This year’s Arkansas Derby may be short on entrants (only six horses entered) but long on intrigue, as the morning line favorite in Saturday’s race, Concert Tour, can solidify favoritism for the Kentucky Derby on May 1 with a victory at Oaklawn Park. Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Arkansas Derby on three different occasions (Bodemeister in 2012, American Pharoah in 2015, Nadal in 2020), with all three winners scoring in a stylish manner. Given the fashion in which Concert Tour won last month’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, a fourth Arkansas Derby seems well within Baffert’s reach.
THE MOST LIKELY WINNER
Concert Tour is very clearly the most likely winner of this year’s Arkansas Derby, and should he prevail, he likely would be the presumptive morning line favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby in four weeks. A perfect 3-for-3 lifetime, the son of Street Sense has demonstrated an ability to win from on the lead (as he did in last month’s Rebel) or from a pace-stalking position (as he did two starts back in the San Vicente at Santa Anita). This versatility makes him a threat in any race he is entered in, allowing jockey Joel Rosario to play the break and position the three-year-old colt where he sees fit. Concert Tour has also paired up career best Beyer Speed Figures of 94 in his two most recent starts; paired up career best speed figures can be a signal that a forward move is coming, something the balance of the Arkansas Derby field would have a difficult time coping with. There does not figure to be a great deal of value to be had on Concert Tour Saturday, as his morning line odds of 1-1 look to be an accurate representation of his chances of winning (50%). This horse is likely to go off at odds closer to 3-5, constituting an underlay.
Typically in races where there is an enormous favorite, value can be found in the second choice in the wagering. It remains to be seen how the public will approach Brad Cox’s Caddo River, but it would be extremely surprising if he did not end up as a clear-cut second choice behind Concert Tour on Saturday. After winning January’s Smarty Jones Stakes by more than ten-lengths, Caddo River went off as the 6-5 favorite against Concert Tour in last month’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn. After conceding the lead to Concert Tour early, the son of Hard Spun proceeded to back up badly down the lane, fading to a disappointing fifth-place finish. Entering the Rebel, the concern surrounding Caddo River was twofold: how would he handle considerably tougher company, and what would happen if he were unable to make the lead early? It is possible he found the hike in class too much to handle, but I believe his poor performance in the Rebel was a product of being unable to make the front; some horses are “need the lead” types, in that they show no willingness to pass horses and must be on the lead throughout to succeed. Accordingly, jockey Florent Geroux must be aggressive from the moment the gates break in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby if Caddo River is to have any chance at winning. Due to being a one-dimensional type, bettors must approach this colt with and understanding that, while he may be the most likely upsetter, he represents a boom-or-bust proposition; at odds of 3-1 (roughly 25% chance of winning) or better, it’s worth finding out if he can make the front and take the field gate-to-wire.
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It’s difficult to envision anyone other than Concert Tour or Caddo River winning the Arkansas Derby, but a horse like Last Samurai isn’t impossible when looking for viable options to finish third at a giant price. Trainer Dallas Stewart has a knack for getting horses with long odds to produce solid performances, and while he may not be a likely win candidate, there is no reason he cannot run along late to round out a trifecta at odds of 20-1 or higher.
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