Farmington Road, Taishan Head On To Arkansas Derby; Mr. Big News Still Undecided

The top three finishers in last Saturday’s $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes receive automatic berths into the Arkansas Derby. While next-race plans are pending for the winner, Mr. Big News, the second- and third-place finishers are targeting the $750,000 Grade 1 race May 2 at Oaklawn, their respective trainers said.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said in a text message Thursday morning that Farmington Road came out of his runner-up finish in “good shape” and is “pointing for the Arkansas Derby,” adding the late-running son of Quality Road is still at Oaklawn after previously being based in south Florida.

Farmington Road, who added blinkers, closed from far back to finish a half-length behind Mr. Big News in the 1 1/8-mile race. Farmington Road was running for the first time since a fourth-place finish in the split $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds.

Farmington Road finished 3 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Taishan, the slight 5-2 second choice in the 13-horse Oaklawn Stakes field. Taishan raced about five lengths off a sizzling early pace – :45.47 for a half-mile over a sloppy, sealed surface – and took the lead turning for home before being overhauled by the late-running Mr. Big News and Farmington Road.

Taishan was making his first start since a sharp first-level allowance victory on the Rebel Stakes undercard March 14. The $1 million Rebel (G2) is traditionally the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. Taishan came out of the Oaklawn Stakes in good shape physically, trainer Richard Baltas said Wednesday afternoon, and has already returned to the track to train for the Arkansas Derby.

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t take a shot,” Baltas said. “I think the horse is doing well. I got his sheet number. It was actually like his best number ever. On the Thoro-Graphs, it was a 4. He has been running 5s. I thought he ran well. It was a very hot pace, he was parked wide, he made a little premature move, I think. He was actually one of the few horses that actually didn’t … the other horses came from way far back. They were flying. Obviously, we were hoping at the top of the lane that he would keep going. In hindsight, to look at the chart, it looked like he ran a pretty good race.”

Taishan is among eight horses on the grounds for Baltas, who is based in Southern California. His Oaklawn division is overseen by assistant Aimee Dollase.

Mr. Big News, a 46-1 winner under Gabriel Saez, came out of the race in good order, trainer Bret Calhoun said in a text message Thursday morning, but added he’s “not sure about the Arkansas Derby yet.” Mr. Big News was racing for the first time since finishing fifth in the other division of the Risen Star Stakes. He returned Sunday to his Fair Grounds base.

Mr. Big News and Farmington Road were entered in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 21 at Fair Grounds, but neither drew in from the also-eligible list.

Oaklawn flipped the dates of the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby and the Oaklawn Stakes in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The Arkansas Derby will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, which has been moved from May 2 to Sept. 5.

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