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Kentucky Derby 2014: Handicapping the Rebel

 

This Saturday at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a field of eight 2014 Kentucky Derby hopefuls will enter the gate for the 54th running of the (Gr. 2) Rebel Stakes. This is the third leg of the Oaklawn three-year-olds stakes series, and in the last five years alone, it has produced some very talented runners.

 

Last year’s victor, Will Take Charge, went on to take down the Travers Stakes and narrowly miss in the BC Classic. From 2010-2012, Bob Baffert owned the race with Lookin at Lucky, The Factor, and Secret Circle all coming out victorious. The Factor and Secret Circle went on to become successful sprinters, with Secret Circle winning last year’s BC Sprint. The runner up in the 2011 edition, Caleb’s Posse, also went on to Breeders’ Cup glory as he was victorious in that same year’s Dirt Mile. As for Lookin at Lucky, after a troubled trip as the Kentucky Derby favorite, he went on to a convincing win in the Preakness. If we go back another five years, to drop just a few more names, this is also the race where Curlin and Smarty Jones announced to the racing world that they were very serious racehorses. By now, I think you get the picture I am painting here. This race has been incredibly productive.

As for this year’s field, I definitely see potential. Whether they live up to the standards of the previously mentioned horses only time will tell. I will say this though. I am very excited to see how a few of these colts fair today. I will be filling in for one of the Florida Fillies this week, as I (Mike B.) and Ashley Tamulonis will try to dope out the winner. Without further ado, let’s delve into this thing and get to know the field… 


Ashley

Mike

Jet Cat—(Tactical Cat—Emptor, by A. P. Jet) My daddy always taught me, “If you ain’t got nothing nice to say, then don’t say nothing at all.” Bearing that age old wisdom in mind, I’m pretty tempted to do as my daddy advised me and just skip Jet Cat. This dark bay colt has put in a couple of recent nice works, including a bullet 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 on March 11, for trainer Edward Frederick, but his afternoon efforts have been anything but stellar. His only career win came on synthetics, and he’s been well beaten in all 3 starts on dirt. Pass! Pass! Pass!

Jet Cat – Ashley your father sounds like a very wise man and I think I am going to take that advice as well. The bottom line with this colt is that he seems way out classed here. His only victory, as you stated, came on the polytrack at Turfway while afforded a lone lead through easy fractions. I cannot see him getting a trip like that today. He does go out today for the second time with blinkers on, which I do believe is an improvement angle, but I just cannot see him jumping up to contend with the likes of these. I too shall pass.

Ride On Curlin—(Curlin—Magical Ride, by Storm Cat) Ride On Curlin reminds me a lot of another chestnut son of Curlin, Palace Malice, and where he was at this time last year. Just like Palace Malice was in 2013, Ride On Curlin has been competitive in the big stakes races but hasn’t quite gotten it all put together just yet. Last out, he was a distant 3rd behind Southwest winner Tapiture, and he faces that foe, as well as 2nd place finisher Strong Mandate, again. He had a nice 7 furlong work on March 6 and will certainly continue to be competitive against this group. Whether or not he can win depends a lot on where he is mentally right now, but he is definitely a top contender.

Ride On CurlinI am kind of torn on this colt. I have never been high on him, but I think he has a right to improve off his last. I thought he ran pretty well in the Southwest considering his trip. He was about eight wide going into the first turn and then went on to press the pace while three wide. That is a tough way to try to win a race. With that said, I am not exactly sure he will get an ideal trip today either. I envision him on the lead, where I believe he wants to be. The problem with that is I don’t think Tapiture or Strong Mandate are going to let him steal this thing away. So, while I expect an improved effort I am going limit his use to underneath in exotics.

Tapiture—(Tapit—Free Spin, by Olympio) As a two-year old, Tapiture was competitive as a maiden against stakes horses and finally broke his maiden in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club. He retained that form in the New Year, blizting a full field to take the G3 Southwest over this very track by 4 ½ lengths. I really like Tapiture here though I’m not sure just how much I will like him come May. Until then…for today… Same track. Same distance. Same group of rivals. Same result as last time. Contender.

Tapiture – This colt goes out second off the layoff for Steve Asmussen after running a career best Beyer of 98 in his 2014 debut win in the Southwest here at Oaklawn. He looked like a bull that day, and if he improves off that effort, everyone may be running for second. I do have some concerns though. He received a perfect trip that day while a few of his rivals did not have such luck. He also drifted in the stretch a bit, and while it may have been just rust from the layoff, it is something to be concerned about. I do believe he is a contender today, but I am going to take a shot against him and limit his use to underneath.

Strong Mandate—(Tiznow—Clear Mandate, by Deputy Minister) A lot of people have jumped off the Strong Mandate bandwagon in light of his last three races, and while I was never on or off that particular bandwagon, I will say it’s still a bit early to throw in the (saddle) towel. While Tapiture got an ideal, rail-skimming trip, Strong Mandate was a beat slow out of the gate and hung wide nearly all the way around. With that race under his girth strap and a better trip, I say that Strong Mandate makes a horse race out of the Rebel and gives Tapiture a run for the top prize money. Contender.

Strong MandateI completely agree with you here, Ashley. Last out in the Southwest, he probably ran over 1 1/8th miles and I expect him to receive a much better trip today. I was not that high on him over the summer, but his run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and in the Southwest opened my eyes to his talents. And while I am not 100% sold on him just yet, I believe he is a major player in this spot. I expect him to get a nice pressing trip today and I think he has a huge shot to win. Serious contender.

Hoppertunity—(Any Given Saturday—Refugee, by Unaccounted For) I’m really not sure what to do with this one. He has one win and two off the board finishes. As a half-brother to Executiveprivilege, the potential is there, but this colt hasn’t really shown much thus far. He gave a good accounting in his stakes debut last out, and if he learned anything from that start, he could hit the board here. Overall, I’m not really liking him. Pass.

Hoppertunity – Again, I am on the same page as you Ashley. He was my pick in the Risen Star, and while he didn’t run all that bad, I wasn’t really impressed either. He gets the jockey switch to Mike Smith today, and if you want to take a shot if the price is right I can’t blame you. As for myself, I will limit his use to underneath in the exotics.

Sheltowee’s Boy—(Nobiz Like Shobiz—Miss Sheltowee, by Najran) Trained by Brad Cox, Sheltowee’s Boy seems to have taken a liking to the Oaklawn track. With that in mind, he takes a big step up in class here. Cox gets 28% winners over this distance/surface, 17% winners with ones that won their last start, and is winning stakes races at a 25% clip. But that’s just the trainer. What about the gelding? For me, thanks, but no thanks. Moving on.

Sheltowee’s BoyThis gelding ran very well for his first time over a dry main track, but he also got a perfect set up that day. Add that fact to the hike in class and I am going to have to pass. The best I could see him doing is possibly rounding out a Trifecta or Super. I cannot endorse on the win end today.

Street Strategy—(Street Sense—Spoken Softly, by Notebook) A local running, Street Strategy lost his debut by a scant nose going 6 furlongs before bouncing back to win at second asking, finishing the mile long race 6 ½ lengths in front of the second place finisher. With Calvin Borel back in the irons, I think this Randy Morse trainee has a legit shot of at least hitting the board, if not upsetting the entire race. Use for exotics.

Street Strategy – Calvin Borel opts for this lightly raced son of Street Sense, which is interesting, but this is a really tall task in your first start verses winners. In his last, He pressed a pretty soft pace in his maiden breaking score and I do not expect him to get the same luxury today. He did crush that field, but I cannot support him on the win end today. I will limit his use underneath in the exotics.

Kobe’s Back—(Flatter—Well, by Well Decorated) In four career starts, Kobe’s Back has seen nothing but stakes action. He won at first asking in the $100,000 Willard L. Proctor Memorial, a race that produced G2 San Felipe winner California Chrome. In his only previous try at a route distance, Kobe’s Back finished a well-beaten, non-threatening 10th in the G1 CashCall Futurity. Half-brother Well Spelled is a graded stakes winning sprinter, and I suspect that Kobe’s Back will be best sprinting, too. Key for exotics.

Kobe’s BackThis John Sadler trainee really impressed me last out. I thought he was up against it from a pace standpoint, but it did not matter. He cruised right by in the lane for a very visually impressive score. That was his first start on dirt, and if he can handle the stretch out like I think he can, he has a legit shot. The stretch out from seven furlongs to two turns is an angle I like and I do not think he was shipped across the country for nothing. I believe you can toss his only other start around two turns, in the Cashcall Futurity, as he broke widest of all that day and had some trouble. I do worry about his post position in this spot as you do not want to get caught wide going into that first turn. I anticipate him dropping in right behind Ride On Curlin, Tapiture, and Strong Mandate. I think he will have a say down the lane and I consider him a contender.

 

Track Bias – Having speed pays off at Oaklawn. The preferred running style seems to be on the pace or pressing it at this distance. An inside post doesn’t hurt either, as the rail and inside three posts have done the most damage. The one hole has won 20.56% of races at the distance and the inside three posts have won a combined 42.78%. It is not as speed favoring as say Gulfstream though. Oaklawn has had 19% gate to wire winners compared to 27% down in Florida. Stalkers and closers definitely have a better chance here. As someone who does not play this track often, I would say the key is to save ground here. And if you break from the outside, you better drop to the rail quick and not get hung wide.

Ashley: I better go ahead and make sure I have a big ol’ glass of sweet tea handy come Saturday because it sure looks as though I’ll be eating a lot of chalk. I truly think that the top three finishers from the Southwest are the best three here, too. Asmussen has done a helluva job bringing Tapiture along, and I’ll take him over Strong Mandate and Ride On Curlin. For my long shot selection, I’ll go with Street Strategy since he really seemed to appreciate the added distance last out.

Mike: I am going to go with Strong Mandate and Kobe’s Back on top. Strong Mandate’s trip in the Southwest was crazy wide and Kobe’s Back really impressed me last out. I will key them on top over Tapiture, Ride On Curlin, and Hoppertunity. If I were playing multi-race wagers, depending on my thoughts in the other races, I’d feel comfortable with those two. If I had room to spread though, I would add Tapiture and Ride On Curlin, in that order.

As always, and I think I can speak for Ashley here, I hope we either helped you solidify your own opinion, or turned you on to something you may not have thought. I wish you all a winning weekend at the windows. This should be a fun race, enjoy and good luck. 

 

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Older Comments about Kentucky Derby 2014: Handicapping the Rebel...

It's so hard to discard Tapiture, but if he's going to throw a clinker sometime, the conditions may be ripe today. So I'll go with Kobe's Back, Strong Mandate, Sheltowee's Boy, and Hoppertunity. It should be a very nice trifecta and superfecta.
No Derby winners in this crowd.
well pat day was the regular rider for summer squall that year. he chose SS over unbridled and at the time it looked like a good choice since SS had already beaten unbridled a couple of times.
best that day of course
why do you think colts like Dark Star, Gato del Sol and even Bid (with that pilot) won? because the COLT was the best.
You're welcome, CFC. It's a handy little who's-doing-what article, isn't it?
CFC last year even though Orb won the Derby,i still feel that Johnny V. made the corect choice in opting for Verrazano. He made his choice based on the abilities and talents of the horses ,under the impression that tey were at full health. Based on Verrazanos race in the Haskell.probably the only time he was healthy in the 2nd half of the season. He chose correctly,Verrazano in the Haskell . He ran the fastest Speed figure recorded by any 3yo colt last year.
Thanks for the feedback, tmallios & goblin. That article pretty much hit the nail on the head, regarding my question. Seems like in years' past, that jockeys, or agents, have been poor judges of what horse would be the best option. As recently as last year, I remember John Velazquez choosing not to ride Orb back. Pat Day had a few that was bad decisions. I think Alysheba and Unbridled were both his, some time before the Derby. If I'm not mistaken, I think HRN had addressed this topic beforehand. Anyhow, thanks for the info.
CFC, Rosario opted for staying on Strong Mandate weeks ago, apparently, and it was announced on DRF twitter and then in an article on 2/26/14. As Tom says, odd situation regarding Lezcano. Anyway, here's the article--it includes other jockey switch news as well. http://www.drf.com/news/kentucky-derby-jockeys-finding-best-mount-can-be-game-musical-chairs
CFC, Borel was not thrown off of ROC.He is riding a horse who has more of an upside and is already running faster. If he were thrown off, it sure would not be for Desormeaux,he is done as a top jock. As far as Sadler and Kobe go.Personally that is a sad commentary that he had so many riders in Cali without a mount,and he had to reach out to NY for Lezcano. He is good,but not someone you would go out of your way to get. Smith should definately be an upgrade on this horse.
the ONLY way you would know is to either ask the owner of the jockey's agent
My question(s) involve the jockeys: 1)What do you make of Calvin Borel getting off of Ride On Curlin, after five mounts, to ride Street Strategy, who has only two outs(both under Borel). Did ROC's trainer opt for Desormeaux, thus kicking Borel off of this potential Derby-bound colt? 2)How did John Sadler(Kobe's Back's trainer), based in California, hook up with Jose Lezcano(based in Florida), to ride Kobe's back in Arkansas(Regular rider Rosario opts for Strong Mandate)? Since Martin Garcia is staying in California to ride Baffert's Fiftyshadesofhay, would Mike Smith be the answer for Hoppertunity? Jockeys are jockeying for position to get to the Derby. Any of these moves have any substance to them? Or, are they just blowin' in the wind?
the real contenders show themselves at 9 furlongs
Time for a contender to finally step up, Tapiture or Strong Mandate. I will go with SM.
I really like Tapiture to win and get into the gate. I don't consider him to be strong enough to actually win the derby though. I feel like his main competition in this track could be Kobe's Back if Kobe can get an inside post or position early on. Obviously Travel Vic all predictions are contingent on track conditions and the final field. Those are my early thoughts though.
Until the track conditoin and FINAL field is brought together and then you have some idea of how the crowd is going, anyone is a fool to predict the outcome with much more than reading the consensus in the FORM
You probably have good information but tough to read I, I, I, I....... You are the blogger. We know it is your thoughts.

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