If the “tennis star” gets beat in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at 1-1/16 miles, Bob Baffert has his built-in excuse: He drew the rail. Then, there’s the blinkers off excuse, which could go back on for the Arkansas Derby if all does not go well Saturday.
There’s the first-time two-turns angle or the wet track, for which there’s a 90 percent chance that could occur. On the other hoof, he’s bred for both scenarios on two sides: Blame, from a Pulpit mare.
But let’s face it, he has no excuses. His best weapon is his speed, according to his trainer, he has pole position, a short run into the turn, Joel Rosario in the boot, and he owns paired 3-3/4s in his two starts at graduating trips of six and seven furlongs. Explosive, at the Sheet guys say.
But he’s isn’t the fastest on the Thoro-Graph scale. That would be Grade 1 Hopeful winner Basin–by 6-1/2 widening lengths on a sloppy Saratoga surface. It’s a tough spot for a season’s debut, but he earned a 2-1/4 TG figure as a Spa juvenile. So, how’s he training?
“Like a Grade 1 winner,” said his trainer, Steve Asmussen.
Basin has 10 works coming into this race and also is bred for distance. The work pattern is not one that suggests he needs a race, but only the horse knows for sure. Nine of the works were at his New Orleans base, and he shipped here for a soft, typical Asmussen blowout. Javier Castellano rides.
Asmussen has three of the eight to line up, including season Silver Prospector, a winner of the G3 Southwest after first getting a run in the Smarty Jones. Both, like all horses here, need Kentucky Derby points, of which 50 goes to the winner, a ticket into the Derby 146 starting gate.
Asmussen’s other starter is Excession who was outrun in his last two routes at the Fair Grounds–broke through the gate pre-race in the Risen Star–but whose maiden breaker was in the slop at Churchill, so there’s that.
But, wait, there’s more. Tom Amoss ships in with No Parole, 3-for-3 vs. Louisiana breds, doing so impressively–and did we mention they were La-breds? So, yes, this is a huge test.
And dare we forget the old ball coach. NFL Hall of Famer Bill Parcells’ Three Technique, who is very gifted, repeating his impressive seven-furlong maiden breaker at the same trip in a preliminary allowances, then was an excellent, excuse-laden second in the Smarty party at Oaklawn in January.
The Smarty Jones was his two-turn and three year old debut.
So it’s a fascinating puzzle. We’ll be back tomorrow with a vertical plan and a look at the G3 Jack Ruby Steaks [no typo] to be run over Turfway Park’s synthetic surface at nine furlongs.