Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Arkansas Derby a record five times and he’ll have two chances to increase that total when he sends out Gouverneur Morris and Farmington Road in Saturday’s split $500,000 Grade 1 race at 1 1/8 miles.
Gouverneur Morris is the 9-2 second choice in the program in the first division, while Farmington Road is an early 12-1 in the second division.
Gouverneur Morris (2 for 4 overall) will be making his local debut after finishing fourth in his last start, the $750,000 Florida Derby (G1) March 28 at Gulfstream Park, for his high-profile connections of Pletcher and co-owners Team Valor International and WinStar Farm LLC. Gouverneur Morris was beaten 5 ¼ lengths by Kentucky Derby points leader Tiz the Law. Both are sons of WinStar’s hot young stallion, Constitution.
Gouverneur Morris, in his two-turn debut, also finished second to unbeaten Maxfield in the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) Oct. 5 at Keeneland.
“He’s run against the best of his generation or a lot of the best, and he’s accounted himself well,” Pletcher said Tuesday afternoon. “We feel like he has every right to take a step forward.”
Gouverneur Morris, a $600,000 2-year-old in training purchase, has alternated wins and losses throughout his brief racing career. He was a nine-length debut winner Sept. 2 at Saratoga, ran second in the Breeders’ Futurity, was a 1 ¼-length allowance winner of his 3-year-old debut Feb. 14 at Tampa Bay Downs, then ran fourth in the Florida Derby.
Late-running Farmington Road earned an automatic ticket to the Arkansas Derby with a runner-up finish in the $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes at 1 1/8 miles April 11. The son of Quality Road raced in blinkers for the first time and was beaten a half-length by Mr. Big News after a sluggish break.
“We decided after the race in the Oaklawn Stakes just to leave him there since he was guaranteed a starting position,” Pletcher said. “Just came back with one easy half-mile breeze and we’ll hopefully get a little cleaner start this time, hopefully, a little better tactical position. He would also be one who would benefit from a good, honest pace. Hopefully, he can make a good sustained run like last time.”
Farmington Road added blinkers after finishing fourth, beaten 4 ½ lengths, in the first division of the split $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds. The 1 1/8-mile race marked the stakes debut for Farmington Road, who races for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners (Aaron Wellman), Chrysalis Stables (Stephanie Clark) and Robert LaPenta. Pletcher and Eclipse teamed to win the 2014 Arkansas Derby with Danza. Clark campaigns multiple Oaklawn allowance winner M G Warrior. LaPenta co-owns seven-time Oaklawn stakes winner Whitmore.
Pletcher said he doesn’t believe blinkers “made a whole lot of difference” in the Oaklawn Stakes, but opted to leave the equipment on for the Arkansas Derby.
“He’s a horse that just wants to settle back and make one run,” Pletcher said. “The blinkers didn’t change that, but I think they did have him, perhaps, a little more focused.”
Although Farmington Road landed in the tougher race – the second division includes unbeaten Rebel winner Nadal, Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou and champion Storm the Court – there is also more speed, on paper, than the first division.
“If there’s a good, honest pace early, it will certainly enhance his chances,” Pletcher said.
In addition to Danza, Pletcher won the Arkansas Derby in 2000 (Graeme Hall), 2001 (Balto Star), 2013 (Overanalyze) and 2018 (Magnum Moon). Pletcher also finished second in the 2010 Arkansas Derby with Super Saver, who would give the trainer his first Kentucky Derby victory three weeks later.
Oaklawn Park Press Release
Photo: Gouverneur Morris has a work at Oaklawn Friday. Credit: Coady Photography