain began falling about 15 minutes before racing began at noon (Central). Pressed from the start by long shot Frosted Departure, Arabian Knight was able to clear the field from post 6 entering the first turn and held a 1 ½-length lead after a solid :46.82 half-mile. Arabian Knight shook a stubborn Frosted Departure approaching the eighth pole and drew off in the final sixteenth of a mile. The winning time was 1:43.50.

“I just read the horse,” Baffert said. “He was telling me. I was going to run him seven-eighths tomorrow and I thought: ‘You know what? This horse was ready to go a mile. He’s ready to go two turns right now.’ And a matter of fact, Johnny told me when he won at Keeneland I had him fit enough to go a mile. He’s a superior 3-year-old.”

The Southwest offered 40 points (20-8-6-4-2, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.  Arabian Knight was ineligible for Southwest qualifying points because of Baffert’s two-year suspension by Churchill Downs. It stems from his Medina Spirit being disqualified from a 2021 Kentucky Derby victory because of a medication violation. The case is under appeal.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1. Unbeaten Victory Formation (3 for 3) captured the first race in the series, the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1, for trainer Brad Cox.

In addition to the Southwest, Baffert has won the Rebel a record eight times and has four victories in the Arkansas Derby. He’s also won the Smarty Jones once. Cox (four) and Baffert (three) have combined to win seven of Oaklawn’s last 10 Kentucky Derby points races. Cox could have multiple Rebel starters.

“We’ll definitely have something here for the Rebel,” Baffert said.

Arabian Knight is the most lightly raced horse Baffert has brought to Oaklawn for a Kentucky Derby prep. He has had 41 starters.

Baffert’s appearance Saturday was his first for a race at Oaklawn since Arkansas Derby Day in 2011.

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