Cupid gave trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth win in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in the last seven runnings of the race, and the morning after he was so still impressed with the son of Tapit that he plans to send him back for the Grade 1 $1 million Arkansas Derby April 16.
“That’s the logical thing,” said Baffert, from his Southern California base where he watched the Rebel on TV and watched him overcome a slow break from the gate and encounter a bit of trouble under Martin Garcia when the colt dipped in toward the rail when straightening for home during the 1 1/16th miles trip.
“He was able to overcome that. He got right back on his feet and really showed his athleticism,” said Baffert, who was also gratified to see the Coolmore-owned, lightly-raced horse display grit and guts in a 14-horse field.
Cupid, who had only three previous starts and jumped all the way from a maiden score into Grade 2 company in the Rebel, made every pole a winning one while covering the distance in 1:43.84. His final time was faster than those turned in by the 4-year-old Upstart in the Grade 3 $350,00 Razorback Handicap and the 6-year-old Call Pat in the Grade 2 $300,000 Azeri Stakes.
“I was watching the track all day and I think it was playing fair. Horses were closing,” Baffert said. “I think the track was getting faster all day. But he showed us he is a fast horse.”
Cupid was the picture of a happy, healthy, bright-eyed colt the morning after his win and was scheduled to be vanned to the airport to board a flight home Sunday.
“He came back well from his race and he’s doing well today. We’re hoping to come back with him for the Arkansas Derby,” said Baffert.
The Arkansas Derby is the final prep for the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and there are 100-40-20-10 qualifying points on the line. Cupid, who was a $900,000 yearling purchase, earned 50 points with his Rebel win and he is now squarely on the Triple Crown trail. The $540,000 winner’s share of the Rebel purse boosted his earnings to $587,400.
Co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said Sunday morning he was still “weak” from food poisoning, but Whitmore “came back real good” and was “happy” following his runner-up finish in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel.
Moquett said Whitmore will be pointed for the Arkansas Derby and a probable rematch with Cupid, who gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his sixth Rebel victory since 2010.
Whitmore, ninth after a half-mile in the Rebel, nearly drew abreast of Cupid approaching the sixteenth pole, but Cupid inched away late in a front-running 1 ¼-length victory.
“I actually thought the field was the horse to beat,” Moquett said with a laugh. “When you’re talking 14 horses, instead of being five-wide and three back, now you’re seven-wide and five back. People don’t understand that it takes a lot of energy for a horse that runs from off the pace to get to the same position that had nobody pressing him on the lead.”
Moquett said jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. plans to ride the Whitmore back in the Arkansas Derby. Ortiz rode the gelding for the first time Saturday.
“I chose him because I wanted a two-race commitment,” Moquett said.
Whitmore was coming off a runner-up finish in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15 at Oaklawn.
Trainer Steve Asmussen said he was pleased with late-running Creator’s third-place performance in the Rebel, which was his stakes debut.
Last of 14 early, Creator was beaten three lengths by Cupid under three-time defending Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr.
“Got to get Creator in a position he doesn’t cover that much ground,” Asmussen said. “Worrying about him getting stopped, because of him being such a one-run horse and how much ground he gave up yesterday, we’ve got to do a little better than that – whether it’s timing our run or taking a few chances with him. With that being said, he ran a huge race, third race in five weeks.”
Creator was coming off a powerful 7 ¼-length maiden victory Feb. 27 at Oaklawn. The gray son of Tapit came out of the Rebel in good shape physically, Asmussen said.
“He’s an exciting horse going forward,” Asmussen said.
Madtap, another gray son of Tapit, finished 12th in the Rebel in his stakes debut.
“I don’t think the race set up very good for him,” Asmussen said. “He wasn’t away very cleanly. Moved up into a fast pace and was fatigued because of it.”
While holding a full deck, trainer Dale Romans on Sunday was unsure how he’ll play his hand regarding the Arkansas Derby and the remaining Grade 1 Kentucky Derby preps, and the increasingly valuable qualifying points they offer.
He hasn’t even decided if Cherry Wine, fourth in Saturday’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, and Unbridled Outlaw, second in a $78,000 allowance/optional claiming race against older horses on the under card, will stay put, catch the Monday flight back to South Florida, or take a van ride to Kentucky. Still feeling the effects of a virus he contracted recently in Dubai, he couldn’t make up his mind if even he will travel soon.
“I just haven’t decided if I’m going to get on there (the plane) or not,” he said. “They could van to Kentucky, but I wouldn’t want to do that for a week or so. I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Romans, whose Grade 1 Travers winner Keen Ice was the only horse to defeat Triple Crown and Arkansas Derby hero American Pharoah in 2015, said his long range plan has been to run Unbridled Outlaw back in Arkansas Derby after that allowance race. But that was when Cherry Wine was supposed to go in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby before that one got sick and was re-routed to the Rebel.
“Unbridled Outlaw? I’m sure I’ll come back in the Arkansas Derby,” he said. “Cherry Wine, I’m not sure about yet. He could go in the Wood, the Blue Grass. I don’t know. I will run one of them in the Arkansas Derby,” said Romans, who if all goes according to plan, intends to run another shooter- Grade 1 winner Brody’s Cause- in the Blue Grass Stakes April 9.
“Cherry Wine ran a very, very sneaky good race. He split horses, did a lot of things you’ve got to do to be a Derby horse. And he never got clear sailing. He ran nice and picked up some points. The other horse (Unbridled Outlaw), I ran him three and up just to get a race in him. I thought off the layoff and the fact that he was still drawing off from everybody else, was very encouraging. He ran well. He just needed the race. He had to do all the work, and he was a little fresh off the layoff, but that’s why I wanted to get this race. He’s a very talented horse. He might be the most pure talent that I have in the barn. But we’ve always thought that.”
Cherry Wine finished behind likely Arkansas Derby contestants Cupid, who is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Ron Moquett trainee Whitmore, and Creator, conditioned by Hall of Fame nominee. Cupid certainly caught the eye of Romans, who is an Eclipse Award winner trainer.
“They could have pressed that horse gate to wire and they weren’t going to beat him. He’s better than us. He was the best horse that day. That doesn’t mean he’ll be the best horse the first Saturday in May. But he’s in the best hands, one thing about it,” he said.
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said late-running Suddenbreakingnews “more than likely” will make his next start in the Arkansas Derby.
Suddenbreakingnews, as the 5-2 favorite, finished fifth in the Rebel after breaking from the extreme outside, post 14.
Suddenbreakingnews won the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15 at Oaklawn from post 13.
Gray Sky/Z Royal
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Gray Sky (sixth) and Z Royal (11th) “pulled up fine,” but plans are pending for both colts.
Trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs said seventh-place Rebel finisher Discreetness will be pointed for the Arkansas Derby.
Fires said Discreetness was farther back than expected early in the Rebel after not breaking sharply.
“He just didn’t break running like he should have,” Fires said. “They just outsprinted him away from there, and the track was too fast for him to catch up.”
Discreetness began his 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18 at Oaklawn.
Trainer Rodney Richards said he will “re-evaluate” plans going forward for American Dubai, who ran 13th in the Rebel.
“He never really got a hold of the track,” Richards said. “Just kind of spinning his wheels a little bit. That’s basically how it was. We’re all disappointed.”
RAZORBACK AND AZERI UPDATE
Sunday morning was a sunny one for trainer Rick Violette, who remained extremely pleased with Upstart’s return from a protracted layoff to score an impressive win in Saturday’s Grade 3 $350,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park.
“He came back after the race awfully well so far,” Violette said by phone from his winter training base in South Florida. “He ate up last night. We trainers sometimes say they ate up when the truth is they left a few handfuls. But, he really licked the bowl clean, He cooled out well and we’ll fly him back to Florida at noon today. We’re thrilled with his performance and we think he won with a little bit left in the tank.”
Ralph M. Evans and WinStar Farm’s Upstart traveled the Triple Crown trail last year and chased eventual Triple Crown and Arkansas Derby winner American Pharoah from the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby in early May to the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at the end of August. After a fifth place finish in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby September 19, Violette stopped on him.
That patience paid off in the Razorback, when the New York-bred millionaire covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.12 while toting top weight of 120 pounds, including Joe Bravo, and dug in down the lane to win by one length.
“He certainly showed us his stuff,” said Violette, who is contemplating sending Upstart back here for the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap April 16.
Should the Razorback winner return, he won’t contend with third place finisher Idolo Porteno (ARG), the 2014 Horse of the Year in his native country. Trainer Ignacio Correas IV, who stabled at Oaklawn for the first time this season, said he is shipping his outfit to Kentucky Tuesday and changing surfaces for his charge.
Idolo Portino made his first North American start Saturday after last starting in Argentina nine months ago,
“He’s more of a grass horse than a dirt horse, so we’ll go from here,” said Correas. “He came off a nine month layoff and just started his career in America so we’re not in a rush. He looks fantastic this morning and he’s happy, but it was still a big effort and he got defeated. He was in a position that he’s not used to. He was very close to the lead so his effort was for the whole trip. It’s not that he came from off the pace. We’ll probably go back to the grass and to longer races for him. Whenever he is ready he will tell us. The grass season is just ahead, so we have a lot of choices.”
Meanwhile, Correas was enjoying the 6-year-old horse’s race in the Razorback.
“We are very, very happy and proud of him. He put in a big effort coming back from a big layoff. He ran pretty big. Everything was new to him. He’s feeling great and came out of the race in great shape, and we look forward to what is next,” he said.
Another who was pleased with his horse’s third place finish in one of Saturday’s three graded stakes was Brian Williamson, who trains the homebred Streamline for Nancy Vanier and Cartwright Thoroughbreds.
The Illinois-bred 4yo daughter of Straight Line, whom Vanier also owned and Williamson trained, was beaten less than a length by multiple graded stakes winners Call Pat and Untapable in the Grade 2 $350,000 Azeri.
“I thought she ran great. She didn’t have a perfect trip but she had the whole lane to try and get by and just came up a little short. All the way down the lane it looked like she could win it. It was fun. I am very proud of her. She came out of the race great and looked real good this morning. It’s nice to have a homebred like this,” said Williamson, who is married to Vanier’s daughter, Lyda.
The Azeri is the final prep for the Grade 1 $600,000 Apple Blossom here April 15 and Pippin Stakes winner Streamlime, who has finished in the money in all three of her starts here, may be in line for a rematch with the two mares who finished ahead of her Saturday.
“We might take a shot at it as long as all continues to go well. We only got beat a half-length in this one. It might be worth it. She’s got a win, a second and a third here (all in stakes) so she likes the track. It makes sense to stay right here, and for $600,000, it might be worth a shot,” he said.
Call Pat represented a milestone victory for trainer Brad Cox Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn when she edged champion Untapable in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares. The Azeri represented the most lucrative career victory for Cox, and his 100th at Oaklawn.
“I would say it’s my biggest win because of the purse,” Cox said. “We’ve had a couple of $300,000s.”
Under Joe Rocco Jr., Call Pat rallied from last to nip Untapable by a neck in the 1 1/16-mile Azeri, the final major local prep for the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 15.
Purchased for only $7,500 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Call Pat won for the seventh time in 30 lifetime starts to increase her earnings to $614,589.
Call Pat, a 6-year-old daughter of 2006 Arkansas Derby winner Lawyer Ron, was coming off a half-length victory in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 14 at Oaklawn.
She hasn’t finished worse than third in seven of her last eight starts. Cox said Call Pat’s consistency coincides with figuring out that her running style is that of a late closer.
“She has to be in the back, just kind of galloping along and come with one run,” Cox said. “That just how it is.”
Cox said the Apple Blossom, a race Call Pat finished fifth in last year, is the next local step for the mare.
“She’s a Grade 2 winner,” Cox said, who saddled his first winner in 2004. “Now, she needs a Grade 1 to finish the resume.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen said Untapable emerged from her runner-up Azeri finish in good order and will be pointed for the Apple Blossom. She finished second in the Azeri in her 2015 debut before winning the Apple Blossom in her next start.
Ridden for the first time Saturday by Florent Geroux, Untapable was keen early and unable to hold off late-running Call Pat after opening up a 1 ½-length in midstretch.
“She was very sharp,” Asmussen said. “We were concerned about that going in.”
Untapable was making her first start since finishing second in the $500,000 Spinster Stakes (G1) Oct. 4 at Keeneland.
“I thought she ran very well for her first race back of the year,” Asmussen said. “She came out of it in good shape and we look forward to having a very good year with her.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen said he will talk to owner Mike Langford before deciding the next move for Carve, who missed another chance to surpass $1 million in career earnings with a seventh-place finish in the Razorback, beaten 2 ½ lengths by Upstart.
“He’s capable of better,” Asmussen said.
Asmussen said Carve came out of the Razorback in good physical shape.
Trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs offered no excuses Sunday morning for multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Far Right, who finished eighth in the Razorback.
“He’s happy,” Moquett said. “He threw in a dud. I thought he would run better. Even Joe Montana threw a couple of interceptions.”
Moquett said Far Right is “under consideration” for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 16 Oaklawn.
Far Right won the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) last year at Oaklawn.
Source: Oaklawn Park