Wells Bayou is running in a Derby on the first Saturday in May, just not the one at Churchill Downs. But for his local owners, the second division of the $500,000 Arkansas Derby (G1) is the next best thing.

“We would love to win the Arkansas Derby,” Lance Gasaway said.

Gasaway and his father, Clint, both southeast Arkansas natives and residents, own 80 percent of Wells Bayou, who will be making his first start since a front-running 1 ½-length victory in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 21 at Fair Grounds.

Under normal circumstances, Wells Bayou would have made his next start in the Kentucky Derby. But owing to the new virus, Covid-19, Churchill Downs postponed its spring meeting and moved the 1 ¼-mile Run for the Roses to Sept. 5. Oaklawn responded by shifting its signature race, the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, from April 11 to offset the giant void for horsemen.

The Arkansas Derby was split for the first time since 1960 after drawing 22 entrants, including Wells Bayou, who began his 3-year-old campaign with a sharp entry-level allowance score in his two-turn debut Jan. 26 at Oaklawn before finishing second in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 17. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest is Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races.

Wells Bayou had been on the fence for the repositioned Arkansas Derby before trainer Brad Cox decided to pull the trigger last weekend.

“To be honest with you, there’s no other options out there right now,” Cox said. “We had prepared him as if we were running and when it came down to entering, once again there were no other options. We thought just thought: ‘Continue the process of developing this horse, and we think this is going to be a good move.’ ”

The Gasaways, on the advice of bloodstock agent Liz Crow (BSW Bloodstock), purchased Wells Bayou for $105,000 at the 2019 Ocala Breeders’ Sales March 2-year-old in training sale. Crow brokered a deal before the Louisiana Derby to bring in BSW clients Sol Kumin (Madaket Stables) and Marc Lore (Wonder Stables) as partners in the son of champion Lookin At Lucky.

While Kumin is one of the country’s most visible owners (he also has a piece of first-division Arkansas Derby favorite Charlatan), Wells Bayou has put the Gasaways in the national spotlight for the first time. The Louisiana Derby came exactly five years after Lance Gasaway, 57, won his first race as an owner in a $15,000 claiming event at Oaklawn with Character Zero. Clint Gasaway, 82, named Wells Bayou after a small community in Southeast Arkansas.

“It has a little school there and that’s where my dad went to school,” said Lance Gasaway, who lives in nearby Star City. “He wanted to name the horse, Wells Bayou. Everything is just farm country down there.”

Lance Gasaway grew up in Gould – about 3 miles northeast of Wells Bayou – before starring at wide receiver in the mid-1980s at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. He was inducted into the UAM Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, roughly two years after entering Thoroughbred ownership.

Gasaway said his interest in horses was sparked by attending Oaklawn growing up and now, in partnership, he owns approximately a half-dozen horses, including two purchases at the 2020 OBS March sale (a $170,000 Liam’s Map filly and a $50,000 Midnight Lute colt); Spokane Eagle, a two-time winner this year at Oaklawn; and a broodmare, Ma’am, an allowance winner in 2018 at Oaklawn. Ma’am was the first horse Gasaway said he had with Cox. Wells Bayou, obviously, is their best collaboration to date.

“We had confidence in Wells Bayou from Day 1,” said Gasaway, whose other business interests include a family farm (rice, cotton, corn and soybeans) in Gould. “We watched him win his first race up there at Keeneland and Brad had told me this horse was going to get better and better. He’s a Lookin At Lucky colt and he said they’re usually later maturing. He’s done just exactly like Brad said. He’s just steadily improved, gotten better and better.”

Wells Bayou has a 3-1-0 record from five lifetime starts and earnings of $845,293. Wells Bayou ranks second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 104 points, including 100 for his Louisiana Derby victory. He also earned four points for his runner-up finish in the Southwest.

Like the Louisiana Derby, the Arkansas Derby offers 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

Wells Bayou is the 7-2 second choice in the program for the second division of the Arkansas Derby.