Laser-focused James Graham guides Confidence Game to victory in the Rebel (Coady Photography)
After Rebel Score Desormeaux says Arkansas Derby in Play
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Confidence Game was scheduled to be vanned back to his Fair Grounds base late Sunday afternoon, roughly 24 hours after his one-length victory over Red Route One in Oaklawn’s $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles.
Trainer Keith Desormeaux said late Sunday morning that Confidence Game emerged in good order physically from the Rebel, which propelled the son of Candy Ride to the top of the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 57 points. The Rebel offered 100 points (50-20-15-10-5, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.
“He’s happy,” Desormeaux said with a laugh. “He looks a lot more calm and happy than he was in that damn (indoor) paddock.”
Desormeaux said next-race plans are pending for Confidence Game, but he could return to Oaklawn for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1. The Arkansas Derby is Oaklawn’s fourth and final Kentucky Derby points race.
“For sure, TBA – depending on how he returns and it will give us a couple of weeks to let him rest and see how he bounces back, but all options are open,” Desormeaux said. “It could be in Arkansas, Louisiana, maybe even the Blue Grass, I don’t know. Obviously, with our success here and the way we were treated, our first option is going to be the Arkansas Derby.”
Ridden Saturday by James Graham, Confidence Game ($39) was fifth through a demanding :46.17 half-mile before launching a four-wide move to the lead turning for home. Confidence Game opened a 1 ½-length advantage in midstretch and held late-running Red Route One safe in the final 100 yards.
Confidence Game received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 94, a career high, in the winning the Rebel over a sloppy track. His final time was 1:44.21. Confidence Game, exiting a third-place finish in the $200,000 Lecomte Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 21 at Fair Grounds, was racing on an off track for the first time Saturday.
“Everything worked in his favor,” Desormeaux said. “I was telling the ownership group last night that pace, I’ve watched races there for two days, and that pace was about two seconds faster than anything I had seen. So, it set up great for him. I don’t know how many people buy into this, but as far as the pedigree was concerned, as far as propensity for the off track, he had the highest number. The off track probably helped us. Perfect trip. Here we are.”
Owned by Don’t Tell My Wife Stables (Kirk Godby), Confidence Game won for the third time in seven starts to raise his career earnings to $785,525. Confidence Game was purchased for just $25,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said Red Route One will be considered for the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 25 at Fair Grounds, adding the distance (1 3/16 miles) makes the race attractive because of the colt’s late-running style. Red Route One, last of 11, trailed by 18 ¼ lengths after the Rebel’s opening half-mile. Red Route One (33 points) ranks fourth on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Red Route One finished 1 ½ lengths ahead of Reincarnate, who was making his first start outside California and first for trainer Tim Yakteen, a former assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Reincarnate lost early position after being squeezed shortly after the start, then having to check approaching the eighth pole.
Horses trained by Baffert are ineligible for Kentucky Derby qualifying points because of a Churchill Downs suspension, stemming from his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, being disqualified because of a medication violation. In addition to Reincarnate, Yakteen reportedly now trains several other promising 3-year-olds previously with Baffert. Reincarnate (15 points) is No. 14 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Asked following the Rebel if he would return with something for the Arkansas Derby, Yakteen said: “We’ll come back.”
Trainer Brad Cox was seeking his fifth victory in Oaklawn’s last 11 Kentucky Derby points races. Instead, 3-2 favorite Verifying and Giant Mischief, the 2-1 second choice, finished fourth and sixth, respectively, after chasing a fast pace.
“I was hoping to learn a good bit from yesterday’s race,” Cox said Sunday morning. “I’m not sure I learned as much as I was looking or hoping to. That would be the best way to sum that up. That’s the honest to God way I looked at the race. I really thought I was going to find out something yesterday and I don’t know what I found out.”
Verifying was making his first start since a powerful 5 ¼-length entry-level allowance victory at 1 mile Jan. 14 at Oaklawn in his 3-year-old debut. The Rebel marked the 3-year-old debut of Giant Mischief, who concluded 2022 with a runner-up finish in the $400,000 Remington Park Springboard Mile Dec. 17 at Remington Park. Verifying was bottled up turning for home under Florent Geroux and beaten 5 ¼ lengths by Confidence Game. Giant Mischief was beaten 6 ½ lengths.
“Verifying lost a lot of position from the quarter pole to the eighth pole,” Cox said. “He went from basically being fourth to eighth or ninth. You can’t do that in these type of races with these good horses. In my eyes he remains on the Derby trail and is a contender. Giant Mischief was in contention turning for home. He hadn’t raced in a while. May have needed the race. I wouldn’t say he’s off the trail at all. We’ll regroup with the team and come up with a plan here in the near future.”
Cox won last year’s Arkansas Derby with Cyberknife and said will be represented in the race again in 2023. Cox has six to the top 17 horses on the latest Kentucky Derby leaderboard released by Churchill Downs.
“We’re going to be there,” Cox said. “I don’t know with who.”
Verifying (14 points) is No. 16 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Bourbon Bash (five) is No. 30 after finishing fifth in the Rebel at odds of 77-1. Bourbon Bash will be considered for the Arkansas Derby, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Sunday morning. Bourbon Bash was beaten six lengths in the Rebel after breaking from post 10.
“Should have been a lot closer,” Lukas said. “That 10 hole is a tough spot to overcome. He hit that (first) turn and I don’t remember what number, what horse it was, but he hit him right in the hip and kicked him out there to the parking lot. He whipped him right out there. If they had changed positions and that horse had been on the other side, I think it would have made a hell of a difference. But any time you hit that turn and you lose your action and get kissed out there like that, that is brutal because now you have to get back in the race and make up all that ground. You’re running, probably, three or four lengths further than the rest of the field.”
In addition to the Arkansas Derby, Lukas said he will look at other Kentucky Derby preps across the country for Bourbon Bash.
“I thought I saw enough to at least give him another chance,” Lukas said. “We can always drop back.”
Nominations to the Arkansas Derby close March 17.