What we learned: Rocket Can indirectly boosts Instant Coffee

What we learned: Rocket Can indirectly boosts Instant Coffee
Photo: Liz Lamont / Eclipse Sportswire

By capturing the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream, Rocket Can not only won his first graded-stakes race, he gave one of the top 3-year-olds Instant Coffee an indirect boost. That's because of the results of a past race at Churchill Downs against one of the future Lecomte Stakes contenders.

In late November, Rocket Can competed in an allowance optional claiming race at Churchill Downs and tried to run down a loose Confidence Game. Rocket Can cut the margin to half a length, but he failed by half a length at the end.

Last month, Confidence Game went on to run third in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds to Instant Coffee, who had closed strongly and passed by Confidence Game easily at the top of the stretch run. 

Rocket Can, who failed to pass Confidence Game only two months ago, displayed his superiority over the Holy Bull field by winning with a wide trip.

On the first turn, Rocket Can went five wide under Junior Alvarado.

Once the horses straightened out, Rocket Can continued to run wide while helping to keep the favorite Cyclone Mischief boxed in at the same time.

Meanwhile, Mr Bob led the field through a 23.92-second opening quarter and 48.84 half-mile. Legacy Isle followed the long-shot pacesetter in second, and another long shot, West Coast Cowboy, settled into the pocket position in third.

As the field rounded the far turn, Rocket Can moved wide and alongside the brief new leader Legacy Isle before passing him. But Rocket Can did not mount his rally without a pending threat. The long shot Shadow Dragon had been closing from last and followed Rocket Can’s path on the outside.

Shadow Dragon tipped four wide to take his shot at Rocket Can, and he had clear aim at the grey leader as the horses entered the top of the stretch.

Rocket Can maintained a slight advantage over Shadow Dragon and prevailed by 3/4 of a length over his Bill Mott-trained stablemate. Three lengths behind Rocket Can, West Coast Cowboy ran on evenly to finish a good third. West Coast Cowboy finished three lengths ahead of Legacy Isle in fourth.  

Shadow Dragon had not run since October, with his most recent start a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Sleepy Hollow Stakes for New York-breds at Aqueduct. With the layoff and poor running line in bettors' sights, the public left him at 34-1. Likewise, the public ignored West Coast Cowboy at 58-1 off his two average races, including a fourth in a local one-mile optional claimer on Nov. 27. He lost by 4 1/2 lengths to Legacy Isle, and Legacy Isle was not even the strongest horse here. 

Rocket Can completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.97, which earned him an 82 Beyer Speed Figure. Unfortunately, the card lacked another 1 1/16-mile dirt race. In fact, the entire card lacked another two-turn dirt race in general, which makes comparing times impossible. Handicappers will need to trust the speed-figure makers.   

Is Rocket Can a major contender down the trail? Sure. As long as Rocket Can stays at Gulfstream for his final prep or two, he can win another one. He beat this field while enduring a wide first turn and wide second turn too, which means the win is probably more impressive than the margin indicates.

If Rocket Can ships elsewhere, he might finds the waters too deep. It depends on who shows up, but it seems like he found the right group at Gulfstream. A top-tier runner such as Instant Coffee probably would defeat Rocket Can.

The same statement applies to Shadow Dragon, who lost by 15 1/2 lengths to Arctic Arrogance in the Sleepy Hollow. Arctic Arrogance is expected to start as the favorite in the Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct next Sunday. Shadow Dragon would benefit from staying at Gulfstream, where the Derby trail has become a bit softer lately.

Use that statement for West Coast Cowboy as well. In the stretch, West Coast Cowboy was no match for Rocket Can and Shadow Dragon. This colt likely needs more time to develop against softer 3-year-olds at Gulfstream. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. excels at home with his horses.

After racing in between horses in mid-pack, Cyclone Mischief decided to call it a day and folded in the stretch to finish a disappointing seventh. In any case, his live odds fell too low to bet him. The minimum odds listed on this blog were higher than 6-5, and there were no scratches to warrant a final adjustment.

Perhaps Tyler Gaffalione played too conservatively at the start by not hustling Cyclone Mischief to the front. Instead, he accepted his buried position.

As a bettor, the lesson is to watch the board and not get too eager to bet if the horse’s final odds do not match one’s requirements. Horse racing never takes a break, which means better opportunities will always appear at some point in another race or on another card.

The other lesson is that Instant Coffee received a boost if considering he easily handled Confidence Game, who had outbattled Rocket Can at Churchill Downs. Instant Coffee is currently on another level than Confidence Game and Rocket Can, and he deserves serious consideration wherever he goes, as long as the price does not fall too low. 

Given Rocket Can has improved as a router, maybe he can take the next step in a race such as the Florida Derby (G1). Enough time exists for him to develop and become faster before the Kentucky Derby in May.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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