Hallandale Beach, FL, February 24, 2022 — Don’t let the headline fool you; we’re not equivocating here. Of course the threat of world wide conflict, playing itself out now in Ukraine, commands center stage, just as it has recently in the United States: Democracy or Autocracy, pick one.
Don’t want to talk about a murderous former KGB agent who believes a third World War will be good for his legacy. Then I don’t want to talk about Medina Spirit’s demotion in the 2021 Kentucky Derby out of respect for the deceased Thoroughbred. Don’t want to talk about his trainer, either.
I’d like to get into the Oaklawn Park program for Saturday featuring the Rebel Stakes, a Kentucky Derby prep lynchpin, then there’s a 60% chance of rain. Hate significant races that come with built excuses. We know what’s at stake but have heard it all before. Racing needs some new material.
There’s a $20 million big race in the desert that we’re ignoring and will be personally boycotting, out of respect for a deceased journalist who was murdered by another of the world’s autocratic thugs. We wish American horsemen would not have supported the race.
Then the winner’s share is $10 million and, as we know, humans have killed each other for far, far less. I live in the real world b ut don’t have to like it. I will watch the performances to see how unfolding events affect future spectacles but will not write a word about it.
As for the Bob Baffert suspension and fines, we shall see how his lawyers will spin the events. All we know how is that apparently illegal substances is an ointment does not and should not carry the weight of injectables. This is nonsense but that’s the justice system for you, if you’re rich enough to afford it.
It took five years after the Kentucky stewards ruled that Dancer’s Image tested positive for phenylbutazone after the 1968 Derby before that judgment was affirmed. Who knows how long it will take before this case to be closed? The only certainty is that it’s not over.
But what is over is that it will be two years hence that Bob Baffert will be allowed to saddle a horse in the Derby, unless the decision is reversed on appeal. And he has as many prospects this year as ever but thus far nobody has backed up the pickup to move these three-year-olds into other barns.
But all of it is giving me a headache and since their are a few birthday hours left in this day, we’ll imbibe one more glass of wine and pick this up tomorrow with our usual weekend analysis. Like everyone in a world gone mad, survival is what matters most.
Stars on the Rise in Hot Springs
How good is Newgrange? Undefeated after three starts, including the G3 Southwest in his Oaklawn Park debut, his second start around two turns. Bob Baffert trainee can’t earn any Derby points with a victory today, so he would need to settle for 10% of the $600,000 that goes to the winner of the G2 Rebel.
Of course, he could wind up in another barn and in the Churchill Downs gate on the first Saturday in May, but with no points accrued, he’d need to win a 100 pointer–or perhaps even a placing might get him to Louisville–for another trainer. However, who doesn’t like to see good horses run.
The most impressive element of his Southwest win is that while he enjoyed a perfect stalking trip three wide behind embattled leaders, he dropped back while wide on the final turn as if he had enough but Johnny Velazquez, riding with confident disdain, found another gear to draw out in the final sixteenth.
Four who finished behind him are back to try again, along with a half dozen new shooters. Wednesday’s 60% chance of rain predicted on Wednesday was cut in half Friday to 30%. He’s bred to handle the wet but must prove it on the day, which is why races on run.
But the star of the day and the most compelling story is a filly that, with a victory in the G3 Honeybee, could return for the Arkansas Derby. Judging by her victory in the Martha Washington, the sky is limitless at the moment.
There was no time during the first three-quarters of a mile that Luis Contreras wasn’t taking the filly back, at once teaching and learning about his filly. All the rider did was move his hands slightly on the final turn and she swallowed the leaders by headstretch to win going away.
The fact that her sire is Arrogate makes her even more intriguing and, of course, her legendary coach knows how to beat the boys on the big derby day in May. But first things first. She has but five rivals but three of three can run a little.
We’ll be back Saturday morning with betting grids for these two races, another race for three-year-old colts at Oaklawn Park, plus a pair from North and South Florida.
G2 Rebel Stakes
Win bet a game-time decision; on paper can’t look away from the form. Exotically, prudent to key New Grange first and second with the second, third and fifth finishers from the Southwest Barber Road (9-2), Ben Diesel (6-1) and Dash Attack (8-1), adding LAY-2 newcomer Stellar Tap (10-1) to the mix.
G3 Honeybee Stakes
Secret Oath is unavoidable, but unbettable straight. Keying her first only above talented returnee Uugiri (5-2), Martha Washington runnerup Optionality 7-2) and price shot Free Like A Girl (6-1) in the exotics mix.
First Level Allowances Race 7
Guess who? Baffert again, with McLaren Value (9-5) finding out what he has after two fast sprint runs out west. Note that sire Gun Runner [small sample] has a 41% strike rate on wet tracks and Bullet Boba profitable 45% with first-Lasix starters. Can’t commit to straight bet until seeing ante post odds.
Returnee Great Escape (4-1), Costa Terra (6-1) reuniting with winning partner Arrieta , and Sky and Sand (3-1), who showed huge improvement in mud after getting first-Lasix, all deserve consideration. Beyond the favorite, the 1-1/16 miles is a very tricky read.
G3 Royal Delta
As stated in the HRI video section Friday, we’ll key Letruska (2-5) on top in trifectas with Crazy Beautiful (4-1) and Into Vanishing (12-1), but will key-box exactas Letruska with her rivals above.
Starter Allowances Race 7
Looks like a three-pack in here: Exacta boxing sharp Unprecedented (3-1), ageless Reconfigure (9-2), and Smokin Richie (7-2) who has come into his own as a gelded five-year-old. In addition, taking Smokin Richie to win at 5-2 or greater.
TAMPA BAY DOWNS
Maiden Allowances Race 6
As stated, taking Take a Stand (5-1) to win at 2-1 or greater and an exacta box with United (2-1). In addition, using both first and second and first and third with fast working Midnight Stroll (3-1) and possible price shot Aulenti (6-1), pole sitting and exiting a live race.
this is a live column, selections will be updated throughout the morning