03/21/2016 2:02PM

Road to the Derby: Rebel Stakes

Coady Photography
Cupid wins the Rebel Stakes, stamping himself a candidate for the Kentucky Derby.

Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Oaklawn, March 19, 2016
(50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

Winner: Cupid, by Tapit

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Jockey: Martin Garcia

Owner: Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith

Beyer Speed Figure: 95

Baffert’s love affair with Oaklawn continued with CUPID, who gave Baffert his sixth win in the Rebel in its last seven runnings. He won both the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby last year with American Pharoah, and as of 48 hours after the Rebel, it appeared Cupid would try to emulate that feat.

Cupid turned in a terrific effort. This was his first try against winners, his first outside California, and only his fourth lifetime start, yet he was clearly superior to the 13 horses who lined up against him. He showed sharp early speed, and grit late in the game, while running faster than older horses earlier in the card in two stakes at the same distance. Now 2 for 2 around two turns, Cupid is a major Derby contender for sure.

In the Rebel, Cupid broke a bit flat-footed from his inside draw but then was hustled by Garcia between horses and was able to get up inside of SIDING SPRING heading into the first turn. The opening quarter went in 22.96 seconds, a quick time considering how he had to be used. He continued to lead to the far turn, at which point he began to get away from the horses who chased him the first part of the race. He made an awkward step heading into the lane when changing leads, then faced a fresh challenge from WHITMORE, but staved off that rival and actually was coming away again at the wire.

His race reminded me a lot of Seattle Slew in the 1977 Kentucky Derby, as he too broke poorly, had to rush up to make the top, and still kept going in a two-turn race. In addition, in this race, the horses who were second, third, and fourth during the early going while chasing Cupid wound up ninth, 12th, and last in the field of 14, while the second- through fifth-place finishers were ninth, 12th, 13th, and last the first part of the race. Very, very impressive.

Whitmore, who finished second, had an outside draw and was caught about four paths wide into the first turn. He was cleverly angled toward the rail by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. while heading down the backstretch and went into the far turn in the two path, but then had to angle out anew for racing room. He made a bold brush while wide on the far turn to advance to third, drifted out briefly in upper stretch, continued boldly to put a scare into Cupid a sixteenth out, but couldn’t get past Cupid and actually was surrendering ground late.

This was a good effort, my lone concern being that the distances he’s asked to go this spring might be starting to reach the outer limit of what he can handle right now, though he’s certainly bred to get 10 furlongs. Regardless, he’s turned in two good stakes efforts this meet, following his second-place finish in the Southwest.

CREATOR, who finished third, had no early speed and trailed early, was taken outside nearing the far turn and rallied four to five paths wide, was late to swap leads in upper stretch, but continued to make steady progress all the way to the wire.

CHERRY WINE, who was fourth, was squeezed just a bit between rivals leaving the gate, then was deftly guided from his outside draw toward the rail and was in the two path into the first turn while in front of only Creator. He was last heading into the far turn, initially went quite wide to begin his rally, but was angled back nearer to the rail and was able to split horses in upper stretch while just two paths off the rail. He continued to close through the lane while gradually being guided to the middle of the track for racing room. This was one heck of a ride from Corey Lanerie.

SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, who was fifth, broke from the outside post and went into the first turn about three paths wide while near the back of the pack. He ran into quite a bit of traffic trouble three furlongs out while Creator and Cherry Wine got the jump on him, was shuffled back to last with five-sixteenths of a mile to go when AMERICAN DUBAI backed up, had just one horse beat entering the lane, was taken to the center of the track to rally, and made up quite a bit of ground. If he hadn’t gotten stopped when initially trying to rally, he’d certainly have been a lot closer.

GRAY SKY, who was sixth, bobbled leaving the gate, raced mid-pack while four paths wide around the first turn, advanced between horses down the backstretch, made a four-wide bid on the far turn, and got up to second a quarter-mile out, couldn’t get past Cupid in upper stretch, and then tired through the final furlong.

DISCREETNESS, who finished seventh, settled near the back of the pack early while saving ground, went into the far turn along the rail, was tipped to the four path midway on the turn to avoid traffic, and never really punched it in.

CUTACORNER, who was eighth, raced between horses while in the back half of the field around the first turn, wound up four to five paths wide on the far turn, was slightly squeezed between Creator and Discreetness entering the stretch, and went evenly through the lane.

SPIKES SHIRL, who was ninth, raced just behind the leaders while in the two path going into the first turn, got over to the rail entering the backstretch while about three lengths behind Cupid, made a bid into the far turn and got as close as second, but came under a ride midway on the turn and faded through the stretch.

RALIS, who was 10th, broke alertly but then was outrun to the first turn and wound up mid-pack while saving ground, following Spikes Shirl. He never left the rail, encountered the briefest bit of traffic inside Spikes Shirl in upper stretch, but pretty much wasted a gorgeous, rail-skimming trip, showing little.

Z ROYAL, who was 11th, raced four paths wide while stalking the leaders on the first turn, and appeared to be getting out a bit around that turn. He continued wide down the backstretch, began to drop back with three furlongs to go, briefly dipped down to the rail, then drifted back out but was outrun.

MADTAP, who was 12th, didn’t break real sharply but steadily advanced to race mid-pack while between runners and three paths wide on the first turn, continued to advance on the first turn to be third into the backstretch outside Cupid and Siding Spring, had no response when asked with three furlongs go, and backed up.

American Dubai, who was 13th, went into the first turn just behind Cupid and Siding Spring while in the three path. He continued wide down the backstretch and into the far turn, at which point he put it in reverse, backing up into Suddenbreakingnews and causing him to check, and he raced on his wrong lead down the stretch in a dull effort.

Siding Spring who finished last of 14, broke on top, yielded the lead to Cupid into the first turn, was second and just outside Cupid into the backstretch, stayed in that spot to the far turn, then started his fade to last.