HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Horses based in California race on synthetic surfaces, but in this year's 3-year-old preps for the Kentucky Derby, they have shown there's nothing artificial about them.
Twice earlier in this meet at Oaklawn Park, a horse shipped in from California and won an important stakes race for 3-year-olds. But while Conveyance (Southwest Stakes) and Lookin At Lucky (Rebel) were favored, it was 17-1 long shot Line of David who stole the race, and the show, on Saturday at Oaklawn Park, leading every step of the way in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby before a crowd of 61,531 on a sun-splashed afternoon.
Line of David ($36.80) was racing on dirt -- and appearing in a stakes race, and racing outside of California -- for the first time following previous starts on either synthetic surfaces or turf. But he has improved sharply since adding blinkers on Feb. 13, and now has won three straight, against maidens, a first-level allowance field, and on Saturday, the richest prep in North America for the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Line of David, under jockey Jon Court, showed grit to stave off stern bids from Super Saver and Dublin in the stretch run. He won by a neck, with Super Saver a neck in front of Dublin. Line of David completed 1⅛ miles on the fast main track in 1:49.37.
Noble's Promise, the 8-5 favorite, finished fifth after a dreadful trip that began right out of the gate, when he hopped and got squeezed between the horses starting alongside him.
John Sadler, who trains Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney's Candy, also trains Line of David. Both horses won their races in front-running fashion, giving Sadler two potential Derby starters, both with early speed.
"We're going to enjoy this now," said Sadler, who trains Line of David for owners Ike and Dawn Thrash. "We'll worry about that tomorrow."
"We wanted him to be in front," Sadler said. "When he's in front, it seems to build his confidence."
Line of David was sent aggressively from the gate by Court and led through fractions of 22.65 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 46.26 seconds for a half-mile, and 1:10.75 for six furlongs. As the field went around the far turn, his lead began to diminish, as Super Saver and Dublin closed in.
Those three were across the track after turning into the lane, but Line of David was not about to surrender. Racing along the rail, he fought off those rivals to earn a first prize of $600,000 and a berth in the Kentucky Derby.
"We're really happy," said Sadler, who was fighting back tears. "The Thrashes are great people."
Line of David is a colt by Lion Heart and is out of the Capote mare Emma's Dilemma. Sadler said Line of David would head straight to Churchill Downs, where Sadler will have a small stable of powerful runners for the first week of the Churchill meet. In addition to Sidney's Candy, he also trains Crisp, the Santa Anita Oaks winner, who is headed to the Kentucky Oaks on April 30.