Takeaways from 2021 Arkansas Derby

Matt Bernier
·3 min read


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A surprising upset in Saturday’s Grade 1 Arkansas Derby wrapped up the 100-point Kentucky Derby prep season for 2021, with Super Stock punching his ticket to Churchill Downs’ marquee event just three short weeks from now via his victory in the Arkansas Derby. Sent off as the fourth choice in a field of six, Super Stock was able to save ground throughout beneath jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., stalking the pace while the top two choices in the wagering, Concert Tour and Caddo River, did all the dirty work in front of him. As the field turned for home, Santana, Jr. guided Super Stock to clear on the outside before powering past his tiring rivals, ultimately prevailing by more than two-lengths. Super Stock enters the 2021 Kentucky Derby as one of two horses (Midnight Bourbon being the other) who could earn Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his first victory in the Derby, a race that has had its complexion change dramatically over the past four weeks.

Observations following the 2021 Arkansas Derby:

- Super Stock has certainly earned the right to run in the Derby on the first Saturday in May, but the 92 Beyer Speed Figure he earned makes him one of the slower horses expected to navigate the mile-and-one-quarter distance at Churchill Downs. While he continues to improve, he will likely need to take a significant step forward to be considered even a fringe contender three weeks from now.

- The major disappointment of the race was Bob Baffert’s Concert Tour, a horse who was a perfect 3-for-3 lifetime entering Saturday’s race. After pressing the pacesetter throughout, the son of Street Sense flattened badly down the stretch, not only unable to hold off the charge from Super Stock, but also proving incapable of passing the horse who had been on the lead throughout. A significant regression in speed figures for Concert Tour (87 Beyer Speed Figure earned Saturday) makes it extremely difficult to view him in an optimistic light when discussing the Kentucky Derby, as three-year-olds need to be improving at this time of the year – not moving backwards. It is entirely possible he found the additional distance in Saturday’s race to be too much to handle; if that is the case, he is a horse that likely will do best turning back in distance to a seven-eighths or one-mile distance in the future.

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- Caddo River set a hot pace throughout, and while he showed grit and determination to hold off Concert Tour late when finishing second, it is obvious he is a one-dimensional type that may also have his own distance limitations. Should Caddo River’s connections choose to go to the Kentucky Derby, he would ensure the pace of the race would be on the rapid side before fading down the lane.

- Concert Tour had an opportunity to stake his claim as favorite for the Kentucky Derby with a victory in the Arkansas Derby, but with his non-effort Saturday, favoritism for the Derby in three weeks will almost certainly land upon Essential Quality’s shoulders. Winner of the Blue Grass at Keeneland last week, Essential Quality is a perfect 5-for-5 lifetime and has had success at Churchill Downs in the past. Given the way the 2021 Kentucky Derby prep season has played out, Essential Quality represents one of the likeliest winners of this year’s Derby due in large part to the consistency he has shown throughout his career.