It started out good like it was going to be a good day the home team when Midnight Bisou out-darted Elate to the finish of the Grade 2 Azeri and when leading trainer Steve Asmussen came right back to upset the second ranked three year old in the country in Rebel 1.

In Rebel 2, however, the SoCal speedsters showed their brilliance from and ran away from eight rivals, finishing within a nose of each other at the post. The winning margin was thisclose.

The exacta finishers in two divisions of the Grade 2 mile and a sixteenth ran well enough to be numbered among the HRI Derby Power 10, Week 4 edition.

Given the results, three questions quickly came to mind:

1) What price could you have gotten that Bob Baffert, trainer of the two top rated Kentucky Derby prospects throughout 2019, would lose both races?

2) What is a voter supposed to do had the Rebel 2 photo gone Game Winner’s way instead of Omaha Beach’s? Or even a dead heat? Does the division’s defending champion deserve to lose the top spot?

3) And just who is the leading 2019 Kentucky Derby candidate now?
Instead of solidifying common wisdom to this point in the prep season, the Rebel results blew this year’s roses run wide open. Things are getting really interesting.

The upset winner of Rebel 1, Long Range Toddy, didn’t exactly come from nowhere. Dating back to his entrance into stakes following a maiden romp, he won the first two stakes and should have won a third had it not been for a tough Smarty Jones trip, his Oaklawn debut.

And he didn’t have it easy next time in the G3 Southwest, either. In close quarters at headstretch, he settled into his best stride too late, finishing well for third behind a speedy, pace-aided rival, beaten two lengths.

Yesterday Asmussen had ‘Toddy’ as sharp as he was fit. The colt jumped out of there, showed restrained speed throughout tucked up behind the speed, tipped into the clear in the straight and wore down previously undefeated Improbable in deep stretch under masterful Jon Court handling.

“You could tell coming into the stretch he was loaded,” Asmussen said post-race. [The rider] waited until they all lined out, didn’t waste any ground, wheeled him out late like he should, and got rewarded for it.”

But anyone who has taken Trip Handicapping 101 knows that as the race was run, Improbable was, well, probably best.

Breaking flat-footed in his season’s debut, his first Oaklawn run, he raced three to four wide throughout the entire race, took command while remaining wide as if to draw away leaving headstretch but tired in the final strides, second best on the day.

Improbable finished as if he needed the run, especially given that he and his mate were taken out of their training routines, forced to have their final workouts away from home. It would be shocking if he doesn’t improve in a big way next out.

That race will be a mile and an eighth but it is now fair to question his ability to get all 10 furlongs in Louisville--after first proving that he can go nine successfully in Grade 1 company.

The champ didn’t have things as badly but he didn’t have it easy, either. He did not break sharply after standing a bit awkwardly in the gate prior to the start then, like Improbable, was forced to race wide throughout.

Game Winner still had every chance. Reaching near even terms, he looked as if he would go by but lost a little momentum as Omaha Beach and Mike Smith separated themselves from the champion. But Game Winner was resurgent and came within inches of catching Omaha Beach.

A maiden once removed, Omaha Beach trained strongly for Hall of Famer Dick Mandella and Smith rode him as if he were astride the best horse, putting him in the game throughout, forcing the issue before being asked to turn back Game Winner. Mandella’s assessment?

“Coming out of a maiden race, it's a big step up. Game Winner ran really well. He hadn't run in a long time. He'll probably be tough next time, but mine just broke his maiden. He might be tougher, too.”


Game Winner will have his final prep in the Santa Anita Derby, But yesterday set the stage for an interesting rematch should Improbable return to Hot Springs for a rematch with Long Range Toddy if their connections so choose..

Obviously, there was a shakeup among the HRI Power 10, but not at #1.


1- GAME WINNER (44) rightfully clings to the top spot the defending champion returning with an extremely narrow defeat under challenging circumstances, again showing class. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 118/118)

2- CODE OF HONOR (30) had a very solid company work this week at Payson Park with a stronger one scheduled next week. Stepped forward to win Fountain of Youth. Orb 2? (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 118/118)

3- OMAHA BEACH (29) impressed most observers with a high class score over a talented, previously undefeated more accomplished rival. As his trainer said, plenty of upside here. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 119/119)

4--WAR OF WILL (28)
is the Derby Qualifier with 60 points, six more than the second ranked Code of Honor. He will be the odds-on favorite in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 110/110)

5--IMPROBABLE (21) dropped three spots in recognition of defeat and perhaps we’re not the only one who questions the trip for him. Even Baffert wasn’t sure about that. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 117/117)

6- HIDDEN SCROLL (19) Bill Mott put him behind a workmate this week and the rating experiment seemed promising. He galloped out very well looking to do a little more. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 120/120)

improved markedly in the Rebel and has enough pedigree on paper to suggest he may not be limited and is growing up at the right time. Need to see that one more time. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 117/117)

had a maintenance move this week and will have something more serious next weekend. Fountain of Youth runnerup likely to improve at Florida Derby distance. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 115/115)

9- TACITUS (9) has all the right connections and is big and strong as all get out. Would like to see Tampa Derby winner against Grade 1 company next out. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 117/117)

9- HAIKAL (9) proved in the Gotham that he wants to beat you and the class to do it even when things don’t go his way. A mile and an eighth may be a big hurdle given his style. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 118/118)

10- MUCHO GUSTO (8) actually dropped several spots after yesterday’s dual editions of the Rebel but might have moved up on Baffert’s depth chart. (TimeformUS speed figures last/best 111/113)


Craig Milkowski's TimeformUs Top Ten

The following list are the top 10 TimeformUS Speed Figures run so far by horses eligible for the 2019 Kentucky Derby on dirt or on a synthetic surface. Turf races are excluded as none offer points towards a spot in the gate in the first Saturday in May. For a similar reason, I stuck to races run at one mile or longer. The list does include races from the horses’ two year old season. The two divisions of the Rebel didn’t change things much at all. This appears to be a very evenly matched group so far.

1) Much Better 120
Huge leap in the Gotham when finishing fourth after setting a blazing pace. This one doesn’t look like a horse that will run better with more distance and a second turn, but he definitely helped cause a pace meltdown on Saturday.

2) Hidden Scroll 120
Freaked first time out over a sloppy track at Gulfstream and returned with a very good effort when fourth in the Fountain of Youth. His maiden win would be fourth on this list if listed separately. He inexplicably was sent up after a rank outsider through blazing fractions and tired late to be fourth. He will need to rate (or be rated?) better next time out to be considered a real Derby contender. Florida Derby next up as of now.

3) Zenden 120
Another that set a fast pace in a Saturday Kentucky Derby points race, this one in his first try around two turns. He would have to rate much better going longer to be considered a serious contender.

4) Not That Brady 119
Ran an absolute clunker in the Gotham, would be shocked if he keeps pointing towards the Derby.

5) Omaha Beach 119
Won the second and fastest division of the Rebel while holding off Eclipse Award winner Game Winner in a tight photo. Proved his maiden win over a sloppy track was no fluke. A bit early yet, but Santa Anita Derby or Arkansas Derby could be next.

6) Vekoma 119
Ran his big number last out as a two-year-old in the G3 Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct and finished a good third in his return in the Fountain of Youth where he recorded a 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure in his first race off the layoff. Florida Derby or Wood Memorial will be next.

7) Instagrand 118
Returned from a long layoff with a good effort in the Gotham. Tracked the blazing fast pace, moved up to engage the leaders at the top of the lane before tiring late. Promising effort but needs to show more when presumably trying two turns next out, either in the Wood Memorial or the Santa Anita Derby.

8) Game Winner 118
Ran a nice race in his return despite losing for the first time. Trainer Bob Baffert says the Santa Anita Derby will be next for this one and he should be sharper and fitter for that one.

9) Outshine 118
Nice effort in two turn debut for trainer Todd Pletcher. Tracked the fast pace in third, was wide on the turn, and finished well. Scheduled to appear in the Wood Memorial next out.

10) Hoffa’s Union 118
Burst onto the scene this past week with a scintillating debut win at Laurel in a one turn mile. He won by over 15 lengths. Recently sold and turned over to trainer Mark Casse who is pointing him to the Florida Derby.

©John Pricci, MAR 10, 2019,