Going into The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn yesterday, I thought it was the best Derby prep thus far this year. Coming out, not so much.
While the Todd Pletcher- trained Malagacy won convincingly, especially considering it was his first start around two turns, he didn’t exactly look smooth and polished approaching the wire. The colt has a funny way of traveling, and even took what I’d call an awkward step approaching the wire. Factor that with Malagacy’s being entered (and scratched) for a $75,000 tag earlier in the Gulfstream meet, and post time favorite American Anthem just not showing up, and the race just does not look all that impressive.
Mor Spirit always looked like he was sitting on a big race while on the Triple Crown trail last year. He never delivered it until yesterday when he just outclassed and outran The Essex field at Oaklawn. Mor Spirit beat an “OK” group, but did it the right way perhaps indicating there is a place for him in the older male division this year.
Terra Promessa looked awfully tough on paper heading into The Azeri. Irad Ortiz Jr. was in for the ride, the filly was five for five over the Oaklawn strip, and coming off back to back runaway scores. She did not have the best of breaks, and wound up looking uncomfortable sitting off the pace. She never really got untracked, and finished off the board prompting some generous show prices. Streamline did show up and drew off to a smart score.
Enola Gray, what else can you say? She humbled the Irish O’Brien field down the hill at Santa Anita. She is just too fast for those other gals.
Vale Dori got herself a Grade 1 in the Santa Margherita. She withstood a challenge from Finest City who ran a credible race on the stretch out, but couldn’t go with the Argentinian runner late. Raphael Bejarano rode Vale Dori, subbing for Mike Smith who was at Oaklawn to ride Mor Spirit and American Anthem.
Distinta took advantage of a race that was crying for a closer winning the Grade 2 Inside Information by a short head over Wheatfield. Odds on Curlin’s Approval didn’t fire and appeared to bounce off her last race, which many categorized as an easy win, but she was very hard ridden that day by Luis Saez. She had zero to offer yesterday. Distinta needed the hot pace she got, and a little luck to give trainer Victor Barboza his first graded stakes in the US. Barboza is an excellent trainer who flies under the radar for the most part. His stats off the claim and from maiden special to maiden claiming are off the charts. The lucky part came from Wheatfield who was likely best yesterday. She was on the rail and steadied slightly down the backstretch, and waited under Edgar Prado in the stretch before angling outside and closing between horses. Without steadying and waiting, or with an outside post she was the likely winner.
Clothes Fall Off won the Correction by an easy 4 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct. Rajiv Maragh was up. She also won the race last year, and did it the same way coming off a start in the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel.