by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Oaklawn Park: The GII, $900,000 Rebel at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 100-40-20-10)
#1 Creator (6-1): Deep closer drew perfectly for his style and is one of two sons of Tapit in here for Asmussen; both come in off breakthrough runs, and this one blitzed a field of MSW foes over the track and distance last time. Of course, mowing down a field of overmatched maidens is one thing, and doing it against a deep and competitive GII Kentucky Derby prep is another, not to mention that the early pace doesn’t look all that hot today. On the plus side, he’ll offer some value on the 2-for-1 angle and could be getting good at the right time, and we saw last time in the local prep—the GIII Southwest—that deep closers can have their day here, though at this point, this looks like a tall ask; not seeing it.
#3 Ralis (12-1): Saratoga’s GI Hopeful winner will attract some support for Reddam, O’Neill and Gutierrez, the same connections that brought you dual Classic winner I’ll Have Another and reigning 2-year-old champion and undefeated Nyquist, but make no mistake about it, this colt is about a football field behind those two runners. Homebred son of Square Eddie was fortunate to win the weakest Hopeful in years and followed that up with total no-shows in the GI Champagne at Belmont Park and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland in October, which was his last start, so this is one ambitious spot to start his campaign. Speedy sort could shake out as your inside speed, especially with this cozy draw, but his works have been very slow, and he’s done nothing at two turns to suggest that he can play with a group like this; tossing completely.
#4 Cupid (7-2): Very intriguing newcomer passed on last weekend’s GII San Felipe at Santa Anita to run here and that’s probably a good thing, as that was arguably the best Derby prep to date and certainly tougher than this field. Rapidly improving son of Tapit invades for Baffert, who has won this race five times and annually raids OP to win a lot of their preps, but it is worth noting that his runners this year haven’t made a dent while running extremely disappointing at underlaid odds. Not that this colt cares, though, and that MSW win in his two-turn debut at SA was a sight to behold, so in a race with what looks like a moderate pace, his stalking gear and inside post should allow him to trip out nicely, and while you have to respect the locals, you’re certainly allowed to make the top pair from the Southwest prove it right back at false odds; look out.
#4 Discreetness (12-1): Son of Discreet Cat was sent off at 9-2 in the Southwest after winning the local Smarty Jones in January for Fires but had no stretch kick en route to a seventh-place finish after breaking from the outside post of 14 over a track labeled as “good.” And while you may want to toss that run due to his post and change of tactics, take note that fellow rivals and 1-2 finishers Suddenbreakingnews and Whitmore closed from 14th and 11th respectively, so the race flow actually played to his running style (that day), which really tells you that he did no running at all. If you’re a fan, you can point to his Smarty Jones win and the fact that he can resume his usual stalking tactics today; his four career wins do top the field, but you get the feeling that he’s had his 15 minutes of fame and isn’t a player against a group like this; making him prove it.
#5 Siding Spring (20-1): Casse charge is one of the last few Triple Crown hopes for a barn that had a half dozen or so to start the year, and that alone makes you wonder if he’s here because of that fact, since his two dirt runs, including a pop-and-stop fifth in the Southwest, just don’t stack up with these, while his two turf starts have been stellar. Warrior’s Reward colt probably needed his last, as it was his first start since running 10th in the Juvenile, and his speed should play well in a race where the pace doesn’t seem too hot, but not only is this barn cold with 3-year-olds, but it really hasn’t had that good of an Oaklawn meet, either (3-for-34 as of Wednesday). There’s talent in this corner, and he could move up off the tightener last time, but with two sharp turf runs showing and two poor dirt runs, it’s pretty obvious where he needs to be to have his best chance; waiting for him to show up on the lawn.
#7 Spikes Shirl (30-1): Fipke homebred son of Speightstown rates as one of the longer shots in the field, as he’s never run in a graded stakes and was just a well-beaten second in his seasonal debut in an optional claimer at Fair Grounds last month for Stewart. Tactical sort is eligible to trip out nicely just off the speed, and that could enable him to get first run on the bevy of closers entered, but up to this point, his stretch stamina leaves a lot to be desired. These connections aren’t afraid to throw something at the wall to see if it sticks, and this colt could move forward off his return, but up to this point he’s done nothing to show he belongs in here; no thanks.
#1a Madtap (6-1): The more accomplished of the two Asmussen-trained Tapit runners really impressed in his last, when he led early, relinquished the lead after a half-mile, then easily pulled clear for a 6-length win in a track and distance optional claimer last month. Up-and-comer makes his stakes debut today, but this is the right spot for a gelding who may be getting really good at the right time of year, and his stalking style and nice attack post should allow him to trip out beautifully off what looks like a moderate pace. The fact that he’s coupled with Creator will hurt his value, but the entry should still be an honest price, and in a race where we’ve already mentioned that the top two from the Southwest are hardly unbeatable, it’s tough to fault anyone looking this way; price players have their hero.
#8 American Dubai (12-1): Lightly raced son of E Dubai ran sneaky huge in the Southwest, as he stalked in second early, took a clear late lead, then got run down by the two deep, deep closers who benefited from the race flow. Well, things don’t look quite so hot and bothered up front today, and Landeros is a big upgrade from De La Cruz, too, so expect a more polished ride on a colt that can stalk or lead and who showed a lot of mettle last time, in what was just his third lifetime start and first in a graded stakes. Richards has done a really nice job spacing the starts out, and in the third start of his form cycle, this one could be ready for a peak performance, at what should be a very nice price, too; call to turn the tables.
#2 Z Royal (20-1): The first of two from Lukas started the year with some high hopes and didn’t run poorly when fifth in the Lecomte at FG, but the train went off the tracks when he was a troubled eighth, beaten some 15 lengths, in the Southwest. The Coach takes the blinkers off today, and this son of Eskendereya did break his maiden without the hood at Churchill Downs last year, so at least he has that going for him. But on the face of it, this is just way too tough of an assignment for a horse who probably wouldn’t even be favored if he was entered in a N1X; deserved longshot.
#2b Gray Sky (20-1): Lukas’ second runner has a bit more appeal than his stablemate, if for no other reason than that he’s been in good form of late and enters off a solid second while beating Madtap in a local allowance, and we know what that runner returned to do after that race. Tapit colt can be placed anywhere, so expect an outside stalking trip from this wide draw, but with the pace not looking overly fast, he may actually trip out nicely. Still, while he does seem to be improving, he did blow a clear lead late last time, meets tons tougher today and won’t clear on the lead, either, so yeah, the hurdles are pretty high; tough to tout.
#9 Cutacorner (30-1): Outsider actually beat ‘Dubai in a local optional claimer two-back in January but didn’t run a lick in the Southwest, though he did have some trouble early that put him farther back than he’s accustomed to. If you view him off the win, then he’s a player for Van Berg, but that last says he was probably exposed against better and may be regressing in his form cycle. Son of Even the Score will be a big price if you still believe, but there are a lot of others who rank ahead of him on the totem pole; can’t endorse.
#10 Whitmore (7-2): Heavy-hitter looked like he was going to win the Southwest for fun when he stormed from far back, took a lead late and opened up, but apparently his move was a bit too soon, as fellow rival Suddenbreakingnews blew by him like he was tied to a pole. Still, that second-place run was sharp, and it was his second in a row since Moquett added blinkers, and first at two turns, so you know he’s headed in the right direction. Son of Pleasantly Perfect is a lot like Far Right for these connections, as that stretch-runner won the Smarty Jones and Southwest (but passed on the Rebel) last winter, though with Irad Ortiz replacing Smith today, you can expect a bit more aggression early. But that could also pose some problems, as this post did him no favors, and therefore he runs the risk of being wide every step of the way, so while you have to respect his talent, you’re going to have to take an underlaid price to see if he can overcome some obstacles; dangerous, nonetheless.
#11 Cherry Wine (12-1): Streaking stretch-runner has aired in two straight for Romans and heads to Hot Springs to see where he ranks on the national scene, in what will be his stakes debut. Son of Paddy O’ Prado broke his maiden by 9 1/4 at CD in November, then won by six at GP in an optional claimer in January, but while both wins make you take notice, don’t overlook the fact they were done against very weak fields in painfully slow times, which means he really does need to step it up today. And as if that’s not enough, the early pace might not aid his style, either, so while the draw isn’t a worry, since he’ll likely drop back and get over to the rail, passing most of the field in your stakes debut over a foreign track with no edge on paper isn’t really a ringing endorsement of your chances; taking a strong stand against.
#12 Suddenbreakingnews (3-1): Last-to-first winner of the Southwest pulled the ole “the last run is the winning run” when he blew by the field late and won going away in what was far and away a career-best run. So where does this son of Mineshaft go from here for Von Hemel? That topic is up for debate, since on the one hand that was his seasonal debut and he could actually move forward, but on the other the race fell apart late and he simply mowed down a spent field over an off-track track that he may have liked more than most; he’ll have to avoid the dreaded “bounce” today as well. And that’s before we mention this draw, which is brutal, and the pace, which doesn’t look all that hot, so while he no doubt hits hard right back, there’s reason to be skeptical in this corner; trying to beat on top.
#8 American Dubai