Oaklawn Park was finally the recipient of great weather on Saturday for an afternoon of stakes races, including the $1 million Rebel Stakes.
The card had four other big-money contests, including the $500,000 Essex Handicap and the $350,000 Azeri that brought the total purses to over $2 million.
The infield was open, welcoming fans of all ages to the storied racing venue in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The view from the fifth-story press box was impressive and gave a great view of the entire track, including all of the action on the backstretch.
After a wet winter, including several inches of snow, the track was finally dry, and it was listed as fast for the race.
The Rebel awarded Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 scale, ensuring the winner a spot in the famed opening Triple Crown contest. The field was stacked with quality horses trained by Hall of Famers and Eclipse Award winners.
It all set the stage for a terrific race, and it certainly didn't disappoint, as Concert Tour, in just his third career start, punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby.
Caddo River, trained by Brad Cox, was a slight early favorite at 9/5 but was closer to even odds by post time, over Hall of Famer Bob Baffert's Concert Tour at 2/1. Keepmeinmind, sidelined since November due to weather-related issues, was next at 4/1.
Trainer Steven Asmussen, whose horses always seem to overachieve at Oaklawn, had a pair of entries, but neither was among the top three favorites. Super Stock was listed at 6/1, while Big Lake was at 12/1. Baffert also had another entrant, 12/1 shot Hozier.
Caddo River started from the inside post position, which in many cases is an advantageous occurrence, while Concert Tour was on the outside in the seventh spot.
The two favorites broke from the gate, with Concert Tour leading the way and Caddo River keeping pace, staying within a couple of lengths for the first ¾ of a mile.
Big Lake, with Ricardo Santana on board, was lurking in third throughout the race. By the time the field hit the stretch, Caddo River had begun to fall farther behind Concert Tour, who had taken control of the race.
Hozier made a big move on the inside and edged in front of Big Lake. Concert Tour won by four lengths over Hozier, with Big Lake third and Super Stock moving into the fourth position as Caddo River faded to fifth.
Baffert's horses finished in the first two spots, followed by Asmussen's pair of entries. Concert Tour won $600,000, picked up the 50 qualifying points that go to the winner and paid $5.40, $3.80 and $3.40.
Hozier's runner-up finish was worth $200,000 and 20 points, paying $10.80 and $6.40.
With the third spot, Big Lake earned $100,000 along with 10 points and paid $6.00. Super Stock ended up with $50,000 and five qualifying points for the fourth-place effort.
The next Kentucky Derby prep race at Oaklawn will be the 100-40-20-10 point Arkansas Derby on April 10, with many of these same horses likely to be entered.