Photo: Terri Cage
In handicapping, as it is in life, it often pays off to forgive and forget in the grand scheme of things. Those who were wise enough to take those words of advice were rewarded in the Rebel as Hoppertunity crossed the line first at a juicy 6/1 for those who remained loyal. In hindsight, he definitely deserved another shot. His maiden breaking score was legit, and his effort in his first start verses winners in the Risen Star was not a bad effort either. As I stated when we started this journey on the Derby Trail back in January, a lot can be learned from watching these races closely. This week’s lesson: it is ok to be a forgiving handicapper, if there are good reasons to do so and the price is right.
As for the race itself, I am not too sure if this will turn out to be a key race moving forward as far as the 2014 Kentucky Derby is concerned. The field does have talent, but I do worry about distance with all of them. And while that is a common question to have with all three year olds this time of year, I feel in this field, it is especially true. Let’s take a look at the major players coming out of this rough running of the Rebel, the trips they received, and what to expect in the future…
Hoppertunity – In the Rebel, the eventual winner broke well, but did have to be asked to get up into position towards the front of the field. He went into the turn four wide and went on to press while in a comfortable spot three wide behind a pair of pace setters down the backstretch. Turning for home is where his trip began to get interesting. He was three wide turning for home and had a loaded Tapiture to his inside just screaming to get out. That foe gave him a few bumps trying to get clear for the run to the line, but to jockey Mike Smith’s credit, he held his spot and took the bumps in an effort to keep that rival stuck inside. That foe eventually worked his way out in the clear, but by now the tiring pace setters began to drift out causing more rubbin’ and bumpin’. To his credit, he took the rough stuff in stride and when onto a nice victory. As for what the future holds, I am not sure what I make of him. I am not too high on him, but I don’t want to write him off yet either. I do worry about how he will handle himself as the distance increases, but as of right now, I will keep him on the back burner.
Tapiture - This colt had a pretty tough journey today. After breaking well, he went on to stalk the pace three lengths behind from the inside. Rounding the clubhouse turn, he was either rank or did not like the kickback hitting him the face. He appeared really eager most of the backstretch. Turning for home he looked full of run, but he had nowhere to go. He really had to fight to get in the clear, as Mike Smith aboard Hoppertunity, did a really nice job of keeping him inside. Once he was in the clear, the pace setting duo began to tire and drift into him and he took the worst of it by getting bothered from both sides. All in all, he did fight on for second and in my opinion was probably best today. If he and Hoppertunity had switched post positions I believe the outcome may have been reversed. As for the future though, I am not convinced more ground will help his cause. While he is one to keep our eye on, my gut says he may be better suited for races one mile or under.
Strong Mandate – I was really disappointed with his effort here. I thought he was going to shine today after that unbelievably wide trip in the Southwest. He received a clean trip here and I just could not find an excuse for his performance. He broke well and went onto set the pace through average fractions. He did face a bit of pressure from the inside and outside at times, but I thought he should have shown a better kick turning for home. He did get bumped in the lane, but I think he was all done at that point anyway. I believe I am off his bandwagon at this time unless he really shows something in his next start.
Kobe’s Back – Like Strong Mandate, I was really disappointed with his showing. I really thought he was going to run well after that smashing win in the San Vicente. In his defense, he did have a troubled trip. He was off very slow and was about six wide into the first turn while very rank. He really never looked comfortable and never really got involved. In the spirit of forgiveness, if you wanted to give him another chance he does have excuses. If you do decide to go that route with him though, I would demand a very nice price to do so as he does appear that he may be more of a sprinter.
Ride On Curlin – Coming off a very wide trip and a decent third in the Southwest, I had a feeling he may show a better account of himself in the Rebel. And while he did run well I feel he is a cut below the top of the crop. I found no excuse for him today other than he has distance limitations. He had an inside journey the whole way, pressing the pace closely, but seemed to run out of gas in the lane and in the process also started all that bumping down the stretch. It’s not an ideal trip pressing from the inside, but as it turned out, it wasn’t detrimental in this case in my opinion. I believe I will pass on him as the distances of the Derby Trail increase.
As we move forward, no one from this field really impressed me all that much. Like in most cases at this point on the Derby Trail though, it is hard to toss anyone completely just yet. I believe we should keep an eye on the winner, Hoppertunity, and the runner up, Tapiture, in their next starts. But like I said, I am not that high on either. As for Strong Mandate, he would really have to wow me in his next start for me to climb back aboard his bandwagon. And in closing, and in the theme of forgiveness, Kobe’s Back did have a horrendous trip. But as previously stated, and considering the fact he may well be a sprinter, you better demand a really nice price for the risk of your kindness.