CAN WE AFFORD TO TAKE A REBEL STAND?

15 Mar

By Lucky Kalanges

With the Baffert barn firing both barrels, it won’t be easy squeezing value out of the split divisions of the Rebel Stakes this Saturday, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Oaklawn 8 – 1st Division of the Rebel Stakes

There’s been a lot of groaning on social media about how the parting of the Rebel Stakes has set the table for Baffert’s dynamic duo to feast at 4/5 and while that may be the case, the first division looks like an interesting race if you think Improbable isn’t going to be fully cranked for his sophomore debut. From a speed figure standpoint, he has a clear edge over his competition. However, given the way he had to grind out his first win as a maiden perhaps there is reason for hope for his eight other foes now that he’s being asked to go two turns coming off a 90+ days layoff over a surface he’s never raced before.
But let’s get this clear for starters, Improbable (4/5) owns the last two best Beyer speed figures over this field by a sizable amount, and appears best suited to withstand a hot pace and still finish. The fact that he draws widest might mean he has to sacrifice some ground early, but it also means Drayden Van Dyke can pick his place to stalk the pace without getting into too much trouble.

The main contenders to Improbable, as I see them are:

#9 – Galilean (3/1) – Ships in for the Mandella barn after beating up on Cal-breds in consecutive restricted stakes by 9 and 4.5 lengths. Clearly the main danger from a speed figure standpoint and could have a slight fitness edge over Improbable, coming in second off a layoff.

#2 – Long Range Toddy (10/1) – Hard knocker for Steve Asmussen is 3 for 6 lifetime, and owns a second and third place finish over this strip, the latter coming after a troubled trip in which he had to steady a bit before spitting horses from the rail to get up for third. Moves from outside post to the two hole. Modest improvement could make him an Exacta horse.

#1 – Extra Hope (6/1) – Second Mandella entry was no match for Improbable two back, but got a good confidence builder over the slop at Santa Anita last out and ships in second off a layoff. Mike Smith gets the call, as Flavian Prat chooses Galilean. He’s got natural speed and is going to have to use it early to establish position into the first turn, and with a wall of speed coming outside of him, it seems like a tall task here.

#7 – Classy John (15/1) – Has sprint and bullring speed, and showed some ability to ration it early while almost winning a Louisiana-bred stake going a mile at Delta Downs last out. Not sure he wants to go much farther than this, but he should be the target on the front end for Galilean and Improbable. He could get brave and hang on for a slice if nobody goes with him for the crafty Dallas Stewart barn.

The verdict:

While this appears to be the toughest of the two divisions of the Rebel, it’s hard to make a strong case to bet against Improbable unless something unexpected happens or he takes so much of the Show pool that a bridge-jumping situations exists. I’ll keep a close eye on the Show pools here and if Improbable has 95% or more of the pool, I’ll put some Show money down on #2 – Long Range Toddy and perhaps Galilean, hoping for another situation like the San Diego Handicap a couple years ago, when I made about $150 on $15 in Show bets when Arrogate finished fourth.

If I play this race straight, I will likely key #2 – Long Range Toddy underneath in Exactas under both Improbable and to a lesser extent Galilean. I think Long Range Toddy can offer value as the 3rd choice in the 2nd hole of the Exacta behind both Galilean and Extra Hope.

My Plays:

$10 Exacta #9 Improbable over #2 Long Range Toddy
$5 Exacta #8 Galilean over #2 Long Range Toddy
$5 Show Bets on both Long Range Toddy and Galilean if Improbable takes 95% or more of the Show pool

Oaklawn 10 – 2nd division of the Rebel Stakes

I usually love betting against Breeders’ Cup winners in their next starts and I think I’ll take a shot here even though it is Baffert. The biggest reason is the horses exiting the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile haven’t accomplished much and with the long layoff, I think it’s probably worth taking a shot against #5 – Game Winner (4/5) at an expected short price.

Here’s my choices, in order of preference, to upset the apple cart:

#7 – Our Braintrust (6/1) – While many exiting the Withers Stakes failed to fire in the recently contested Gotham, I’m going to take a flyer on this guy given his competitiveness and 95 Beyer, which actually outranks Game Winner’s BC Juvenile number of 93. He’s gradually increased his speed figures and has finished no worse than third in his five career starts. He encountered some trouble, being bumped in the Withers Stakes and I think a clean stalking trip for this competitive horse might get him to the winner’s circle. Distance shouldn’t be a problem given he carried his 95. First time blinkers is a 24% move for Mark Casse.

#4 – Jersey Agenda (15/1) – Speed of the field will be overlooked due to the perceived clunker in the Southwest Stakes. He lost all chance in that event after dueling with the horse at the rail who failed to negotiate the clubhouse turn and pushed him wide. Still, he didn’t quit and kept plugging until the far turn when he was passed by 62/1 upsetter Super Steed. Gets Jose Ortiz after top rider Santana opts for Laughing Sort. I think he get a better chance to win today if he can get loose on the lead. It might be a tall task, but I think he should make the lead and take them as far as he can. He might go off at 20/1 or more.

#2 – Laughing Sort (10/1) – Gets top local rider and trainer in Santana and Asmussen, is two-for-two over the track and is coming in third off a layoff. He’ll be looking to come from off the pace on a track that has been playing fairly over the course of the meet.

#6 – Omaha Beach (7/2) – Clearly talented sort drew off by nine in the slop at Santa Anita to break his maiden in his fifth try. Began his career routing on the lawn, so distance shouldn’t be a problem. Gets Mike Smith for the Mandella barn. I’m just thinking getting his first win here against Grade II company might be a bit much to ask and if he’s the second choice as he is on the morning line, I won’t be crazy about the price.

#8 – Gunmetal Gray (10/1) – Deep closer might have a better chance of getting back to the winner’s circle outside of California. Should get a decent pace to chase with Prat up for Hollendorfer.

The Verdict:

I’m going to take a shot with #7 – Our Braintrust, $20 to Win at 5/1 or better.

In the event there is a bit of a pace meltdown, I do like the closer #2 Laughing Fox at a price underneath in the Exacta.

So $5 Exactas, #5 Game Winner and #7 Our Braintrust over #2 Laughing Fox
And $2 Exactas, #5 Game Winner and #7 Our Braintrust over #4 Jersey Agenda.

Of course, if the bridge-jumpers are out in force on Game Winner, I will bet both Our Braintrust and Laughing Fox to Show.

Best of luck betting this big card from Hot Springs.

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RETURN OF THE BLOG

14 Mar

with Lucky Kalanges

RETURN OF THE BLOG
What sounds like a horror movie sequel has now become my passion side-project, writing about horse racing like I did in 1999 when you could start your own webpage on a site called Geo-Cities. At that time, I had recently begun working for start-up tech company called Youbet.com that was about to revolutionize horse racing by bringing “everything but the dirt” directly to your PC.

Just insert the CD and you were off to the races, or at least Golden Gate Fields and Oaklawn Park, which were some of the few tracks offered to our beta-testers back in the day. Maybe you got one of those CDs in the mail many years ago and it’s buried in your garage somewhere, or better yet, serving as a coaster in your man cave.

Wherever it may be, it’s a relic from a magical time during which I was brimming with optimism about my “side-hustle” betting the horses, and my future with a publicly traded company with a .com tacked to the end of its name that PAID ME TO WATCH HORSERACING!

Two decades later, I’m still getting paid to watch horse racing and I can write a little about it without having to downsize my Word doc when the boss walks by. Join me each week as I attempt to offer poignant notes, opinions and occasional insight into the world of racing and off-track betting.

Remember this isn’t a one-way street. Feel free to hit us up with your comments, questions and suggestions along the way using the Leave Comments feature at the bottom of the page.

 

TRIPLE CROWN TRAIL HEATS UP
(Click the links for Race Replays)
Three horses vaulted into the top 5 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard over past two weekends, and served as a reminder of how these prep races can really fill our wallets if we can just land on the right horse. Two weeks ago, that horse was Code of Honor, who rallied from off the pace to defeat Bill Mott’s highly-touted and heavily-favored maiden winner, Hidden Scroll, to post the upset at nearly 10-1 odds in the Fountain of Youth. Fellow late-runner Bourbon War was also impressive in defeat, just running out of ground in the shortened stretch of the 1 1/16 miles trip at Gulfstream, and should be in line to improve as the distances increase on the Derby road. While the loss at 6/5 odds doesn’t completely eliminate his chances to get to the Derby, Hidden Scroll must prove he can ration his speed and perhaps rate behind horses if he’s going to make hay on the Derby trail moving forward.

Next up was Haikal, who used similar come-from-behind tactics to sweep past a three-way duel late in the one-turn mile Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct last Saturday, returning $10.80 to win in the process. This race featured the three-year-old debut of the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee, Instagrand, who hadn’t been seen since Del Mar. While Instagrand battled admirably to finish third by only a length and a half, it wasn’t exactly the tour-de-force his backers were expecting at even money odds.

Both the FOY and Gotham proved fertile ground for bettors who had serious doubts about the favorites, who had started a combined three times in their respective careers. Hidden Scroll was bet down to 6/5 odds off an impressive, triple-digit Beyer maiden victory over the slop at Gulfstream. The problem I’ve seen with most triple-digit maiden winners is they seldom improve of those efforts. It’s as if they’ve already hit their speed figure ceiling and there’s just nowhere to go but down. Throw in the fact that his maiden win came over the slop, and there was another reason for doubters to look elsewhere for the FOY winner.

And in the case of Instagrand in the Gotham, he had every right to come up short at even-money odds, having not raced in over six months, and having shipped across the country to compete over a surface he was unfamiliar with. In each case, both favorites fell victim to their more experienced, seasoned foes. This  serves as a good reminder as any to treat impressive maiden winners and horses coming off long layoffs to compete in stakes races with a healthy dose skepticism, especially before swallowing short odds at the windows.

Last but not least, Bill Mott’s second stringer, Tacitus, got the job done at nearly 9/1 odds in the Tampa Bay Derby. I say second stringer because much has been made of Hidden Scroll beating up on Tacitus in morning workouts, but the latter looked like the more seasoned animal at this point in their careers. Like the other two winners, Tacitus rallied from off the pace, courageously splitting horses and pulling away late after a 45 and change half-mile. The favored Win Win Win battled admirably after a 5-wide trip to get third, but like the other favorites, he was trying something new for the first time. In his case, two turns proved to be his undoing at 7/5 odds.

Of the these three preps, I was most impressed by Code of Honor and Bourbon War, the top two finishers in the Fountain of Youth, and would elevate their chances on the Derby trail. I am not sure any of the horses coming out of the Gotham really want two turns. While Tacitus displayed the kind of courage you need to compete in a 20-horse Derby, I have some doubts about the quality of the Tampa field overall. I will say that the final time of 1:41.95 looked legit, being only a tenth and a half off the track record of 1:41.75 for 1 1/16 miles set by Stanford in 2017.  It will be interesting to see the paths taken by the horses exiting Tampa in about a month’s time.

Lastly, I did catch the Jeff Ruby Steaks from Turfway Park at the OTB and didn’t see a lot of meat on the bones there. After dominating the race on the front end through a 47 half, the heavily-favored Somelikeithotbrown looked ready to give up the lead late, shortening stride and drifting in and out. Still, nobody was able to run him down, leaving me with the impression there is little to no quality behind him. It was a nice win by a logical favorite who definitely could make his presence felt in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, but I can’t see him winning a Triple Crown race.

REBEL REBEL
For all of the Kentucky Derby preps we’ve seen to this point, it doesn’t really feel like Derby season has begun until the big guns from the Baffert barn are unleashed. And we’ll finally get to see that this Saturday when the Rebel Stakes is contested at Oaklawn Park. With the unfortunate and untimely cancellation of racing at Santa Anita, the traditional Southern California path to the Derby has been rerouted to Hot Springs, Arkansas where Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ Game Winner and the much-hyped Improbable will make their three-year-old debuts. And since Oaklawn has announced it’s splitting the race into two divisions with 9 and 10 horses each, it looks like we’ll be getting a pair of races with big Baffert favorites in each of them. I’ll return with an update on Friday to discuss my thoughts on the two divisions of Rebel once I’ve had a chance to dive into the past performances.

Speaking of Santa Anita, it resumed light training over the main track this week. While I had read that its possible racing could resume in a week or two, word of another fatal breakdown came from the DRF’s Brad Free just this morning. I would expect this puts the resumption of live racing squarely on the back burner until the track can assure the safety of its horses and riders during workouts.

Needless to say, California racing isn’t the same without the GRP (Great Race Place).