By Alan Carasso
Saturday's $1.25-million GI Arkansas Derby was supposed to be all about Secret Oath (Arrogate), who had so dominated her peers that trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner/breeder Briland Farm decided to roll the dice and bypass what would have been a far easier task in the GIII Fantasy S. The betting public largely endorsed the idea, sending the chestnut off as the 7-5 favorite, but in the end, it was not meant to be, as Gold Square LLC's Cyberknife (Gun Runner) was the recipient of a cerebral ride from Florent Geroux and ran away in the final furlong to score an upset of the mildest variety. Barber Road (Race Day) snagged second on the wire from Secret Oath, who raced well behind a strong pace and made what appeared to be a winning bid on the turn, only to peak on the run and peter out in the final stages.
With the exception of Secret Oath, who was pinched back in tight between GII Rebel S. winner Un Ojo (Laoban) and Ben Diesel (Will Take Charge), the Arkansas Derby field was off to a level beginning and they lined up five across the track with a circuit to travel, with Chasing Time (Not This Time) ceding the advantage to the rail-drawn Kavod (Lea) as they raced into the first turn. 'TDN Rising Star' Doppelganger (Into Mischief) was part of the pace three or four wide, while Geroux tucked Cyberknife into fourth position.
Kavod had the call after a stiff opening half-mile in :46.54, at which point Geroux made a key decision to allow Cyberknife to take a gap one off the rail between Kavod and Chasing Time, a choice that looked that much better when the latter was one of the first to call it a day and began backpedaling with 3 1/2 furlongs to race. Cyberknife was asked to engage Kavod approaching the five-sixteenths marker and looked to have that one at his mercy, but Secret Oath was winding up with a marauding sweep into contention. But while the filly was being driven along to try to bridge the gap, Cyberknife was more or less on cruise control–albeit a bit green–as he rolled down towards the fence in upper stretch. Put to a Geroux drive at the eighth pole, Cyberknife weaved in and out, but was always maintaining a safe advantage to the line. Barber Road rallied from the back to complete the exacta, as Secret Oath ran out of gas in the final 50 yards.
“Great effort with some high hopes for him,” Geroux commented. “We always thought he was very talented. Looks like he finally put it together and he's probably not even 100%, as he was zig-zagging down the lane. I'm hoping he's going to be a little straighter on the first Saturday in May. But, a very talented horse.”
Demoted from an apparent debut victory sprinting at Churchill Sept. 25, Cyberknife was a green second at 2-5 beneath the Twin Spires Nov. 5 before graduating by a half-length at odds-on in his first go at two turns at the Fair Grounds Dec. 26. A well-beaten sixth with blinkers added for the GIII Lecomte S. in New Orleans Jan. 22, Cyberknife regrouped with a three-length allowance tally in the Big Easy Feb. 19 and targeted this event. His 'TDN Rising Star' stablemate Zozos (Munnings) shipped to the Fair Grounds off a 10 1/4-length Oaklawn allowance success to be runner-up to top GI Kentucky Derby hopeful Epicenter (Not This Time) in the GII Louisiana Derby Mar. 26.
Lukas was making no excuses for Secret Oath.
“We got outrun today,” the Hall of Famer said. “Made that big move [on the second turn] and I thought she would sustain it, but she didn't. The race didn't unfold like you'd hope it to. It just didn't come together. We got bumped at the start and that got her back too far and then she made that monster move. It's hard to sustain it. She might have run that quarter pretty damn fast.”
Cyberknife is yet another feather in the cap for his boom stallion, who has now sired 10 stakes winners and six graded scorers (now three at Grade I level) from his first crop that has already yielded 37 individual winners.
Cyberknife is the second of Saturday's three Kentucky Derby prep winners to emerge from the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Showcase, having hammered for $400,000. Hailing from the female family of G1 Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed (Tiznow), GSW Witty (Distorted Humor) and Grade I winner and Darley Japan sire American Patriot (War Front), Cyberknife is out of a six-time stakes-winning mare who is also responsible for a 2-year-old colt named Tapit Shoes (Tapit) and a colt by Horse of the Year Authentic foaled Mar. 4.
Saturday, Oaklawn Park
ARKANSAS DERBY-GI, $1,250,000, Oaklawn, 4-2, 3yo, 1 1/8m, 1:50.42, ft.
1–CYBERKNIFE, 119, c, 3, by Gun Runner
1st Dam: Awesome Flower (MSW & MGSP, $556,593), by Flower Alley
2nd Dam: Formalities Aside, by Awesome Again
3rd Dam: Well Dressed, by Notebook
1ST BLACK TYPE WIN, 1ST GRADED STAKES WIN, 1ST GRADE I
WIN. ($400,000 Ylg '20 FTKSEL). O-Gold Square LLC; B-Kenneth
Ramsey & Sarah K. Ramsey (KY); T-Brad H. Cox; J-Florent
Geroux. $750,000. Lifetime Record: 6-3-2-0, $860,000. Click for the
eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree. Werk Nick Rating: A+.
2–Barber Road, 119, c, 3, Race Day–Encounter, by Southern
Image. 1ST G1 BLACK TYPE. ($15,000 Wlg '19 KEENOV). O-WSS
Racing, LLC; B-Susan Forrester & Judy Curry (KY); T-John
Alexander Ortiz. $250,000.
3–Secret Oath, 117, f, 3, Arrogate–Absinthe Minded, by Quiet
American. 1ST G1 BLACK TYPE. O/B-Briland Farm, Robert
Mitchell & Stacy Mitchell (KY); T-D. Wayne Lukas. $125,000.
Margins: 2 3/4, 3/4, 4HF. Odds: 5.80, 10.00, 1.40.
Also Ran: Doppelganger, Kavod, Ben Diesel, We the People, Un Ojo, Chasing Time. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by TVG.