Preview: USA, Saturday 12.06am (Sun) GMT
Oaklawn Park: Rebel Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo
Bob Baffert loves to follow the Arkansas route to the Kentucky Derby, and American Anthem (Mike Smith) has some big shoes to fill as he represents the legendary west-coast trainer in the richly endowed Rebel Stakes on Saturday at Oaklawn.
With a purse of $900,000, this trial for the Arkansas Derby is one of the most valuable Grade 2 events on the calendar. Baffert has won six of the last seven editions, including in 2015 with subsequent Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
"The reason I’ve had so much success there is that those horses I brought up there are all really good horses," said Baffert, who suffered heartbreak last weekend when Kentucky Derby favourite Mastery picked up an injury when winning at Santa Anita and is now out of the Triple Crown picture.
American Anthem, a son of Baffert's Kentucky Derby runner-up Bodemeister, will be having only the third race of his life in the Rebel after a game effort in defeat in the Sham in January.
"This is a nice horse and he's had two great races, so this will be a good race for him," added Baffert. "He's a bigger version of Bodemeister. Like father, like son. Actually, that’s caused him to pick up a lot of added pressure. We're excited about him and he's trained really well for this race."
Baffert's Californian-based colleague John Shirreffs is making his first visit to Oaklawn since the great Zenyatta won the Apple Blossom in 2017. His candidate is Royal Mo (Victor Espinoza), who made all to win the Robert B Lewis at Santa Anita on February 4. Shirreffs won the Kentucky Derby in 2005 with longshot Giacomo.
Petrov (Ron Moquett/Jose Ortiz) is back for more after finishing second in both the Marty Jones and the Southwest Stakes, where likely pacesetter Uncontested (Wayne Catalano/Channing Hill) faded to sixth after being sent off hot favourite.
Ladbrokes: 6-4 American Anthem, 5 Malagacy 13-2 Petrov, 7 Royal Mo, 8 Untrapped, 10 Uncontested, 16 Lookin At Lee, 20 Silver Dust, 40 Silver Bullion, 50 bar.
Also on Saturday
Santa Anita: Santa Margarita Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f | dirt | 4yo+ f/m (12.30am Sun GMT)
Last year's champion female sprinter Finest City (Ian Kruljac/Tyler Baze), winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, steps up in trip – and she faces a stern rival in the shape of Vale Dori (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano), who is out to complete a five-timer with her first Grade 1 victory in North America.
Oaklawn Park: Azeri Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f | dirt | 4yo+ f/m (10.21pm GMT)
Terra Promessa (Steve Asmussen/Irad Ortiz), who has won all five of her previous outings at this venue, will start favourite to keep her Oaklawn record intact against Grade 3 winner Eskenformoney (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano).