HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — Mike Repole wasn't sure what to make of a disappointing start of the year for his standout 3-year-old, Overanalyze, after a fifth-place finish at the Gotham Stakes last month.
The owner decided to give the colt a six-week break afterward, a move that paid off in convincing fashion Saturday.
Ridden by Rafael Bejarano for the first time, Overanalyze stormed down the home stretch to pull away and win the $1 million Arkansas Derby — making a three-time winner out of trainer Todd Pletcher.
The colt, who struggled so mightily in his only other start of the year, once again found the form that made him a winner in three of five races last year as a 2-year-old. He won by 4¼ lengths and earned Pletcher his first win in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep since winning back-to-back Arkansas derbies in 2000 and 2001.
He also more than made up for his difficult first start of the year, a race in which he was favored and among the leaders on the final turn before fading.
"I think he more than redeemed himself," Repole said. "... I was waiting for the move, and the move came. It just came six weeks later in the Arkansas Derby."
Repole was counting on Overanalyze to be a Kentucky Derby contender this year, particularly after the colt earned more than $350,000 last year, and he wasn't sure what to make of the colt's first start in three months on March 2 at the Gotham.
"He kind of sat down," jockey John Velazquez told Repole. "It just looked like he needed a race."
Overanalyze made a prophet on Saturday out of Velazquez, who ceded his position on the colt to Bejarano due to injury. The colt also confirmed for Repole that is was indeed the right decision to rest him for six weeks after the Gotham.
"He really took a lot of steps forward since the Gotham race," Repole said. "I'm not really surprised that he won. I think I'm really shocked how easy he won and by how much he won."
Trained by Pletcher, Overanalyze started in the No. 9 gate in the 10-horse race and trailed with a second group for much of the race. He charged ahead after the final turn, however and easily pulled away from runner-up Frac Daddy and third-place finisher Carve.
Overanalyze paid $9.40, $5.60 and $4.60. Frac Daddy returned $16.80 and $11, and Carve paid $8.60 to show. Overanalyze earned 100 points in the race for a spot in the Kentucky Derby, while Frac Daddy earned 40 and Carve 20.
Bejarano, who won the 2009 Arkansas Derby on Papa Clem, said he even pulled up on the final 1/16th of the race in order to save stamina for Overanalyze.
"I'm sure he's going to be ready for the Kentucky Derby," Bejarano said.
Overanalyze had run only once previously this year after his stellar 2-year-old campaign, his fifth-place finish at the Gotham.
The Repole Stable-owned 3-year-old had no such problems on Saturday in front of 66,158 in attendance at Oaklawn — running in 1:51.94 and holding off a field that included two Bob Baffert-trained horses.
Baffert's pre-race favorite, War Academy, pulled up on the back stretch before walking off the Oaklawn Park track under his own power. The colt garnered much of the pre-race focus after two wins in three races before backing out of the gate before the race and breaking stride on the back stretch.
"He was just very uncertain over the surface and I tried to get him to settle," jockey Mike Smith said. "He was OK on the first turn, but then he took four or five really awkward steps.
"I didn't see anything major causing it, but I just felt really awkward on him and figured better safe than sorry so I pulled him up. I didn't want to take any chances."
The Hall of Fame trainer's other horse, Den's Legacy, also generated plenty of attention as Baffert attempted to win his second straight Arkansas Derby after Bodemesiter's win a year ago.
It was Pletcher, however, who stole the show with Overanalyze. The former assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, and 2010 Kentucky Derby winner with Super Saver, won his first Arkansas Derby since Graeme Hall in 2000 and Balto Star in 2001.
Overanalyze earned $600,000 with the win, while Frac Daddy — at 24-1 — won $200,000 and Carve $100,000.
The race's other favorite, Oxbow, never threatened. The Lukas-trained colt, second in the Rebel Stakes, finished a disappointing fifth.
There was no such disappointment for Overanalyze, who made a three-time winner out of Pletcher in the Arkansas Derby and a first-time winner out of Repole in his first race at Oaklawn.
"This is why I got into the game," Repole said.