03/16/2014 1:09PM

Rebel, and Other Thoughts

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Some Triple Crown preps are easier to assess than others, but Saturday’s Rebel at Oaklawn is proving more difficult than most. Whether it was because of the sealed, wet-fast surface it was run over, or because of all the body checking in the stretch, drawing conclusions from this race is not easy, even with almost a day to think about it.

So, in lieu of that, let’s ask and answer one question for each for the four who turned out to be the Rebel’s main protagonists.

Does Hoppertunity’s half-length decision in the Rebel flatter the colts who soundly beat him last time out in the Risen Star?

Hoppertunity was brushed by Tapiture in upper stretch when that opponent came out desperately looking for racing room, but Hoppertunity still had a comparatively clean trip Saturday. It wasn’t much more eventful than the uneventful trip he had in the Risen Star, in which he was beaten seven lengths by Intense Holiday and Albano, and a little more than a length for third by Vicar’s in Trouble, who did have a tough trip. So I can see where some might think the Rebel result was a big boost to the stock of the Risen Star. But that line of thinking might be too simplistic, if not a mistake, because there was just so much else going on here.

Hoppertunity is by a son of Distorted Humor, out of an Unaccounted For mare, which is wet track breeding of the highest order. He might have moved way up on the footing he encountered Saturday. Hoppertunity might have also improved for the simple fact that he was making only his fourth career start. He was much closer early in the Rebel than he was in the Risen Star, and that could have been a key to his stronger effort. And then there is the incredible record by Bob Baffert, trainer of Hoppertunity, in graded stakes at Oaklawn (he is now 12 for 21 in such races there since 2010) versus an almost lack of a graded stakes record at Fair Grounds.

In other words, Hoppertunity’s Rebel and Risen Star probably shouldn’t be directly compared, making a literal reading of them taken together shaky ground on which to base key prep conclusions.

Does Tapiture’s narrowly beaten second in the Rebel after getting banged around between rivals for much of the stretch run bode well for how he will react in the crucible that is the Kentucky Derby?

Maybe. Tapiture ran away with the Southwest last month in his vastly improved 3-year-old debut, so it was encouraging to see him give almost as good as he got Saturday when the going got rough. But there will be more than twice as many horses in the Derby as there were in the Rebel, and many of them will be better opponents than he faced Saturday.

Ride On Curlin had as good a wet track pedigree in the Rebel than anyone, and he won his only previous wet track start in his first start of the year. Was his much more competitive third place finish purely a function of the racing surface?

I don’t think so. For different reasons (moving ridiculously early being chief among them), Ride On Curlin had as much of a trip when a distant third in the Southwest as the much ballyhooed (and terribly overblown) trip Strong Mandate had when second in that race. Ride On Curlin might indeed like a wet track, but he also has talent. His third in the Champagne last fall on a fast track, beaten less than two lengths, was a very decent effort.

Did Strong Mandate have enough trouble finishing fourth in the Rebel for his fans to stay the course, or is it time to downgrade him?

A downgrade might be in order.

Then again, the expectations for Strong Mandate going into the Rebel might have been too high, with too much made of the trip he had when second in the Southwest. Yes, Strong Mandate was bumped on the first turn in that race, but people who made a big deal over how wide he raced are overlooking the face that Southwest day was one of those days that happen with some frequency at Oaklawn when the rail was dead (notably, Tapiture was closest to the rail for a good part of the Southwest), and the wider you were, the better.

Strong Mandate went to the lead Saturday, which is probably his most effective running style, and set a comfortable pace. And he took no more the worst of it in the stretch than Tapiture did. Strong Mandate simply wasn’t good enough.

While on the subject of 3-year-olds, a belated word about that big allowance race at Gulfstream last Wednesday in which Social Inclusion crushed Remsen winner Honor Code. Social Inclusion obviously has lots of talent as he has now won both of his starts in blowout fashion. But he capitalized on a speed bias when he won his debut at Gulfstream, and shook well clear early last Wednesday with an easy opening quarter of 24.32. If he encounters other legitimate speed in his next start, it will be a first for him, and I’ll be playing against.

As for Honor Code, yeah, he probably needed the race, and the pace set up was unfavorable for his late running style. I get all that. But he never, not once, mounted anything close to a serious move, and I found that very disappointing.

Other notes:

Congratulations to Let Faith Arise for getting that all-important Grade 1 score, a huge deal for a future broodmare prospect, in the Santa Margarita. But that whole older female group at Santa Anita is underwhelming.

Centre Court was gutsy winning the Honey Fox at Gulfstream off a seven-month layoff, and despite breaking through the gate before the start. And Kitten’s Point was very good in being beaten just a nose. But Tapicat’s effort, after the kind of rail trip you can only dream about, was dismal.

Not sure what to make of Golden Lad’s romp in the Razorback on the Rebel undercard. Maybe he loved the off track and others hated it, or maybe he’s just greatly improved. I only know the horses he beat in wins in his three prior outings at Gulfstream aren’t especially intimidating.

I loved Joel Rosario’s ride on Close Hatches in Oaklawn’s Azeri, sending a filly who had morphed into a stalker/closer right to the front in a race that lacked a lot of pace. It was perfectly aggressive, and an example why New Yorkers fell for Rosario when he shifted his tack east.

David Szymanski More than 1 year ago
ride on curling needs johnny v watch this horse
Jeff Wright More than 1 year ago
it's note worthy Baffert has said (paraphrasing) "progression in at least 2 preps leading up to the derby is what you want to see" . They may have loosened the screws a little before the risen star.. And if that's the case then they must have serious confidence in him because he had like 4 points. And why not confident, ya catch that LATE acceleration in his maiden win and his gallop-out was eye catching. just numbers and figures won't reveal a derby winner, a good eye helps. Intense holiday is a very fine colt but he's not brilliant. And that should be what your looking for, a brilliant turn of foot or separation from the field late in a race.
Thomas s More than 1 year ago
Derby wise a colt has to eventually "step up", get a win against decent competition and do something on the clock. Rebel was an "excuse generator." Winner looked ok, but, still has a lot more to prove. The real contenders survive conditions, bumps and otherwise to win. Smarty Jones was not a super horse, but, he won all his prep races while putting up good times and handling conditions. One of this year's contenders has to run fast for awhile...up to this point, all we have is Hoppertunity 1:43:90 (107 Beyer) while giving the Tapit colt 5 pounds...(sigh) Close Hatches is a top race horse. She can do a lot of things and do them well.... Thanks for your column, Mike!
Thomas Ditty More than 1 year ago
I think the bumping was HORRIBLE. One or two of those horses should have come down. I think Strong Mandate got the worse of the crowding. He was getting a little tired, but was knocked completely out of the possibility of coming back on like Champions do. Who knows, but not going to throw him out of Derby because of this horrible bumping late stretch mess!...
Bob More than 1 year ago
Hoppertunity's improvement in the Rebel may also be due to the fact that he is trained by Bob Baffert, and in making only the fourth start of his career (and second graded stakes start in a row), the Hall-of-Fame trainer and three time Kentucky Derby winner, may just have him improving at the right time. He was carefully ridden in the Rebel by a jockey who knows how to win the big races and he did just enough to win. With all of the bumping and shoving that was going on to his inside the horse, handled the situation like a pro by not letting it get to him and sailing right on by the gang of staggering horses to his left!
Jeff Wright More than 1 year ago
I'm with you on that one Bob.. And it's note worthy Baffert has said progression in at least 2 preps leading up to the derby is what you want.. They may have loosened the screws a little before the risen star.. Horses rarely, rarely regress their speed figs second time around 2 turns even jumping in class.. Especially colts that have his ability.
pennyandy More than 1 year ago
good race for hoppertunity to earn points for derby but don't really expect him to be in the money for derby!
noocheroni More than 1 year ago
I know one thing you wont see Santana on that horse in his next start.Why does Asmusen continue to use less quality riders? Remember Bridgemohan on Pyro?
Philip Conforti More than 1 year ago
Two things I think we can all agree on with love mikes column , and enough with the DRF BETS POP UP ! Really we get it already u want us to sign up !
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
That is VERY nice of you to say. Thank you so much.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
I don't know if Hoppertunity's win flatters the Risen Star race and make it key, but good to make note. Not a Baffert fan but he did a hail of a job with the AGS colt, 3 races, 3 different distances, improves and get's faster each start and wins a G1, good stuff. Like other posters noted, not high on his Derby prospects but he should have a good future. Would like to see Tapiture make a case for Tapit as a chef, but will have to wait and see.
jason javino More than 1 year ago
the rebel will be the talk of the town over the next 6 wks. it was very exciting. Its difficult to judge between tapiture and hoppertunity despite the outcome. Tapiture has alot of horse left yet had major difficulty to use it how the horses proceeded to the wire. I think it could have been tapiture winning with hoppertunity for second if there was a clear run to the wire. When such issues arise during the race one of ever knows how the horse will react. For example, some people said they felt that the bumping had hoppertunity excel yet it affected tapiture negatively. The next race that both horses run will help to determine alot.