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Bob Baffert’s Nadal vulnerable in second division of Arkansas Derby

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The biggest race in North America on the first Saturday in May this year isn’t the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which has been moved to the Sept. 5, the first Saturday of that month.

Instead, we have a very good pair of big races in the form of split divisions of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, which occurred after 22 horses were entered to run in the race (two horses have since scratched, one in each division). Each division offers a $500,000 purse and 100 points to the winner via the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying series, with 40 to the runner-up, 20 to the third-place finisher and 20 to the fourth-place finisher. Watch the Arkansas Derby on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app on Saturday, May 2 from 6-8 p.m. ET.

Before the Arkansas Derby, tune into NBC from 3-6 p.m. ET for a special Kentucky Derby broadcast, which includes The First Saturday In May: American Pharoah’s Run to the Triple Crown, a look back at American Pharoah’s 2015 Derby win en route to his historic Triple Crown, and The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown, a socially distant, computer-simulated edition of the Run for the Roses that pits all 13 Triple Crown winners against each other. The broadcast can also be streamed on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app.

Stay healthy at home with NBC Sports’ Derby Party Pack, featuring recipes for traditional Kentucky Derby foods and cocktails, printable decorations, at-home fashion tips, kids crafts and more:

Click here to download NBC Sports’ Derby Party Pack

The horses and connections hoping to succeed in the second division of the Arkansas Derby will have to beat the morning-line favorite Nadal to do so. Nadal won the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 14, leading from start to finish and earning a 101 Equibase Speed Figure. One race prior to that, in February, Nadal earned an even higher figure, 107, when winning the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes. However, the San Vicente was a sprint, run at the distance of seven furlongs. Not only did Nadal earn a lower figure when stretching out to two turns for the Rebel, he was also tiring late in the stretch and losing ground to a fast-closing horse in Excession. Perhaps it was the faster than average early pace which caused Nadal to tire late, but this division of the Arkansas Derby may be run no differently than the Rebel, since contender Wells Bayou led from start to finish to win the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby on March 21 and earned a 100 figure. From an extreme outside post, Wells Bayou will likely have to try to get the lead from the start, perhaps at any cost, in order to not be wide going into the first turn. Another horse likely to try for the early lead is Storm the Court, who posted a 45.90-1 upset in the Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall when leading from start to finish. In his two starts this year, Storm the Court did not get the lead in the early stages, but that does not change the fact he appears to be a need-the-lead type. In addition to those three horses, Saratogian and Taishan may vie for the lead from the start or take up a stalking position behind the early leaders.

Given the probable faster-than-average early pace scenario, Farmington Road could easily improve off of his runner-up effort in the Oaklawn Stakes on April 11. The Oaklawn Stakes served as a local prep for the Arkansas Derby after the Derby was moved from April 11 to May 2. In that race, Farmington Road added blinkers for the first time, and after lagging in last of 13 early, rallied strongly to miss by a half-length at the finish. Two races before that, Farmington Road earned a career best 100 Equibase Speed Figure, followed by figures of 94 in a Grade 2 stakes at Fair Grounds and 95 in the Oaklawn Stakes. The pattern suggests he is improving once again, and considering his late kick he will benefit from a contested early pace, Farmington Road could pass the field to win this division of the Arkansas Derby.

King Guillermo posted a 49.20-1 upset in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in March. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been disregarded by bettors as much as he was, because King Guillermo had earned 105 and 103 Equibase Speed Figures in his two previous races. Both were on turf back in 2019, but in one of them he finished third to Sole Volante in the Pulpit Stakes, who two races later won the Sam F. Davis Stakes on dirt, suggesting King Guillermo might be capable of doing the same thing (which he did, defeating Sole Volante in the Tampa Bay Derby). Considering King Guillermo earned a 110 figure in the Tampa Bay Derby, which is better than the 107 and 101 figures Nadal earned in his two recent stakes wins, King Guillermo must be considered a legitimate contender to win Division Two of the Arkansas Derby.

Silver Prospector proved he belonged at the graded stakes level last fall when he won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and again when he won the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes in February. After earning a career-best 103 figure in the Southwest, Silver Prospector then regressed and finished sixth in the Rebel. However, before the Southwest, Silver Prospector had finished fourth in the Smarty Jones Stakes, so it may be his pattern is to run a winning race after a poor race. If that occurs in the Arkansas Derby, Silver Prospector could be a factor as well.

As mentioned previously, both Nadal (101 best route figure) and Wells Bayou (101 best route figure) are proven at this level.

Win Contenders:

Farmington Road

King Guillermo

Silver Prospector

The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is: Code Runner (89); Finnick the Fierce (91); Saratogian (76); Storm the Court (106); and Taishan (98).

Watch ‘The First Saturday In May’ on Saturday, May 2 from 3-6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app and watch the Arkansas Derby from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

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Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

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Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.