The Kentucky Derby trail grinds on this weekend with a lone 50 point prep, the Rebel Stakes (Gr II) at Oaklawn Park, featuring a 11 horse field of mostly unproven prospects. Last weekend was also a single prep weekend as the Risen Star results offered little clarity with an improving colt, Angel of Empire, parlaying a solid pace scenario coupled with a perfect ride to grab the first 50 point race. About the only thing that could be definitively said about that race, other than it was difficult to see as it was run in the gloaming, is well beaten favorite Victory Formation is not ready for prime time.
The big news of the week was the expected exodus from the Baffert barn as the February 28 transfer deadline looms and we are late enough in the game where points need to be earned soon. I have stated several times that I am not all that enamored with the BB contingent this season outside of Arabian Knight, who is also going to be very lightly raced if he even makes it into the gate on the first Saturday in May. Reincarnate is the other that I think can make some noise and we will find out a whole lot more about him this afternoon.
Looking ahead, March 4th is a four race prep Saturday with two big boy races, the Fountain of Youth (Gr II) and San Felipe (Gr II); a solid though likely to have minimal Kentucky Derby impact Gotham (Gr III); and a synthetic special at Turfway, the Battaglia. Two year old champ Forte is scheduled to make his 2023 debut in the Fountain of Youth, which may also include Champagne winner Blazing Sevens, and those two should inject a much needed dose of relevance to the thus far, ho-hum Sunshine state road to the Derby. The Gotham may be an excellent race with a potentially crowded field but it’s getting late in the Kentucky Derby prep season for one turn horses. The California route has been the personal playground for one Robert A. Baffert for years and his absence will hang over this San Felipe like a guillotine. With the 50 points up for grabs now in play minus Bob’s name on the program, possible contenders National Treasure, Faustin and/or Hejazi could line up against the promising Practical Move, who ironically is actually trained by Baffert surrogate Tim Yakteen.
In other non-Kentucky Derby news:
🏖 The Breeders Cup is headed back to Cali, Del Mar was named host of the 2024 edition. By most accounts the popular San Diego area venue was a fine host despite its logistical challenges of being smaller than other hosts like Santa Anita and Churchill Downs. Let’s just hope the regulatory ineptness that occurred last time the Cup was held at Del Mar doesn’t resurface.
❄️ Every time the Breeders Cup announces a venue, like clockwork, out comes the unofficial “Breeders Cup should be held at Saratoga” committee. If the Cup could be held in August, the Spa would be a fine place to hold it. However November is not gonna work and I will just offer one visual aid to assist on why it would be difficult (there are many other reasons as well)⬇️
These are the last four years weather reports from Saratoga on the corresponding Breeders Cup dates. One year had great weather, two years had not great weather and one had terrible weather. Remember these are temps without wind chill which at Saratoga would be a big factor considering there are virtually no areas that wouldn’t be affected. Holding a Belmont Day at Saratoga offers it’s own challenges (can’t run 1 1/2 on the dirt) but patrons getting frostbite while sitting in a $4000 box isn’t one of them.
🗳 Saw on social media that some are trying to conjure up support for Ferdinand as a Hall of Fame candidate and I’m a bit confused as to why now? Let me say first that I was a fan of Ferdinand and enjoyed his two greatest wins (the 1986 Kentucky Derby and the 1987 Breeders Cup Classic) though I bet against him both times (Amazingly I can remember who I bet 30+ years ago but lose my keys three times a week - Bold Arrangement in the Derby and Judge Angelucci in the Classic). However it never felt like he had a Hall of Fame type career when he was running or in the immediate aftermath of his retirement. There is no doubt that he possessed elite level talent and jockey Willie Shoemaker always said that he was a difficult horse to ride, as he had a bad habit of pulling himself up once he hit the lead in the stretch. However his actual resume is light for that era when horses raced more and the Hall of Famers of that time all had significantly stronger credentials when they are examined under the harsh light of history. Ferdinand raced four seasons, as a 2, 3, 4 and 5 year old. His only accomplishment as a 2 year old was being a distant third in the Hollywood Futurity (Gr I) to Snow Chief. As a three year old he won the Kentucky Derby at 17-1, was second by 4 in the Preakness (behind Snow Chief) and then third in the Belmont (behind Danzig Connection). He didn’t run again until he won the Malibu (Gr II) in December, the only time he defeated Snow Chief. As a 4 year old he started the season off finishing 4th and 2nd in the Strub series before getting beat a nose by Broad Brush in the epic 1987 Santa Anita handicap. After that he was 4th, 3rd and 4th in the San Luis Rey, John Henry and Californian (all grade I’s) before winning the Hollywood Gold Cup (Gr I). His legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham gave him a little breather and brought him back for the ungraded Cabrillo Handicap, which was an easy score though only a three horse field. He then found the best form of his career when he reeled off wins in the Goodwood (Gr III) and another ‘one for the ages’ race in the Breeders Cup Classic (Gr I) at Hollywood Park, over that years Derby champ, Alysheba. The nose margain was enough to garner him the 1987 Eclipse award for champion older horse plus a horse of the year title. Ferdinand’s five year old season was not quite so memorable as he was winless in 5 starts though he was second three times in row in early spring, twice narrow defeats at the hands of Alysheba. The final three races of his career were thrashings by Cutlass Reality, races he wasn’t a factor at all. In his career he was 29-8-9-6 with $3.7 million earned and clearly Whititngham could get him cranked up to win on the two biggest stages in American racing. The issue is that compared to his peers in that era, winning 5 graded stakes over four campaigns, even if they were two huge ones, just doesn’t measure up. Gulch and Forty Niner don’t have the Horse of the Year achievement but as Eclipse winners that ran in the same era, they captured 10 and 7 graded stakes and the latter didn’t even race as an older horse, yet neither is in the Hall. This isn’t discounting Ferdinand’s ability and if you could somehow get the ‘hot tub time machine’ fired up and beam him into 2023, he’d terrorize the soft-serve cupcakes that make up our current older horse division. I must digress though because conjecture regardless of potential accuracy, isn’t how we measure hall of fame candidacy, or I should add, isn’t how we are supposed to. In the end he simply didn’t get to the wire first enough times, yet considering the thin resumes of several modern candidates whom may be getting elected soon enough, I don’t believe that I’d protest too loudly if he did.
❓Why does Pennine Ridge still have a graded stakes named after him?
🇸🇦 I just have a couple thoughts after looking over the PP’s for the Saudi Cup races. Not making political statements nor condemning those who choose to participate but American horses are in it and as such we have an interest in seeing how they perform.
Race 4 is the Turf Sprint (Gr III) at the distance of 6 3/4 furlongs and the top 3 from last years race, Japanese mare Songline (JPN), Casa Creed and Happy Romance (IRE) from the UK, return. I’d take a flyer on a different horse from last years race, Pogo (IRE) who ran deceptively well in his last, the Breeders Cup Turf Mile (Gr I) at Keeneland and might be better than he was last year. 🇬🇧🇯🇵🇺🇸
Race 6 is the Saudi Derby (Gr III) for three year olds though Southern Hemisphere horses are allowed and they aren’t really three. They are however required to carry 131 while Northern Hemisphere three year olds only have an impost of 121 pounds. Havnameltdown is the only US participant for the familiar connections of Bob Baffert and Frankie Dettori and his performance will be interesting to help gauge the form of some of the Kentucky Derby prospects from California. This race is contested at the about 1 mile distance and that might be about as far as Havnameltdown wants to stretched out at this point. The main competition will likely come from a host of Japanese shippers, Continuar (JPN), Derma Sotogake (JPN), Ecoro Ares and From Dusk, all of which are nominated to the American Triple Crown. 🇯🇵🇺🇸
Race 7 is the Dirt Sprint (Gr III) which stars 2022 Sprint Eclipse and Breeders Cup Sprint (Gr I) winner Elite Power and recent Oaklawn Park Stakes victor Gunite as well as Meraas shipping in off of an Aqueduct allowance score. They tackle a trio of in-form Japanese challengers, Dancing Prince (JPN), Remake (JPN) and Ryuno Yukina (JPN) and if you have been paying any attention to international racing lately, you’d know the horses from Japan are of the highest class. 🇺🇸🇯🇵
Race 8 is the Saudi Cup (Gr I) which features Taiba’s older horse debut, Country Grammar returning to the Middle East where he is a lot better than he is domestically, a quartet of Japanese beasts Cafe Pharoah, Crown Pride (JPN), Jun Light Bolt (JPN), Panthalassa (JPN) plus last year’s huge upset winner from the home team, Emblem Road. I have little to offer here other than the Americans will be overbet, no Wiggie Ramos means no Emblem Road and it’s most likely that one of the Japanese horses will win, I just have no idea which one.🇯🇵🇺🇸🇸🇦
📄 From the “things aren’t always what they seem because many are afraid to speak up because of retribution” file…well most people aren’t but if you click here you will find one such person that isn’t. I have personally heard several other stories from horsemen that have run into a gauntlet of bureaucratic issues. Many feel that are being cast as the enemies of the regulatory bodies rather than professionals trying to adapt to a long list of new mandates that still have many kinks to work out.
🇭🇰 If you happen to be up in the middle of the night (post time approx 3:05 am), you might want to check out a battle of two of the worlds best, Golden Sixty (lifetime record 27-23-2-1) versus Romantic Warrior (11-9-1-0), each trying to capture the HK Gold Cup (Gr I) at 2000 meters on the grass at Sha Tin.
Rebel (Gr II) $1,000,000 1 1/16 3 year olds (50 pts KD race)
Verifying - well the weather report looks better than it did earlier in the week and though the track was sloppy Friday and there is supposed to be some lingering showers in the morning, it might be a fast-ish track by post time of the Rebel. This guy didn’t run great in the Breeders Cup Juvy at Keeneland before bouncing back in a highly productive allowance race (2nd and 3rd finishers returned to win) that he won by a good margin while recording a solid TG of 5.5. All the requisite win percentages are there as usual with this crew and Flo Go lands here for the first time. My question about him is can he get in the clear from post one and will he regress from that allowance win? The price isn’t likely to be good but he is a major player.
Powerful - stretches out again after total ‘no show’ in his only two turn race, a complete non-effort in the Breeders Futurity last October. He does have good early speed as he displayed in winning the Ed Brown stakes at 6f last out in November at Churchill Downs. This is a tough spot to return in off a three month layoff and his only impact may be as part of the early pacesetters.
Red Route One - came from Little Rock to be the runner up behind Arabian Knight in the Southwest (Gr III) over a sloppy surface last month. He earned a good fig for that effort (TG 6.5) which matched his lifetime best number when ridden similarly when third in the Breeders Futurity (Gr I). I’d expect him to lag and make one run again which is always a dicey proposition in a large field, though there seems to be enough pace types signed on to keep the early fractions honest. Steve A. has been uncharacteristically cold for this time of the year, winning only 11% the last 90 days and is only batting 9% from a large sample size at the current Oaklawn meet.
Gun Pilot - was the runner up behind Verifying after showing good early speed 42 days ago. Showed a little bit of a new dimension by sitting inside for most of the race before angling wide and out finishing the others in his latest, an allowance score just three weeks ago. I like the activity and he has improved each start but he has to move up again and it felt like he won the last because he was just a little better than the rest which isn’t the case here. Not impossible but demand a price if you use him.
Giant Mischief - bounced at Remington off of a huge fig earned (TG 2 which was a tick faster than Forte’s 2.5 when winning the BC Juvy) on a BC undercard allowance race where he outgamed the once touted Arabian Lion. Stumbled at the start in Oklahoma before Flo Go embarked on a chalk players trail of tears and had little punch left the final 100 yards. Much has been said about Giant Mischief’s company lines as no one exiting his races is doing much winning but at this stage in horses young careers, that might be overstated. Cox put out the jockey bat signal to lure Irad out of balmy Gulfstream for a Saturday in the grim weather, though he might be looking for a rider even if he wins this as Ortiz is the regular rider of the aforementioned Forte. Interesting to me is that despite the majority of stats involving Cox being as gaudy as something Mike Iavarone would wear for Halloween, the BC-Irad combo has only hit at 15% for a weak .75 ROI. I’d be far from shocked if he wins but he will likely be overbet here.
Reincarnate - not your typical Bob Baffert juvenile as he began his career on the grass and took four starts to get his maiden broke. He also wasn’t hyper-fast like most good horses from that outfit (top before last had been TG of 8.75) so when he went wire to wire to upset the Sham (Gr III) and earned a 2.75 TG you could color me surprised. (BTW - think that fig should be closer to a 3.5 as he was given credit for being 2w on the second turn of the Sham but I don’t agree with that) Now under Tim Yakteen’s name as trainer, I’m not sure what to think about his chance here. Does new rider Johnny V gun him from the starting gate and try to emulate the trip last time on the front end? Does he try to rate him off of the early leaders, perhaps Powerful? Will he regress off of the big jump in speed figs and if he does, how much? He is a very tough call as he has the requisite talent to beat these but we have only seen his ‘A game’ once.
Confidence Game - we talk about Desormeaux’s work often it seems and this is another improving, bargain yearling purchase (25k for him) heading in the right direction. He has gotten better and better but he can’t be 4 wide on the first turn as he was last out if he is gonna have more success here. If Jimmy Graham can workout a decent trip, don’t be surprised if this guy sneaks on the board at a long price.
Talladega - he is too slow even by this years pokey Derby trail status
Event Detail - not sure why he isn’t taking the Turfway route as this is likely much tougher than the Battaglia will be next week. Nevertheless he was visually impressively last out, pairing 9 TG which is generally a nice developing pattern though he has to jump up pretty good to be competitive here. Seems like a wide trip might be in the cards.
Bourbon Bash - for Lukas fans mostly as he really just isn’t developing, has a novice jockey for this level who is only batting 5% and a tough to decipher trip from an outside post.
Frosted Departure - erratic sort that tried Arabian Knight in the Southwest (Gr III) but was shrugged off by that one and faded late. Not sure what the plan is from post 11 but on his very best you could make a case for him making some noise here. Problem is that I am not real confident that his very best is gonna happen today.
📽Yes we threw cold water on Ferdinand’s Hall of Fame candidacy but that doesn’t take away from the greatness of his effort in one of the epic races of the last 40 years. Appearances from Harvey Pack, Charlie Whittingham and Bill Shoemaker in the post race coverage!
Always enjoy these articles !
Loved the Ferdinand stories. That era was my first love. Forty Niner. Danzig Connection. Snow Chief. Thanks.