HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, April 16, 2016) – WinStar Farm’s Creator powered home from dead last in the field of 12 to pull off an upset in the 80th edition of the $1 million (G1) Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn in front of 65,000 people on-track Saturday, and in the process the colt created a guaranteed spot for himself in the Kentucky Derby.
The 3-year-old gray or roan son of Tapit had earned just 10 qualifying Kentucky Derby points by virtue of his third place finish last out in the $900,000 (G2) Rebel Stakes here March 19, but he now has a total of 110 marks courtesy of the 100 points awarded for finishing first in the Arkansas Derby.
Conditioned by Steve Asmussen and ridden patiently by Ricardo Santana, Jr., who finished the 2016 meet Saturday as the leading trainer and jockey, respectively, once again, Creator showed no speed in the early going as the Todd Pletcher-trained Gettysburg reeled off fractions of :22.4, :46. 1 and 1:10.3 under John Velazquez. WinStar Farm’s Gettsburg was pressed by 4-5 favorite Cupid, who won the Rebel Stakes for Bob Baffert, as they entered the final turn.
As Gettysburg weakened in the lane, Martin Garcia asked Cupid but he came up empty and faded badly to finish far back in 10th. While the front runners were folding their tents, Creator, Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore were all staging their late rallies and closing fast.
Creator, dispatched at 11.60-1, traveled the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.1 on a fast track to cross under their wire 1 1/4 lengths in front of The Donnie K Von Hemel-trained Suddenbreakingnews, who was piloted by Luis Quinonez. Whitmore, who is trained by Ron Moquett and was ridden by Irad Ortiz. Jr., was another 1 1/4 lengths back. Dazzling Gem, trained by Brad Cox with Joe Talamo in the irons, was fourth.
Suddenbreakingnews earned 40 points to up his total to 50 and Whitmore gained 20 more for 44 in all, thus assuring themselves one of the 20 Kentucky Derby berths. With the 10 points he earned for finishing fourth added to the 20 he already had, Dazzling Gem's connections find themselves on the outside looking in in 25th place.
But the spotlight Saturday was on Creator, who had taken six tries to graduate from the maiden ranks and now holds the status of a Grade 1 winner.
“I am very proud of the outcome today,” said Asmussen, who was honored on the meet's closing day with his seventh Oaklawn training tittle since 2007 and is now the third all-time leading trainer here. "Ricardo has a ton of confidence in this horse and I'm glad to see him rewarded for how much he believed in this horse."
Von Hemel survived some nerve-wracking moments before seeing his charge, the winner of the (G3) Southwest Stakes and a prep for the Arkansas Derby, kick in late.
“I was concerned in the far turn that he was going nowhere, and struggling a little bit. I was wondering if he was even going to fire at all. Finally, when he got straightened out down the lane, he did come with his move. It sure looks like more ground is better for us," he said.
The same may be said for Whitmore as he advanced to Churchill Downs and the 1 1/4 mile distance of the Run for the Roses.
“We belong in the Kentucky Derby," said Moquett. "It's what I said before the race, whoever got the best trip would win. Today, Ricardo Santana, Creator and Steve Asmussen got the better trip. Whitmore is not a 'hanger' or any of that stuff. He keeps overcoming every race."
Cupid could not overcome a less than ideal trip and the connections of Coolmore's colt were understandably disappointed.
Said Jimmy Barnes, the assistant to Baffert: “We were done early, basically. I think the fractions probably took a toll on us. But that’s racing. I know Martin wanted to get him in the clear, which he did. But unfortunately, he got in the clear and they were rolling right along.”
Nonetheless, Cupid had already acquired enough points to move on to the Kentucky Derby with 50 and sits in 13th place on the leader board. Although Dazzling Gem is in the 25th spot, Cox will take him to Kentucky.
“What do we get? Ten points? I was very pleased with the race. Joe (Talamo) kind of chased them a little bit going to the backside. It was a good ride, he moved him around the turn, had all opportunity to run down the lane and run a good race. We’ll see how he comes out of it," said Cox.
The remaining order of finish after Creator, Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore and Dazzling Gem were Gettysburg, Discreetness, Cutacorner, Gray Sky, American Pioneer, Cupid, Unbridled Outlaw and Luna de Loco, who was also trained by Asmussen.
Creator, who is out of the Privately Held mare Morena, was bred by Mt. Brilliant Broodmares LLC in Kentucky and was a $440,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling sale in 2012. With his Arkansas Derby win, he improved to 2-4-1 in eight starts and has earned $768,320.
$1 Million Arkansas Derby (G1) Quotes
Winning Trainer Steve Asmussen: “Ricardo has a ton of confidence in the horse and I'm glad to see him rewarded for how much he believed in the horse. I can't say enough about the job that (assistant) Darren Fleming and (exercise rider) Abel Flores have done with this horse here at Oaklawn. His race in the Rebel (third) was good and we felt like he came out of it good. He had a little break and came out for the Arkansas Derby training great. I am very proud of the outcome today.
Ky Derby next? "Obviously, we want him to come out of it very good. With him doing better at longer distances, it's easy to dream about the Derby."
This is Asmussen’s third Arkansas Derby win
Winning Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. "First of all Thank God and thanks to the owner and the trainer. This is a really nice horse. The first time he run here and broke his maiden, he run really good. He had a really good trip but I had to go wide. He make a nice run in the end. Last time it was 14 horses, today it was 12 horses. Steve told me to be patient, be patient, because you're going to have a lot of horses. It worked out worked out really good. I hope I have the same trip in the Kentucky Derby."
This is Santana's first Arkansas Derby win and first Grade 1 victory.
Elliott Walden, president and CEO of WinStar Farm, winner Creater: (He said the victory really didn’t surprise him.) “No, he really didn’t. Steve has had a lot of confidence in this horse from the start. He’s been a very high strung horse in the beginning. I liked what Steve had done with some of the Tapits he’s had in the past. So that’s why we sent Creator to him. Didn’t want to send him to New York to where he’d run with the big guys. We felt like he was the kind of horse that if you pressed him too hard too early he might come apart on you.”
“Steve has done a really good job with him. Some of the Tapits can be very high strung. We just felt that Steve has done real well, and in the Midwest particularly, with bringing them along without putting them up against the toughest maiden races at Saratoga.”
(Note: Creator is first horse WinStar sent to Asmussen. They have sent a couple others to him since)
(Walden didn’t think it would take six races for Creator to win) “The first two starts (both on turf) Steve felt like wanted to give him experience without getting dirt in his fence. Again, I give him a lot of credit. But then when we ran him at Churchill and he was second (Nov. 28 in his third start), I thought he’d win his next start. Something down in New Orleans just didn’t click with him. In those two races he was heavily favored, got in trouble in both starts, jammed up, pace was slow, nowhere to go.
“We decided to send him to Oaklawn, and then he ran extremely well. And then we were back where he hoped to be Thanksgiving weekend at Churchill.
“Even in the maiden races were experience. That’s why we didn’t have any problem going into the Rebel when he did finally break his maiden. Because he’d had plenty of starts. Not every horse has to break its maiden first time out.”
(On his confidence going into Kentucky Derby) “I love his style. I love the way he’s been brought along. I think based on today’s performance that he would have a very good chance.”
(On Gettysburg) “Gettysburg ran very well. The track was playing to speed. I thought when he made the lead over Cupid, I really thought he had a big chance. He ran hard, very hard.” (Says Gettysburg most likely will go to New York and point for a race like the Peter Pan) “He’s a developing type horse. He shipped to Sunland, shipped back to Florida, shipped to Lexington, shipped here. We’ll probably regroup with him and look for something like the Peter Pan.” (Note: Walden named Creator for God)
Walden won the Arkansas Derby in 1998 with Victory Gallop, winner of the Belmont Stakes that year.
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel, second with Suddenbreakingnews: “I was a little concerned in the far turn, he was going nowhere, and was struggling a little bit. I was wondering if he was even going to fire at all. Finally, when he got straightened out down the lane, he did come with his move. Sure looks like more ground is better for us.”
Jockey Luis Quinonez, second on Suddenbreakingnews – “We finally got a decent trip. I felt like he wasn’t handling the track, like he was climbing. In the middle of the turn for home I didn’t think he was going to run anywhere but I got him clear and he gave me a great finish. If he would’ve gotten ahold of the track he would’ve run right on. He ran well, no excuses. I’m excited and proud of this horse. We will see what’s next.”
Trainer Ron Moquett, third with Whitmore - (while in post-race test barn) “The horse looks like he’s good. After the replay, I was glad to see how good he was. He nearly went down. Watch the replay, about 100 yards out, the outside horse came over on him and he stumbled and nearly went down.”
(Right after race, Moquett feared that Whitmore had “grabbed a quarter,” or nicked a foot by striking it with a hind hoof) “Thank goodness he didn’t.”
(Told that Whitmore lost by a total of 2 3/4 lengths, Moquett said), “Got to think that hurt him that much, for sure.”
“We belong in the Kentucky Derby. It’s what I said before the race, whoever got the best trip could win. Today, Ricardo Santana and Creator and Steve Asmussen got the better trip. He (Whitmore) is not a ‘hanger’ or all that stuff. He keeps overcoming every race.”
(Top four horses are trained by Churchill Downs-based trainers) “That’s awesome. I love that.”
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., third on Whitmore – “He always breaks sharp, a couple of horses tried to get to the rail pretty quick in front of me and I was in between horses and I clipped heels. I think they cost me a better position and unfortunately cost me a better position down the stretch. Maybe I could’ve got 2nd but things happen. That’s horse racing. He’s still a nice horse with full of potential. He’s such a honest horse as well. He comes to run not matter what. If we would’ve had a cleaner trip, we might have had a better finish.”
Brad Cox, fourth-place Dazzling Gem: “What do we get? Ten points? I was very pleased with the race. Joe kind of chased them a little bit going to the backside. Good ride, moved him around the turn, all opportunity to run down the lane and run a good race. We’ll see how he comes out of it.”
Jimmy Barnes, assistant to Bob Baffert, beaten favorite Cupid, 10th: “We were done early, basically. I think the fractions probably took a toll on us. But that’s racing. I know Martin wanted to get him in the clear, which he did. But, unfortunately he got in the clear and they were rolling right along.”
Jockey Martin Garcia, beaten favorite Cupid, 10th – “It wasn’t his day today. He was too excited. I was trying to save him and tried to get a position with him. I started on the rail and slowly moved him out and was 2nd. When I asked him to go at the 3/8ths he wasn’t responding. We had nowhere to go. I asked him and he didn’t respond. Next time.”