Over the slop at Oaklawn Park, Omaha Beach on Saturday ran not just to a win in the Grade 1, US$1 million Arkansas Derby, but also perhaps favoritism three weeks later in the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
With a strong middle move on the back stretch, the son of War Front sprinted to the lead and never gave it up while off as the 8-5 favorite in a field of 11.
Improbable, the post time second choice, climbed into contention after proving frustrating for the gate crew to load, setting up a stretch duel between the two after he ranged up outside of Omaha Beach through the turn.
The victory never seemed seriously in doubt, however, as Omaha Beach hit the half-mile mark in 47.50 seconds and just continued on, finishing up the 1 1/8 miles under jockey Mike Smith in 1:49.91.
Richard Mandella, who trains the winner, said he's "just hoping he stays as good as he’s been, because he’s just continued to improve all year long. Hopefully I can just keep that going.”
The Fox Hill Farms runner -- back at Oaklawn after winning last month's Rebel Stakes (G2) -- earned the points necessary to move on to the Derby along with Improbable, who will be trainer Bob Baffert's third entry. It was well back to Country House, the race's show finisher, who also cracked the Top 20 in Derby qualifying points.
A pair of tough decisions now loom. Smith, who rides Omaha Beach, also has the assignment on Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Roadster. And Jose Ortiz, who teamed with Bob Baffert for the first time Saturday on Improbable, also has the mount on Wood Memorial (G2) winner Tacitus.
Among the biggest disappointments Saturday were Long Range Toddy, who won the other division of the Rebel, missing the board along with Galilean, a well-regarded California-based shipper. Long Range Toddy entered Saturday with the points necessary to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
Laughing Fox ran fourth in the Arkansas Derby.