Win or lose the Arkansas Derby, the striking gray colt Cupid already has a reservation in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.
The same can't be said for 21 other 3-year-olds entered in two last-chance prep races Saturday, most needing Derby qualifying points to get to Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs in three weeks.
Cupid is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in a 12-horse field for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. The $1 million race offers 100 points to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
The 1 1/16th-mile Lexington Stakes at Keeneland drew a field of 10, with a 10-4-2-1 point scale.
Swipe comes into the Lexington with 12 points, and needs a win just to become a long shot for the Derby. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up is making his first start of the year after recovering from surgery for a bone chip in his ankle. He is the 9-5 favorite for trainer Keith Desormeaux.
The Derby is limited to 20 starters. If more are entered, the field is determined by points accumulated from a series of 34 designated prep races. Currently, Cupid ranks 11th with 50 points from last month's win in the Rebel Stakes.
The cutoff looks to be around 30 points.
Cupid's trainer Bob Baffert, who took the Arkansas prep route with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah last year, says he's looking for his colt to run a strong race.
"We just want to be competitive," said Baffert, who also trains Derby-bound Mor Spirit. "And then, they separate themselves, especially going a mile-and-an-eighth. That's when they start to separate themselves pretty well."
A few horses on the Derby bubble are set to take on Cupid. Whitmore, runner-up in the Southwest and the Rebel, comes into the Arkansas Derby with 24 points. Dazzling Gem, third in the Louisiana Derby, has 20 points. Creator, Discreetness and Suddenbreakingnews each have 10 points.
And then there's a horse like Gettysburg, who has no points but could soar into the Derby with a win or runner-up finish.
"It's now or never with those Derby points," said Pletcher, who already has two horses in the field with Wood Memorial winner Outwork and Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin. "We're confident that if he runs well, he'll earn enough points. It's on him to do that. I thought his last race was a big step in the right direction (second in the non-scoring Sunland Stakes), and hopefully, he's moving forward from that one."
Ron Moquett, who trains Whitmore, says his colt is ready for another shot at Cupid after coming up 1 1/4 lengths short in the Rebel.
"He's a beast," Moquett says, describing the way Whitmore has trained up to the race. "I would say I have him exactly where I want him for this race. And it took the last race to do it."
— The field for the Arkansas Derby, from the rail out, is Discreetness (Jon Court, 20-1); Cutacorner (Alex Birzer, 50-1); Creator (Ricardo Santana, Jr., 10-1); Suddenbreakingnews (Luis Quinonez, 5-1); American Pioneer (Rafael Bejarano, 8-1); Unbridled Outlaw (Corey Lanerie, 10-1); Dazzling Gem (Joe Talamo, 12-1); Whitmore (Irad Ortiz, Jr., 9-2); Luna de Loco (Joe Bravo, 30-1); Cupid (Martin Garcia, 2-1); Gray Sky (Ramon Vazquez, 30-1); and Gettysburg (John Velazquez, 6-1).
— The field for the Lexington, from the rail out, is One More Round (Jose Lezcano, 30-1); Direct Message (Luis Saez, 15-1); Lomcevak (Jesus Castanon, 15-1); Swipe (Kent Desormeaux, 9-5); Synchrony (Shaun Bridgmohan, 10-1); Big Squeeze (Chris Landeros, 10-1); Call the Colonel (Julien Leparoux, 20-1); Riker (Florent Geroux, 6-1); Yo Carm (Robby Albarado, 15-1); and Collected (Javier Castellano, 2-1).
— In other Derby-related news: Tom's Ready worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 at Churchill Downs, with trainer Dallas Stewart saying he likes the way his Louisiana Derby runner-up handled the track, calling it a "nice, even, strong maintenance work." ... UAE Derby winner Lani, looking to become the first Japan-based horse to win the Kentucky Derby, galloped six furlongs. Keita Tanaka, the agent for owner Koji Maeda, said the first few days after Lani's arrival about 10 days ago were "a little crazy," but the colt is adjusting well to his new surroundings.