This weekend’s prep takes us to Arkansas, and the presence of horses like Strong Mandate, Kobe’s Back, and Hoppertunity offer plenty of chances to earn points in our Kentucky Derby charity league. Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now takes his usual thorough look at the race.
Oaklawn Park: The Grade II, $600,000 Rebel at 1 1/16 miles
#1 Jet Cat: Rank outsider drew well for this two-turn test, but on paper he’s in way over his head, with just a MSW over the Polytrack at Turfway Park to his credit. If you’re looking for positives, then he does have a few races over the track, but that’s about where the good vibes end for this son of Tactical Cat, who needs much softer to make a dent; get home safely.
#2 Ride On Curlin: Capable stakes performer had the “someone has to be third” feel to him in the local GIII Southwest, when he was beaten 10 1/4 lengths by fellow rivals Tapiture and Strong Mandate, and while he’s talented, that’s one heck of a gap to bridge. On the plus side, he did draw well and has some tactical speed, and that was his first two-turn start since September, so he could move forward for a Gowan barn that quietly does a very good job. Son of Curlin is GI stakes placed and has a decent resume showing, but up to this point he hasn’t been able to make a dent against the best of his generation; using underneath, if at all.
#3 Tapiture: Morning line favorite got all the best of it in his Southwest romp, as he tracked a tepid pace early before kicking clear late over his main rival today, Strong Mandate, who took all the worst of it that day. Rapidly improving son of Tapit has really come to hand in his last two for Asmussen and no doubt will take some beating today, especially since his last was his first start since November and first over the local oval. If there’s an issue (there always is), it would be his price, as it will be much smaller than the 5-1 you got last time, plus his buddy ‘Mandate next door figures a much tighter, meaner customer today, so with that in mind, we’ll tab him second-best; still rock solid any way you look at it.
#4 Strong Mandate: Juvenile hotshot endured a (very) questionable ride when he was wide, wider and widest in his return in the Southwest last time, but to his credit he did put in a sharp run before flattening out late to be second in an encouraging return. Son of Tiznow also missed his final work due to the finicky weather in Hot Springs (and Tapiture did not), so that sure didn’t help, though today he comes with a bullet and maintenance breeze in tow, so there seemingly aren’t any excuses. Tactical sort drew perfectly, is outside his main rival and looks like Lukas’ best Derby hope in years, which means it’s “go time” today; call to get back on the beam.
#5 Hoppertunity: Baffert charge was thrown to the wolves off a MSW win in the GII Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his last, and while he didn’t make a dent when fourth, he did acquit himself nicely in his first start against winners and only third start lifetime. Son of Any Given Saturday has a ton of upside and got that tightener against some big boys out of the way, too, so you have to think he can be a player here, though there’s also no doubt the two big guns will take some beating. On paper he’s third-best, but the price will be right and we know these 3-year-olds can improve open lengths overnight, so there’s plenty of appeal here; price players have their hero.
#6 Sheltowee’s Boy: Longshot beat Jet Cat in an entry-level allowance in his last for an underrated Cox barn but certainly picks a mighty tough spot to make his graded stakes debut. Son of Nobiz Like Shobiz seems on the improve and has shown he can pass horses late, but winning over allowance foes and beating Derby hopefuls like ‘Tap and ‘Mandate is another kettle of fish altogether; tough to tout.
#7 Street Strategy: Pricey son of Derby winner Street Sense was a stunning local MSW winner in his last when he went two turns for the first time, and while he steps way up, there’s a ton of talent here to be sure. Morse charge spots plenty of experience to some saltier rivals and didn’t draw particularly well, but he’s tactical enough to seemingly get a good position entering the first turn, and it’s not like the pace will be suicidal here, so a good trip could be in the offing. On the face of it, this has the “too much too soon” feel, but anyone who saw him run off and hide in his maiden breaker knows that this dude is one serious race horse; thinking this is a name you want to remember.
#8 Kobe’s Back: The wildcard failed miserably in his lone-turn start when 10th-of-12 in the GI CashCall at Hollywood Park to close out his 2-year-old campaign but freaked in his 3-year-old debut in the 7F GII San Vicente at Santa Anita last month, so you’ve got some deciding to do in this corner. Son of Flatter hails from the powerful Sadler barn and is certainly bred for this, so maybe he simply had a bad day in the CashCall. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll see his only two losses did come to Shared Belief, who was nothing short of a monster last year. His dead one-run closing style will help to negate this terrible post, but spotting upwards of a dozen lengths to ‘Tap and ‘Mandate and then running them down late seems like a mighty big ask for a colt who, up to this point, has more questions than answers; making him prove it.
#4 Strong Mandate
#7 Street Strategy