Kentucky Derby Preview Series – The G2 Rebel – By Eric Solomon

The Road to the Kentucky Derby returns to Oaklawn Park for the third time this year with the $1 Million, Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at 1 Mile and 1/16. The winner of the Southwest Stakes last month, Newgrange, has returned from his Southern California base to try to take down another lucrative purse in Arkansas. He’s still trained by Bob Baffert, and as of today, he’s still ineligible to earn Derby Points. He takes on the winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes, Dash Attack, and the runner up in both of those two races, Barber Road. There’s also a few fresh faces that are entered to try to take down the pot, while also guaranteeing them a spot in the starting gate for the Derby.

 

 

Oaklawn Park Saturday 2/26/22, Race 11: The Grade 2 Rebel Stakes

85 Total Derby points (50/20/10/5)

1- Kavod (12-1 ML, 200-1, Circa): This modestly bred son of Lea has been an overachiever since stepping on to the racetrack. He was purchased for a mere $3,500, and rewarded his initial owners with a win at Belmont in an $87K maiden special weight win. He was second in the Tremont in June before falling on hard times with stiffer competition. He was claimed for $50K in the fall and instantly rewarded his new connections with a win in the $150K Advent Stakes here at 6 furlongs back in December. He’s been a part of speedy pace battles in both the Smarty Jones and the Southwest. While he faded late in those races, he didn’t completely wilt, finishing 4th both times. He’s a cool horse, but with Newgrange directly outside of him, I don’t see him getting an easy front end trip. The bottom of the vertical exotics is likely his best shot once again.

2 – Newgrange (9-5 ML, 20-1 Circa): Despite winning two Derby Points races where he could have 20 points in the bank, he remains ineligible for the Derby unless he is moved to a different barn. He’s still eligible for the winner’s share of the million dollar purse ($600K), so even though he can’t be awarded the 50 Derby Points for winning, the return trip to Hot Springs could certainly be worth his time. I thought he was a play against in the Southwest as he was posted outside of other speed horses, and he would have to prove that he could win without having  perfect trips. He didn’t get a great trip, pushing a demanding tempo while being wide every step of the way. However, as good horses do, he was able to overcome that and pull away late to win by a length and a half on the wire. He comes back with a better post where he’s drawn inside of the other speed threats, many of whom he beat while ceding ground to last time. Bob Baffert has won this race a remarkable eight times, and he’s well-positioned to make it nine times today.

3 – Cairama (15-1 ML, 500-1 Circa): He is one of three runners that Steve Asmussen is bringing into this race. He was away slow and a long way last in the Smarty Jones last out. He did make up some ground to finish 6th that day in his first try going two turns. I do think he could have a forward move and I do think he’ll have more success at two turns down the road. However, I think he’ll need to take a big step forward to compete with the top few here. 15-1 feels light, but at 30-1 or higher, which is a possibility, he could be worth a little play.

4 – Un Ojo (12-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He’s another one that was far back in the early going of his last race. He closed into a fast pace to get up to be second in the Withers at Aqueduct that day. That race came back very slow from a speed figure perspective, so this will be the first chance to see if those figures out of that race are legitimate. He returns to Ricky Courville, who trained him for his first three starts. My gut feeling is that the Withers was not a very good race and that he will be overmatched with this group today. I suspect he’ll be better suited to return to state bred company in New York, where there are plenty of lucrative options while facing softer fields.

5 – Texas Red Hot (12-1 ML, 400-1 Circa): This son of 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Texas Red, makes his first start as a three year old after finishing up the track in the contentious Kentucky Jockey Club. He earned his trip to that race with an upset win to clear the N1X condition at Churchill, rallying into a fast pace while traveling a one turn mile. He has been working well in the morning for Randy Morse, but he sure found a tough spot to make his seasonal debut. My suspicion is that he’ll be overmatched with this group.

6 – Stellar Tap (10-1 ML, 200-1 Circa): He was one of the smoothest maiden special weight winners at Saratoga last summer, winning on debut by over five lengths after battling in the front end in a seven furlongs contest. He went on to have less than ideal races in his next three starts. He was wide and headstrong going into the first turn in the Iroquois. He hit the front on the far turn, but tired in the final stages of a stretch duel, finishing 5th. He was a bit flat-footed when breaking in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, and was involved with some bumping on the first turn. He sat second down the backstretch and briefly took the lead from Classic Causeway, but was discouraged when Rattle N Roll blew by him. He faded to 7th that day, earning him a few months vacation. He came back in allowance company at the Fair Grounds and had a miserable trip in that race. He was squeezed back at the break, keeping him from getting to the front. It took Rosario a while to get him to relax behind horses, but he did eventually stop tugging. On the turn, Rosario had a narrow hole to get through, but it closed quickly when a few horses bumped him, forcing him to switch course. He did keep coming though, finishing within about two lengths of Pioneer of Medina. That one came back to run a credible 4th in the Risen Star last week, which validated Stellar Tap’s effort in my mind. Rosario is riding Midnight Bourbon in the Saudi Cup, so Cristian Torres is getting a big opportunity here. The question of whether or not he benefited from race day Lasix is in play as well, so value is going to affect how I play him. I think he could be upset minded if he is able to relax in the early stages, sitting just off the front runners. 

7 –  Ben Diesel (6-1 ML, 200-1 Circa): He was a bit of a wiseguy horse after his Kentucky Jockey Club effort where he was sent hard from a wide post and faded late after setting an aggressive pace. He had the same kind of a trip when drawing post 13 in the Smarty Jones. He finally got some post relief getting the rail in the Southwest, and he ran an improved 3rd, while showing a new dimension and sitting off the pace. On one hand, he definitely improved from his previous try. His sire, Will Take Charge, was a horse that needed some races before he really figured things out. On the other hand, he had an easier trip than Newgrange last time out. Ben Diesel drew even with the favorite, but Newgrange re-broke and pulled clear. He certainly could have another forward move in him, especially if he becomes comfortable in his role as a horse that sits off the pace, however I would have liked to have seen a little more fight from him in the late stages of that race, as Newgrange is likely to have a much easier trip than he did last time out.

8 – Chasing Time (8-1 ML, 24-1 Circa): The third of three Asmussen runners has caught the eye of those wagering on Derby futures, as he was hammered down to 24-1 after an impressive allowance win on this oval last month. He broke on top in that allowance, but was passed in the early stages, when a slow starting longshot (Speak Unity) was a little rank, and pulled his way up to the lead after going into the first turn in last position. Chasing Time relaxed nicely behind the leader, seemingly unaffected by his rival’s early blitz. Rosario waited to ask the question, despite Vodka N Water getting a beautiful run along the rail. This son of Not This Time responded immediately when asked at the top of the stretch, he quickly drew off to win by over seven lengths. He’ll need to take a step forward here for sure, but he showed last time out that he’s very adaptable, which is a good asset for a young horse to have. Tyler Gaffalione is in to ride this afternoon, and he’s done well with the limited opportunities that he’s had for Asmussen. 

9 – Barber Road (9-2 ML, 100-1 Circa): He hasn’t had great trips in either the Smarty Jones or the Southwest, yet he found a way to be the runner-up in both. Ever since a poor effort on debut at Colonial this summer on the dirt, he’s come back with five consecutive efforts that were strong. He’s shown tremendous improvement since breaking his maiden, with $30K maiden claimers at Keeneland in the fall. His last five races have been sharp, finishing first or second in all of them. He’s been ignored in the wagering in his last three starts, all in stakes company, and that may happen again, despite being the second choice on the morning line. I think Chasing Time will go into the gate as the second choice, so if you’re a believer, you should be getting fair market value once again. 

10- Ethereal Road (12-1, ML, 140-1 Circa): He was left for dead after spotting the field about five or six lengths in the first 100 yards of a maiden special weight race that was run directly after the Southwest Stakes last month. He started to accelerate toward the end of the backstretch and he came through with a powerful surge to blow by the leaders and break his maiden by four lengths. He was 16 lengths behind the leader at the first call, so he was definitely gobbling up ground at a fast rate. His Beyer figure for that race was 79, which is solid, but not spectacular. D. Wayne Lukas trains this son of Quality Road who took a massive step forward in that race. Sometimes a lightbulb goes off for some of Lukas’s horses and once it clicks, they are a different animal. Will Take Charge and Charismatic are two horses that come to mind as  horses that fit into that category. His promising filly, Secret Oath, who is the heavy favorite in the Grade 3 Honeybee, could also be that kind of a horse. Ethereal Road is still a long way off before being a valid comparison to any of those horses, but the manner in which he broke his maiden makes him, if nothing else, interesting in this race. I think the potential is there for him, and at 12-1 or better, I think he’s very playable in this race. 

11- Dash Attack (8-1 ML, 95-1 Circa): While his connections might be doing a rain dance, it remains to be seen if he’s going to get the wet track that he appreciated so much in his first two starts. The forecast calls for rain later in the day on Saturday, into the evening. Timing will certainly be something to keep an eye on, for him because he was very good, winning in a two turn maiden special weight race to start his career. He was even better when winning the Smarty Jones Stakes here despite a less than perfect start. His last race was a bit perplexing though, as he never really fired, finishing a dull 5th in the Southwest. That was his only start on a fast main track though, so the possibility that he’s an off-track specialist is there. He’s worked very well since that race, so physically, he should be good to go. He draws the outside post here, which shouldn’t be a huge issue for him, however, there doesn’t seem to be as much speed signed on for this race as there was for his last two starts. We’ll see what the Cohen’s strategy will be form him in this race, but I’m fearful that he’ll wind up conceding a decent amount of ground to better horses. He’s definitely one to upgrade if there’s enough rain to affect the track condition.

The verdict: Top Picks: 2-10-9-8

While I’d rather try to make a case for a price, everything sure seems to be setting up nicely for Bob Baffert to win his 9th Rebel Stakes this afternoon when saddling Newgrange here. He overcame a lot of adversity to win his third race in as many starts last time out when shipping here for the Southwest. He was wide and pressing a hot pace, but he still found a way to keep grinding to get the job done. He now gets a much more desirable post and a field that has less early speed than his last race. All signs point to yes for him. He was bet down to 3-2 in a race where I thought he was vulnerable, so I imagine that his odds will be closer to even money today. Obviously, that’s not great value, but I do think he’s the most likely winner in this spot. 

After Newgrange, this is a wide open group that has some potential. A lot of what I do in this race is going to come down to value. I liked the last race from Chasing Time, but I fear his odds are going to be too short for me today, as I do think he’s going to be the second choice when all is said and done. At closer to 8-1, I’d definitely play him more prominently, but my gut tells me that he’ll be closer to 4-1. His last race was visually striking, but at those odds, I’ll be looking elsewhere. Barber Road has picked up second place points in his last two races, while continuing to improve. I expect him to be on the scene late, but he’s definitely more of an underneath horse for me. I think Ethereal Road is very interesting, while facing winners for the first time. His maiden score was visually impressive, being so far behind, and gaining so much ground to win easily. He beat some decent maidens that day, and he closed all that ground while not getting a particularly fast pace in front of him. If he can stay a little closer with the field, and still unleash that powerful late run, he could be dangerous in this spot. 

One longshot that I’ll be watching closely, is Stellar Tap (#6). I think he possibly could have an impact here, hopefully at a decent price. His debut showed that he has some natural ability. He didn’t run all that well in his next two tries, backing up after some challenging races as a two year old. I like that he finally showed some fight when he had a miserable trip last out in his first race as a three year old., but still kept gaining late, while facing an improving colt that day. He’s 10-1 on the morning line, I think there is potential for his odds to be higher than that, which might be able to create value here. 

 

Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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