How Special Is Arabian Knight?

January 31, 2023

Arabian Knight gallops Jan. 20 at Santa Anita (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

By Laura Pugh

A couple of weekends ago we had the Lecomte Stakes, last weekend we had Oaklawn Park’s Southwest Stakes. The race represents the start of Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series which also includes the Rebel Stakes in March, and the Arkansas Derby in April.

Oaklawn marks one of the most fruitful spots, not just for Kentucky Derby success, but for Triple Crown race success. The history of the races named above is littered with the names of stars such as Curlin, American Pharoah, Super Saver, Essential Quality, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, etc. 

This year, it looks as though another star could bloom from Oaklawn after Arabian Knight took the Southwest Stakes by a widening six lengths.

Of course, Arabian Knight might not make it to the Kentucky Derby, seeing as his trainer Bob Baffert, and all of his runners are unable to earn any qualifying points. However, that doesn’t mean that Arabian Knight can’t go on to have an enormous amount of success. 

Why am I so confident about this horse?

I’m so confident because Arabian Knight didn’t just win impressively. Don’t get me wrong, a graded stakes victory with only one prior start is already impressive, but that wasn’t the only thing Arabian Knight overcame. The Southwest Stakes also represented his second time shipping in as many starts, and his first time contesting a race in the slop. He also was stretching out from seven furlongs to 8.5 furlongs, or 1 1/16th miles. 

Any of these factors would phase most young horses. They could react badly to the shipping, get leg weary from the extra distance, or take a disliking to the off track. It happens to so many promising young talents, and it happens often. But it didn’t happen to this one. 

Arabian Knight could not have looked any smoother. His break was sharper than a tac, and he easily outran a hard-sent foe for the lead, and despite the quick nature of the early splits, the son of Uncle Mo had plenty left in the stretch. His final 1/16th of a mile, despite displaying some greenness down the stretch, was a snappy 6.25 seconds.

It’s not often that we see a young horse, no matter how talented, overcome so many obstacles with so little experience… let alone with such dominance. 

Another interesting fact that makes me believe we are watching something special is the actions of Bob Baffert, Arabian Knight’s trainer. 

In his first start, Baffert was interviewed before the race about his instructions to jockey Johnny Velasquez before the race. He said, “I told him to ride him like he rode Uncle Mo because that’s how this colt runs.” Considering how talented Uncle Mo was, and how dominant he was as a juvenile, that is some confident talk and high praise. 

Secondly, Baffert had horses running all over the country last weekend. He had starters at Santa Anita, in the San Vicente, and Defunded in the 3 million dollar Pegasus World Cup. Despite that, he chose to come to Oaklawn, to watch Arabian Knight in person.

Considering all this, barring injury (cross your fingers, knock on wood, spray some incense), I think we will be treated to something very special this year in Arabian Knight… Kentucky Derby or not. 

Contributing Authors

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that...

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