HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Four-thousand miles apart, a father-son partnership from Little Rock sweated an exacta at thoroughbred tracks in two states on Saturday afternoon, hoping to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
A member at Augusta National, Joe Ford flew from The Masters to Hot Springs on Saturday afternoon to watch their hope, Den’s Legacy, compete in the Arkansas Derby. In Barcelona, Spain, son Scott was glued to his computer for the HRTV feed.
Forty-five minutes before they sprung the latch on the starting gate at Oaklawn Park, the Fords were OK with the results of the Blue Grass where 14 3-year-olds filled up the starting gate at Keeneland in a scramble for the 100-40-20-10 points available on the final day of the major prep races for the May 4 Kentucky Derby.
Under the new point system for qualifying for one of the 20 spots in the starting gate at Churchill Downs, Den’s Legacy had 20 points prior to Saturday and was in a seven-way tie for 17th. Only two of the thoroughbreds ahead of Den’s Legacy were in the race in Kentucky, but one of them, Java’s War, won in the final strides.
"The one in front of us didn’t hurt us," Ford said between the Blue Grass and the Arkansas Derby.
The last thing the Fords needed was three horses with meager points to run one-two-three at Keeneland and create a mess for the final spot.
It was Den’s Legacy, the back half of their exacta, who disappointed with a sixth-place finish.
To make things worse, the fourth-place finisher was Falling Sky, who picked up 10 points for a total of 30 — good enough for a three-way tie for 18th in the Derby standings. Den’s Legacy, who faltered late in the stretch, was two lengths behind Falling Sky and a spot in the nation’s most famous horse race.
Joe Ford left immediately, headed back to Augusta for a finish that will be in doubt much longer than the Arkansas Derby. As many as a dozen players have a chance to win the green jacket. In Hot Springs, Overanalyze crushed nine other 3-year-olds.
Seventh along the backstretch, but kept wide and out of trouble by Rafael Bejarano, Overanalyze took the lead in the middle of the stretch and finished more than four lengths in front of longshot Frac Daddy. The connections of Frac Daddy filed an objection because Overanalyze moved over in front of Frac Daddy in the stretch run. A head-on replay showed Overanalyze was clear and that Lebron never quit riding. The "Official" sign went up quickly.
An established proving ground for Triple Crown contenders, Oaklawn Park could have as many as six representatives in the Kentucky Derby. Overanalyze, Frac Daddy, Falling Sky, and fifth-place finisher Oxbow have enough points. So does Rebel winner Will Take Charge and Southwest winner Super Ninety Ninem although there is a question whether trainer Bob Baffert will enter the front-running colt.
If Baffert passes with Super Ninety Nine, the three-time winner’s only representative wll be Governor Charlie.
Baffert, who has had so much success the past few years in Oaklawn’s races for 3-year-olds, suffered a severe setback on Saturday when 9-5 favorite War Academy did not complete the race. In fact, he backed out of the competition early in the race and Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith was standing with the horse at the top of the stretch shortly after Overanalyze hit the finish line. Smith said the colt took a couple of awkward steps and he "figured better safe than sorry …"
For the Fords and Carve owner Michael Langford of Jonesboro, the waiting game begins. Their horses are among eight with 20 points, each waiting for one of the top 20 to drop out.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.