Last Saturday, thoroughbred horse trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith both experienced the highs and lows that horse racing has to offer. Baffert trainee MASTERY won the San Felipe Stakes in stylish fashion, but as the horse entered the first turn for his cool down jog back to the winners’ circle, he took a bad step, and sustained a condylar fracture to his front left leg. Mike Smith immediately recognized that something went amiss and hopped off the horse, slowing him down to a stop immediately, and most likely, he saved the horse’s life. MASTERY actually walked calmly onto the horse ambulance and was fine back at the barn until they noticed some fluid building up in his front left limb. That ended the Derby run for MASTERY and Baffert was left with AMERICAN ANTHEM who is no slouch in his own right.
The $900,000 Grade 2 – Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas will showcase four of the current Top 20 point earners in this year’s Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Series. The favorite will likely be AMERICAN ANTHEM. The son of BODEMEISTER, the three year old bay colt, owned by WinStar Farm LLC, will look to follow up his second place finish in the Sham Stakes and cement his spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate by earning 50 qualification points for the victory this Saturday.
There are a number of other well qualified horses in this field and I will break down all of their past performances and try to give you a clear picture of how the race will shape up. Here we go…
#1 – SILVER BULLION (Ramon Vasquez/D.W. Lukas 19%)
With three starts under his belt, this Lukas entry has a lot to prove coming into this start. He debuted at 12-1 in mid-January, never started as a two year old, and wasn’t super impressive first out of the gate. He ran very evenly in his debut and closed a little ground to earn fourth place and finish just over a length off the winner. He followed that up in start number two with a victory. He broke in relatively the same position that he did in his first start, gaining a forward position just off the leaders, in his second time around, he showed he had learned something and edged clear to win by over a length at 5-1. He stepped up in class for an allowance race in start three, going two turns for the first time. He pressed and dueled for the lead on the inside throughout, and was no match for the eventual winner in the final furlong. He is by PIONEEROF THE NILE, he should have no trouble with eight and a half furlongs, but it was his first time so we can give him some leway when his performance is concerned.
Based on his pace numbers, I do expect him to shoot off away out of the gate. His post position lends him no other option. He should go to the front, see how much he has gained in stamina, and really see what kind of horse he is in the final stages. He has never faced a field like this and his final speed numbers don’t put him in the mix if he runs similar to any of his three previous starts.
OUTLOOK: It’s hard to play this horse off of any of his previous starts. I would look elsewhere, but I do expect him to be part of the pace scenario. Unless he is alone on the lead or gets a dream stalking trip, I would be very surprised if he moves forward on the Derby trail.
#2 – UNCONTESTED (Channing Hill/Wayne Catalano 22%)
We do have some experience with this colt if you have read my previous articles of the Oaklawn Derby preps. UNCONTESTED was marvelous in his Smarty Jones Stakes win and I can’t take away anything from him for that performance. I will say that I was one of the people that expected him to take a step back in the Grade 3 – Southwest Stakes. When he broke on top and shot straight to the lead, I was like “Oh no! Not again.” Then the fractions popped up in :22.4 and :46.3 and I was like wow, he is going a lot faster than I anticipated he was considering how easy he made it to the front. I was indeed proven right when He faltered badly and finished sixth. It wasn’t like he bounced off the face of the Earth, but it was much different than his previous victory. Some people were touting him as their Derby favorite.
He will get a chance for redemption on Saturday and he will also not have to face the horse that won the Southwest. Pletcher trainee. ONE LINER, has opted out of this race and will look elsewhere moving forward on the Derby trail. UNCONTESTED has thrown up some extremely fast works which can only mean he came out of his last race in pristine condition, but I do wonder if they let him go a bit too fast on 03/10 (:58.4)
OUTLOOK: I do expect UNCONTESTED to run his race. He wants to be on the lead, and he likely will get there or very close to the lead. His pace figures for the early stages of the race prove much faster than SILVER BULLION, so he should break in front of him as long as he leaves the gate clean. His job this Saturday will be getting to the front and slowing it down. That’s where I think he runs into trouble and it is also why I am steering clear of this Catalano entry.
#3 – SONNETEER (Richard Eramia/Keith Desormeaux 0%)
Sonneteer works out with Sabi Sands at Santa Anita Park
How often do you see an 0 for 8 maiden in a spot this far into the Derby preps? Not often. I can’t see the Desormeaux clan shipping this horse in for no reason, but I am not sure it has a chance to win it. He is not a frontrunner which can’t hurt considering how much speed there is to his inside. His sire, MIDNIGHT LUTE was the real deal and has produced many winners, but his dam has only produced two wins out of 19 starts from two starters. I don’t have a lot to say about this maiden. He has run some good speed numbers that are fast enough to compete here, but without a victory I have to move on.
OUTLOOK: Maiden for a reason after eight starts, he could be a longshot worth using in exotics because of his running style. Other than that, I would leave him off your tickets unless you have some inside information I do not see.
#4 – PETROV (Jose L Ortiz/Ron Moquett 22%)
A lot of people are calling this the ‘Little Horse That Could’, I think that’s a little overboard. He has run some very nice races in spots where there looked to be more talent in other positions in the race. Last out in the Southwest, he went off at 8-1, but tracked the pace took the lead from UNCONTESTED like he meant business heading for home, He tried his tail off, but ONE LINER just proved to be too good in the final sixteenth and drew clear. PETROV put up some very fast early speed pace figures in that start and will look to continue improving this Saturday.
Their are going to be some more hurdles this time around. He is not even close to being the lone speed horse or lone threat to a speed horse. He will definitely be forwardly placed and could get position in the center of the track, to track the pace-setter on his outter flank just like he did with UNCONTESTED in the Southwest, but he is going to have avoid a rival coming up on his outside and getting caught between horses. If that happens, it spells trouble. It is only troubling because of PETROV’s size, smaller horse don’t tend to do well when they get bigger horses coming up on them on their outside. It could be a problem he can’t avoid Saturday, but Jose Ortiz should be smart enough to know that and place PETROV where he can win from. If that means getting closer to the front than he ideally would want to be, than that’s exactly what he should do. If this horse can show versatility, he could possible pull a slight upset on a track he has run very well on in two starts.
OUTLOOK: I want to root for this one, but I don’t think Saturday is PETROV’S day. Hopefully, down the road we can find a spot to play this horse where it makes sense on the value line. I just think he will be too short of a price based on his last two efforts. I am passing on this one in the Rebel.
#5 – UNTRAPPED (Irad Ortiz Jr./Steven Asmussen 19%)
The second place finisher in the Grade 2 – Risen Star at The Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Louisiana – UNTRAPPED trained by Steve Asmussen could be the most talented horse in the field. A lot of pundits touted GIRVIN as the horse to beat in the Risen Star and he proved that he was exactly that. His final speed figures and pace numbers in the late stages of the race will put him right in the thick of things if he runs back to his most recent numbers or improves on them.
I would expect that he may take back a bit farther than he did in the Risen Star just because of how much speed there is to the inside of him in this start. He drew a center position in the starting gate which gives him options and that can only be a good thing at this stage of the Derby prep season. Many of these three year olds are still learning, I think UNTRAPPED is just gathering knowledge as a racehorse, I have watched him a number of times and he seems to just take in his surroundings and try hard in every start. I would expect the same on Saturday.
OUTLOOK: He should be in the mix at the end of this race. I would fully expect him to come out of that Risen Star in peak condition and if things work out for Asmussen, he may not make another start until the Kentucky Derby. I do also like the fact that instead of giving him another workout, they are going full bore for the Derby points here. They are wide open for the taking. UNTRAPPED has every chance to win this race. His pace numbers make sense. His final speed numbers make sense. He will be close in the end, but I have him JUST UNDERNEATH the winner.
#6 – MALAGACY (JJ Castellano/Todd Pletcher)
This could be the wild card of the field. This Pletcher trainee was kind of an unknown quantity in their barn until January 4th. Then this chestnut colt stepped on the track and went bonkers at nearly 6-1. He crushed drawing away from a field while being ridden out in the slop down at Gulfstream Park. Some people saw it as a freak outing produced by the wet surface. Then the third place finisher came back to win in his next start. And then MALAGACY may have proved why SHACKLEFORD could be the next coming of TAPIT as a sire. MALAGACY came back in a first level allowance race on the a fast dirt course at Gulfstream, stretching out a bit to six and a half furlongs, and did the exact same thing he did in his first effort. He trounced in a very sharp effort by seven lengths at odds of 1/5. Have a said enough good things yet?
OUTLOOK: This is the first time stretching out for MALAGACY, that’s pretty much the only question mark unanswered at this point. It will be his first stakes, a graded stakes, and his first time around two turns. It’s a lot to ask, Pletcher likes to take steps, he is taking them all with this one because of his late development into a Derby contender. Let me throw this out at you, Do you remember ONE LINER? The horse that won the Southwest in style in his first graded start following a MSW and first level allowance level win. It’s the exact same pattern and here are ONE LINER’S speed figures leading into the Southwest (103 in ALW win, 88 in debut MSW win). Here are MALAGACY’S speed figures leading into the Rebel (111 in ALW win, 104 in debut MSW win). You do the math – This one needs to be near the top of your tickets if not ON TOP.
#7 – AMERICAN ANTHEM (Mike Smith/Bob Baffert 43% 40 starts)
After GORMLEY went amiss in last week’s San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, AMERICAN ANTHEM’S stock kind of dropped a bit moving into this race. It could effect the odds in the race as well. When I first looked at the field, I thought AMERICAN ANTHEM probably would be the one to beat moving forward considering the final speed figure of 115 and the way he fought back in the Sham to just miss by a head.
I went into depth about AMERICAN ANTHEM up top so I won’t go on and on about him, but with Mike Smith coming into ride Baffert is firing all his bullets to earn another spot in the Derby after MASTERY came up lame following the San Felipe, It is going to take his best effort and a change in tactics. With all the speed in this race, and the unknown quantity that is MALAGACY, AMERICAN ANTHEM has the right jockey to navigate all the “What-if’s?” in this race. There are many of them, so it will be very interesting what they decide to do. Maybe, they break towards the front and decide to settle back if MALAGACY goes with the inside trio. Or maybe, he just goes anyway, hoping he is the fastest in the group and tries to set the pace. Lots of questions to be answered in roughly 100 seconds on Saturday.
OUTLOOK: If Baffert didn’t want to be part of the Derby, this horse probably would stay in California and take one shot at the Santa Anita Derby. Instead, he starts him fresh here and will get two shots at it if this race doesn’t work out. Is it a Santa Anita Derby prep or are they going for the win? I think they are going for the win, but I think there may be one a little bit better to the inside if he takes to two turns.
#8 – SILVER DUST (Corey Lanerie/Randy Morse 22%)
Silver Dust was very intriguing coming into the Southwest. There were a lot of very smart horse people that thought this son of TAPIT was going to be the winner of that race at a price. It didn’t work out as Pletcher stole the show and little PETROV ran second. Other than those top two runners, nobody really performed to their capability. I honestly expected a bit more from SILVER DUST and Randy Morse did as well.
He is giving him a second shot to earn a spot in the Derby and he is going to have to improve significantly off the poor effort in the Southwest. It was pretty dreadful off of the layoff and maybe that’s the excuse, it was off of a layoff. I don’t see it but maybe you do, that’s the great thing about horse racing.
OUTLOOK: He would have to run a career best number to compete in this spot. The one advantage that he does have is his running style. With a multitude of speed horses in the race and SILVER DUST having a win from off the pace in his resume, it could be considered to use him in exotics and as a long shot on top on some tickets. I wouldn’t rule it out if he looks great on track and the tote board tells me the same thing.
#9 – APPALACHIAN GEM (Gary Stevens/Jack Van Berg)
Gary Stevens rides into Hot Springs, Arkansas hoping to score a Derby mount. The great Jack Van Berg saddles this long shot by GEMOLOGIST, but will need a stiff improvement off of every number he has put up in his three career starts.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one except for the fact that he could be race to the half way point and based on his last races, he will fade from there. He is a long shot unless he is holding something back we are not seeing.
#10 – ROYAL MO (Victor Espinoza/John Shirreffs 18%)
The connections are elite. The breeding is elite. His most recent performance was elite. His speed numbers have improved in every start, but… there’s always a “but” right? Who has he beat? He has not beat anybody worth talking about. His final speed figures also have not matched up with some of the ones put up by others in here. I don’t always pay attention to that, but this horse has had four starts. His numbers are improving and that is a good sign.
OUTLOOK: I am a little curious why this horse took three times to break his maiden and Shirreffs never went to Mike Smith and asked for his mount. He always has gone to Mike in a pinch and he never went to him with ROYAL MO. Maybe he doesn’t think as much of him as the numbers do? Maybe, I am dead wrong and the horse crushes on Saturday. I am going to steer clear until I see him beat some horses worth talking about.
#11 – LOOKIN AT LEE (Ricardo Santana, Jr./Steve Asmussen 17%)
I was all about LOOKIN AT LEE going into the Southwest Stakes and then I got shafted when he dropped off the face of the Earth before closing up with a belated rally four wide down the center of the track. He did stumble at the start so he had some excuse, but he was going to drop far off the pace anyways. I do blame Santana Jr. a little bit for how far back he got. He had to know that he wasn’t going to be able to contend from where he is and maybe that was the goal the entire time. Just loosen up his legs after a long layoff and aim for this race. I don’t know. I am hypothesizing at this point.
OUTLOOK: With all the speed in this race to the inside, I like LOOKIN AT LEE again. It’s hard not to. His legs should be loosened up, Santana will have staying closer on his mind, and I think this horse can run for days if he wants to. I always have a little bias for his father who was very good to me. Granted LOOKIN AT LUCKY was in a different class at this point in his career, I think LOOKIN AT LEE has the makings of a DERBY contender. He just has to learn to not lose touch with the field in the early stages. I honestly think he is my long shot contender for the winners’ circle. I like others a bit more, but I will be using this one.
#1 – MALAGACY
#2 – LOOKIN AT LEE
#3 – UNTRAPPED
#4 – AMERICAN ANTHEM
#5 – SILVER DUST