HOT SPRINGS, Ark.- Arches of Gold is noteworthy in Oaklawn history because she represented the first career starter in Hot Springs for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, finishing 11th against males in the $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses in 1993.
Times have changed. So has Baffert’s Oaklawn record over the next three decades.
After that initial setback, Baffert began building a resume that has now reached almost incomprehensible heights in Arkansas. The Southern California-based Baffert has started 84 horses at Oaklawn and won 36 races, including 28 stakes. Baffert’s astounding 43 percent win rate has helped generate $9,913,709 in purse earnings.
The epicenter of Baffert’s success is Oaklawn’s four-race path to the Kentucky Derby, particularly the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles. Baffert has started 15 horses in the Rebel – at least one every year since his first in 2010 – and collected a record eight victories, finished second four times and third once. Baffert’s Rebel runners have amassed $3,971,000 in purse earnings.
“Well, like I’ve said, I’ve brought the good horses up there,” Baffert said Tuesday afternoon. “That track, I’ve always had good luck there and they run well there. It’s a great racetrack.”
Baffert, not surprisingly, has the 9-5 program favorite for Saturday’s Rebel in unbeaten Newgrange (3 for 3). Probable post time for the Rebel, which goes as the 11th of 12 races, is 5:22 p.m. (Central). First post Saturday is 12:10 p.m., with the infield open, weather permitting. Saturday’s card also features the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
The projected 11-horse Rebel field from the rail out: Kavod, Francisco Arrieta to ride, 117 pounds, 12-1 on the morning line; Newgrange, John Velazquez, 122, 9-5; Cairama, Geovanni Franco, 117, 15-1; Un Ojo, Ramon Vazquez, 117, 12-1; Texas Red Hot, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117, 12-1; Stellar Tap, Cristian Torres, 117, 10-1; Ben Diesel, Jon Court, 117, 6-1; Chasing Time, Tyler Gaffalione, 122, 8-1; Barber Road, Reylu Gutierrez, 117, 9-2; Ethereal Road, Luis Contreras, 117, 12-1; and Dash Attack, David Cohen, 122, 8-1.
Newgrange returns to Oaklawn after a 1 ½-length victory in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Jan. 29 for a high-profile ownership group that includes SF Racing (Gavin Murphy), Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf), Madaket Stables (Sol Kumin) and Stonestreet Stables (Barbara Banke). It was a record-tying fifth Southwest victory for Baffert and his 18th overall in Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series. He’s also won the Smarty Jones Stakes once and the Arkansas Derby four times.
American Pharoah, of course, is the measuring stick for Baffert’s growing list of Rebel winners, taking the 2015 edition by 6 ¼ front-running lengths in his 3-year-old debut before capturing the Arkansas Derby and sweeping the Triple Crown. Baffert also won the Rebel in 2010 (Lookin At Lucky), 2011 (The Factor), 2012 (Secret Circle), 2014 (Hoppertunity), 2016 (Cupid), 2020 (Nadal) and 2021 (Concert Tour).
Quite the 180 from Baffert’s Oaklawn debut with Arches of Gold.
“I’ve always liked going there,” Baffert said. “I remember I went for the first time, my God. I didn’t do too well, but I always wanted to go back. I had a great time. I remember the first time I went there, I met President Bill Clinton’s mother (Virginia Kelley) in the track kitchen. I’ll never forget that conversation. She loved the horses. I spent like five days there and went to the lake and got a boat. It’s a great place. I like the atmosphere, the crowd, the people. The fans are really into horse racing. There’s nothing like seeing a full grandstand cheering.”
Hot Springs was Clinton’s boyhood home. Now, the city of approximately 38,000 tucked in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains has become an ultra-successful second home for Baffert’s horses.
In addition to Newgrange, Baffert has entered another Triple Crown nominee, lightly raced McLaren Vale, in Saturday’s seventh race, an entry-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles. It will mark his two-turn debut and third start overall. McLaren Vale, a son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, exits a third-place finish in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) Jan. 29 at Santa Anita for, among others, SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables and Stonestreet Stables. The colt was purchased for $625,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
“I’ve been wanting to stretch him out and there weren’t very many opportunities here in California,” Baffert said. “Right now, it’s like some places you break your maiden, you have to run in a stake. Oaklawn has that allowance race there, so I thought it would be a good spot to stretch him out and then after that, if he does well, then we can point him to another big race. All my clients, they like competing on the big stage and going to those big races. That’s why we’re at the Rebel. To me, the Rebel’s always been a signature race. I remember American Pharoah. When I had stop on him after the Breeders’ Cup, the Rebel was the first thing I was thinking about. To me, it’s a very important race to run in.”
Baffert said Newgrange and McLaren Vale were scheduled to arrive Wednesday.
David Cabrera rode four winners Monday to equal an Oaklawn personal best and push his total to 10 over the last three racing days. Cabrera’s victories Monday came in the first four races. He won the first race aboard favored Honorary Degree ($5.40) for trainer Karl Broberg, second race aboard Clancy’s Pistol ($8.20) for trainer Don Von Hemel of Hot Springs, third race aboard favored Fastest Spin ($3.80) for Broberg and the fourth aboard Life of Saturdays ($18.20) for trainer Wesley Hawley. Fastest Spin and Life of Saturdays were for owner Carson McCord of Hot Springs. … Broberg completed a triple Monday when heavily favored Greeley and Ben ($3) won the fifth race, a starter-allowance sprint for older horses, by 1 ¾ lengths under Reylu Gutierrez. Greeley and Ben was the co-second-winningest horse in North America (Canada, Puerto Rico and the United States) in 2021 with 11 victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. … Ava’s Grace is pointing for the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles March 12, trainer Robertino Diodoro said Monday morning. Ava’s Grace finished second in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies last April.
Oaklawn Press Release
Photo: Newgrange (Coady Photo)