This weekend saw both of the biggest races end with massive upsets. The Saudi Cup was won by a 99-1 shot and the Rebel gave a 74-1 horse a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby
The Rebel Stakes is one of the biggest preps on the Oaklawn trail to the Derby. It often serves as a prep for the Arkansas Derby. The Arkansas Derby is run as part of the last series of preps for the Kentucky Derby. However, with so many points already forfeited by Baffert runners, this year’s Rebel was more of a “Win and You’re In” situation.
The Tote Board
As the horses entered the gate, Newgrange for Bob Baffert was the heavy favorite at odds of 4-5. After that there was a precipitous drop off to the next flight of Chasing Time (5-1), Barber Road (6-1), and Ben Diesel (8-1). No other horses were inside of 10-1. Un Ojo was the longest shot on the board at final odds of 74-1.
Out of the gates Kavod took a lone lead and held rail position. Newgrange settled 2 off the pace followed by Chasing Time and the eventual winner, Un Ojo. At the half mile pole the results remained largely the same, but Un Ojo glued to the rail moved into third as the pack began to swarm in on Kavod.
On the turn Ethereal Road started to make a move. Newgrange was unresponsive to his jockeys vigorous scrubbing. Kavod, the leader throughout, fought in gamely as the others drew level. Un Ojo was patiently ridden and took advantage of the open seem on the inside of Kavod as other horses attempted to wheel wide.
As they entered the final 200 yards of the stretch, Ethereal Road looked an easy winner as he finally put away Kavod. However, to his inside Un Oja dug in and found his best stride edging him out in the shadow of the wire. Barber Road out finished Kavod to get up for third.
After a brief inquiry reviewing the #10 on the #1, the stewards upheld the race result of:
- #4 Un Ojo
- #10 Ethereal Road
- #9 Barber Road
- #1 Kavod
Full race results and payouts can be found on the Equibase website.
Kentucky Derby Impact
In victory Un Ojo earned a 91 Equibase speed figure. The number was the lowest since Equibase started issuing their numbers and was the only sub 100 number earned since 1996 when Ide earned a 99.
Although the points earned likely assure that the one-eyed horse will be eligible to start in the Kentucky Derby, the numbers suggest that this one, and any of his competitors for that matter, have a long way to go to be competitive on the first Saturday in May.
Following the announcement earlier this week that Mandaloun would be the Kentucky Derby Champion for 2021, he was set to run again. This time in Saudi Arabia for the third edition of the Saudi Cup.
Joining Mandaloun would be several other top American runners including Midnight Bourbon, Art Collector, and Country Grammar. Defending Champion Mishriff also returned for a title defense.
Secret Ambition set the pace, but had plenty of early pursuers including most of the American cavalry. As the entered the turn following a blistering pace, 10 horses were all with a couple of lengths of the lead.
As they turned for home three horses were abreast for the lead and it looked like the cup would likely go to Country Grammar, Midnight Bourbon, or Secret Ambition. By the time they hit the 100 meter line Country Grammar had edged clear of Midnight Bourbon as Secret Ambition began a moonwalk to the rest of the field.
Out of the clouds Emblem Road gathered momentum with every stride in the middle of the track and put away both Americans in the final jumps at 99-1. The Saudi based horse gave the home nation its first every victory in their biggest race.
Other Kentucky Derby Weekend Implications
The other major race over the weekend that looks to have serious implications on the Kentucky Derby weekend was the Honeybee. This race was run a few races prior to the Rebel and was a prep race for the Kentucky Oaks. This was the same prep race that introduced the world to Shedaresthedevil who would go on to win the Kentucky Oaks in 2020.
Prior to the race there was a clear cut favorite in #3 Secret Oath who was paying $.30 on the dollar to win at post time. The horse, trained by all time great D. Wayne Lukas, lived up to the billing romping by almost 8 lengths in the end.
As a standalone performance the race was impressive. However, what really turned many heads was the comparison of this race to the Kentucky Derby prep that was run less than 2 hours later.
In general male runners tend to run a bit faster than the fillies and mares. However, Un Ojo ran the Kentucky Derby prep in 1:45.69 and earned a 91 Equibase speed figure. Compare that to Secret Oath at the same distance on the same track on the same day. She ran the race in 1:44.74 earning a 100 Equibase speed figure.
These results suggest one of three things. First it is possible that Secret Oath could be a transformational race filly. The second is that the Rebel was extremely weak. A third option exists and that is that both A and B are true.
Following the race trainer D. Wayne Lukas did little to squash speculation that this filly could try the boys in the Arkansas Derby. A win in that race would earn her enough points to choose between the Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May and the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
Horse Racing Roundup
In other horse racing news this week the California Horse Racing Board confirmed that if Bob Baffert’s suspension is not thrown out by the courts, they will honor the decision by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to suspend Bob Baffert for 90 days.
This would be a severe punishment to the trainer who would miss several lucrative races on the West coast circuit including key Kentucky Derby prep races. His charges are still barred from earning point in those races, but Baffert is still allowed to collect the purse money. This ruling inevitably will destroy his 2022 bottom line.
Baffert’s suspension stems from the 2021 Kentucky Derby drug positive of the late Medina Spirit who was disqualified earlier this week.