By Kurt Voigt
AP Sports Writer
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Bob Baffert has had plenty of time to reflect on last year’s remarkable Triple Crown run with American Pharoah. He has his sights set on another fine spring.
The Hall of Fame trainer sends favorite Cupid out in the $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday.
The colt, winner of last month’s $900,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, is expected to be one of the top contenders at next month’s Kentucky Derby. But first, he’ll enter Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race as an early 2-1 favorite — with many hopeful he’ll follow in American Pharoah’s footsteps by winning both the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby.
While Cupid hasn’t generated the early buzz in the horse racing world like American Pharoah did a year ago, the colt did impress at the Rebel Stakes while winning in nearly wire-to-wire fashion. He’s also showed Baffert the ability to stay strong in training, even while being shipped back and forth between his home base in California and Arkansas.
“That’s what made Pharoah such a great horse,” Baffert said. “Some horses, they’re really great and they have a small window of greatness, where Pharoah, he had a window all year long, which is very rare. So far, I haven’t seen (Cupid) regress.”
Cupid drew the 10th post position for the Arkansas Derby after starting fourth at the Rebel Stakes. The colt started slowly out of the gate in that race before jockey Martin Garcia quickly rode him into the lead for good.
It was a less-than-perfect run for the 3-year-old that is 11th in the Kentucky Derby qualifying standings with 50 points, but Baffert came away impressed with his ability to recover.
“I think he showed us a different connection, he showed us he does need to get the win and he’s very fast,” Baffert said. “I knew he was a nice horse, but he just showed us something different.”
Twelve horses are entered in Saturday’s race, including Whitmore, which finished second in both the Rebel Stakes and Southwest Stakes.
The colt, trained by Ron Moquett, opened at 9-2 after drawing the eighth post position on Wednesday. And Moquett, which reached the Kentucky Derby for the first time last year with Far Right, continued to express his belief in the horse ahead of Saturday’s race.
“He’s a beast,” Moquett said of Whitmore.
Another top contender to watch is Suddenbreakingnews, the winner of the Southwest Stakes that opened at 5-1. The colt drew the fourth post position, a welcomed result after he was caught up in traffic in the Rebel Stakes and finished a disappointing fifth.