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Smiles abound as Kentucky Derby favorite Omaha Beach draws gate No. 12

April 30 (UPI) — April 30 (UPI) — Omaha Beach, the Arkansas Derby winner, was installed Tuesday as the 4-1 favorite for Saturday’s 145th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

Trainer Bob Baffert, seeking his sixth victory in the Run for the Roses, sends out the next three picks on morning line — Game Winner at 5-1 and Roadster and Improbable, both at 6-1.

Omaha Beach, a War Front colt trained by Richard Mandella, got a good draw, starting from the No. 12 gate in a field of 20. Mandella is 0-for-6 with Derby runners. Mandella and jockey Mike Smith, who chose Omaha Beach over his other regular mount, Roadster, sat together for the draw and were all smiles after their spot was chosen.

“Perfect. I love it. Didn’t want to be down inside. I think I’m in a great spot,” said Smith, known as “Big Money Mike” for his rides in important races.

“He’s happy,” Mandella said, nodding toward Smith, “so you know I’m happy. It’s good.”

The hard luck story of the draw was War of Will, winner of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, who got the dreaded No. 1 slot. That leaves jockey Tyler Gaffalione the options of gunning for the lead or being buried behind a wall of horses all trying to get position during the first run down the stretch.

Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia said he lengthened the morning-line odds on War of Will accordingly, setting him at 20-1.

Trainer Mark Casse put the best face on things for War of Will, saying, “I think we’ll probably be on the lead and play ‘catch me if you can’ … I’ve thought I had great draws before and gotten wiped out so maybe this is the change.”

There were some groans from the Baffert camp, too, as Churchill Downs announcer Travis Stone announced that the No. 17 gate, Roadster’s draw, is 0-for-40 in the Derby and Game Winner’s No. 16 slot is 4-for-47. Both Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster and 2-year-old champion Game Winner, however, have shown the ability to run well from off the pace. Baffert’s other entrant, Arkansas Derby runner-up Improbable, drew gate No. 5.

“At the end of the day, you have to have the horse,” Baffert said. “If your horse shows up, that’s more important. After watching Big Brown gallop from the 20 hole, it really doesn’t make a difference.”

Big Brown won the 2008 Kentucky Derby from that outside post position as jockey Kent Desormeaux was able to get decent early position behind the leaders and passed them all in the long stretch run.

Battaglia, who has set the morning line for every Derby since 1975, pointed out the line is not a prediction of which horse will win the race but, rather, of how each horse will be bet. Thus, he said, the odds on Improbable, Roadster and Game Winner are longer than they might have been because he feels bettors partial to Baffert horses will split their action among them.

The winner of the “Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, Master Fencer, drew No. 15 and was pegged at 50-1 on the morning line. The 1-2 finishers from the Group 2 UAE Derby in Dubai, Plus Que Parfait and Gray Magician, were installed in gates No. 9 and No. 4, respectively. Battaglia put Plus Que Parfait’s odds at 30-1; Gray Magician’s, 50-1.

The 21st horse on the Derby list, Bodexpress, needs a defection from field before Friday’s scratch deadline to get into the race.

The Kentucky Derby, run at 1 1/4 miles over the Churchill Downs dirt track, is set for 6:46 p.m. Saturday. It will be televised live on NBC-TV and broadcast live and streamed on Horse Racing Radio Network.

Noteworthy:

The public doesn’t see it but sometimes there’s as much racetrack drama in the morning than in the afternoon. To wit:

* During Tuesday morning’s exercise session, Win Win Win, with Julien Pimentel up, hooked up with with trainer Bill Mott‘s Derby duo of Country House and Tacitus, who were working 5 furlongs. In the stretch, after rider Melanie Williams backed his workmate, Souper Courage, out of the four-horse nonrace, Win Win Win passed the Mott duo nearing the wire.

“I got to watch it many times. It was easy to find because it was all over,” Win Win Win’s trainer, Mike Trombetta, said of video of the work. All credit to Mel. I told her (via two-way radio) they were coming and she was the one driving the bus. She could have dropped over and messed them up and that’s the last thing I wanted to do. She stayed outside and let them through.”

* With a Japanese-based horse in the race, Churchill Downs announced Tuesday the Derby will be simulcast live to Japan, where fans will be able to bet into a separate wagering pool. Churchill Downs gets a share of that action, which is an early return on their years-long effort to involve foreign betting interest in the race.

* Spendthrift Farm announced Tuesday it has acquired breeding rights to Omaha Beach. Financial details were not disclosed. Spendthrift owner Wayne Hughes said of the War Front colt: “We believe Omaha Beach is one of the best stallion prospects to come around in recent years and see him as a big part of the future at Spendthrift. He is truly a rare package — elite looks, pedigree, sire power, speed, class, you name it. He has everything and we feel the best is yet to come for him.”

The Kentucky Oaks

While the Derby looks like a wide-open affair, Friday’s $ 1.25 million Grade I Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies boasts a strong favorite in Bellafina. The Quality Road filly has won six of eight starts, three of the wins in Grade I events. She is riding a three-race winning streak as she returns to Churchill Downs, which is the site of her only off-the-board finish, a fourth-place showing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall.

The Oaks has a full field of 14 with two also-eligibles. While Bellafinia is 2-1 on Battaglia’s morning line, Restless Rider and Champagne Anyone are co-second choices at 6-1.

Restless Rider won last year’s Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland and has been the runner-up in the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland in her most recent start that served as her 2019 debut. Champagne Anyone won the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks in her most recent start.

Actually, Battaglia’s second-favorite filly, at 5-1, is Dunbar Road. But she lacked the points to get into the race and would need one of the top 14 to withdraw to get into the starting gate.

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk, seeking her first win as a 3-year-old after two disappointing outings, is 8-1 on the line.

British-born rider Sophie Doyle looks for the biggest win of her career, piloting Grade II Fair Ground Oaks winner Street Band at odds of 15-1. Do not sell either Doyle or her filly short.

Horses, trainers prep for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby

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