Muth All Class in Arkansas Derby

March 30, 2024

Muth gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record-tying fifth Arkansas Derby. (Coady Photography/Holly Smith)

By Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – No Derby, no problem.

Zedan Racing Stables’ Muth, running for purse dollars and style points only, gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record-tying fifth Arkansas Derby victory before an estimated crowd of 60,000 on an overcast but warm Saturday afternoon.

Under regular rider Juan Hernandez, Muth finished two lengths ahead of Just Steel, a 32-1 long shot for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. It was another 4 ¼ lengths farther back to Mystik Dan in fourth.

Owing to Baffert’s suspension from Churchill Downs, Muth was ineligible to collect any of the 200 Kentucky Derby qualifying points up for grabs in the $1.5 million Grade 1 race, thus he can’t run in the first leg of the Triple Crown. The suspension stems from the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit being disqualified from his 2021 Kentucky Derby victory for a medication violation. 

Muth, the $2 million sale topper at the OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training, was the 8-5 program favorite for the Arkansas Derby. Muth ($6.60) was sent off the 2-1 second choice in the 10-horse field.

Timberlake, who made an aggressive early move for the lead, finished fourth as the even-money favorite, a half-length behind Mystik Dan. Timberlake was followed, in order, by Informed Patriot, Time for Truth, Imperial Gun, Liberal Arts, Will Take It and Dimatic. Liberal Arts crossed the finish line sixth, but he was disqualified for interference on the first turn and placed eighth following a stewards’ inquiry. 

Just Steel just couldn’t catch Muth at the finish. (Coady Photography/Renee Torbit)
Just Steel just couldn’t catch Muth (red cap) at the finish. (Coady Photography/Renee Torbit)

Breaking from post sven, Muth raced just behind Timberlake, who took the field through a :47.46 half-mile and 6 furlongs in 1:12.26, before taking the lead on the outside turning for home. Muth opened a 1 ½-length advantage in midstretch and held Just Steel safe in the run to the wire.

Muth’s winning time over a fast track was 1:49.54. A son of champion Good Magic, Muth raised his lifetime earnings to $1,504,100 following his fourth victory from six starts. The Arkansas Derby was his first start outside California.

Muth was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the county’s champion 2-year-old male after compiling a 2-2-0 mark from four starts. He won the $300,000 G1-American Pharoah Stakes Oct. 7 at Santa Anita and closed 2023 with a runner-up finish behind Fierceness in the $2 million G1-Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. 

Muth hadn’t started since winning the seven-furlong $200,000 G2-San Vicente Stakes Jan. 6 at Santa Anita. He was scheduled to start in the $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes 1 1/16 miles Feb. 24 – Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Derby points race – but Baffert scrapped the trip because he wasn’t satisfied with the colt’s Feb. 18 workout at Santa Anita. 

Baffert has won the Rebel a record eight times. He also won the Arkansas Derby in 2012 with Bodemeister, in 2015 with future Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and in 2020 with Charlatan and Nadal (the race was run in divisions). 

Baffert has also won the Southwest a record six times and the Smarty Jones once. The Arkansas Derby was Oaklawn’s fourth and final Kentucky Derby points race.

Trainer Rodolphe Brisset saddled Muth in the Arkansas Derby because key Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes was in the United Arab Emirates with Newgate, who ran in Saturday’s $12 G1-million Dubai World Cup (G1). Barnes normally accompanies Baffert’s horses to Oaklawn as the trainer’s traveling assistant. 

Oaklawn is closed Sunday in observance of Easter. Racing resumes Thursday at 12:35 p.m. (Central).

Arkansas Derby Quotes

Juan Hernandez (Winning Jockey/Muth): “I had a really nice trip. My horse broke good. He’s good out of the gate. He’s fast. My plan was to keep him a little wide, keep him by himself, because sometimes when he gets close to other horses, he gets really aggressive. Sometimes, he wants to run too early. I broke good and then I stayed outside. He relaxed really good. I saw a couple of horses inside trying to get the lead. I said: ‘OK, go ahead.’ My horse was really comfortable on the backside. He was traveling really well. Around the three-eighths, I asked him to pick it up and he responded. And then around the quarter pole, I asked him for everything that he had, and he showed that he has a lot of talent. He just took off again.”

Bob Baffert (Winning Trainer/Muth): “He got away and then he was in a good spot. The track – speed really wasn’t playing well today – but he was in a good spot there. Down the backside, when I saw Timberlake sneak up in there, I thought maybe he was going to control the race from there because I figured he was the horse to beat. But Muth, he’s just … the only hose that beat him was Fierceness and we saw what he did today (winning the Florida Derby).  I’m just happy for everybody. It (Arkansas Derby) is very important. It’s a very prestigious race, winning that. You know how we feel about Oaklawn.” 

Keith Asmussen (Second-Place Jockey/Just Steel): “The horse handled it beautifully – excellent position. The horse was extremely comfortable in the first turn and down the backside. Loved where he was every step of the race, and he really ran home. I think more ground will help him a little bit.”

Brian Hernandez Jr. (Third-Place Jockey/Mystik Dan): “We went around the first turn and got knocked pretty good by (Liberal Arts). It was pretty hard and kind of cost us some position. But our horse, you’ve got to be proud of him. He ran on nicely and picking up third was big.”

Flavien Prat (Fourth-Place Finisher/Timberlake): “We were in a good spot and into the first turn, they were slowing down quite a bit. He got very aggressive with me, so I kind of let him run to get him to settle down, which he did down the backside. Just a little empty at the end.”

D. Wayne Lukas (Second-Place Trainer/Just Steel): “We’re excited but it’s disappointing there won’t be Bob [Baffert]. He’s got great horses. He’s got Derby horses but he’s going through a lot of things right now that shouldn’t be happening. But we can’t change that. I was confident about my horse. I was telling someone else, when there’s a little bit of brilliance in there, when you see it, you can dig in there and get it. If they don’t have that brilliance, then you’re just in la la land bringing these horses over and hoping, but he’s got some in him and now we just have to see if we can get it out of him.”

Kenny McPeek (Third-Place Trainer/Mystik Dan): “He got beat up a little bit in the first turn by the 5 horse (Liberal Arts). But look, third is a respectable run. I really expected him to win, but these things aren’t easy.”

"Nice work and well said Jon."

Ryan McCarthy @RMcCarthy1 View testimonials

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