By John Piesen:
Super Ninety Nine will be odds-on Saturday in the $600,000 Rebel for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park...and with good reason.
After all, a month back Super Ninety Nine looked the 2013 version of Curlin, Smarty Jones and Sunny's Halo (all Rebel winners) in wiring the Southwest by 11 lengths with a triple-digit number.
Moreover Super's trainer, fellow named Baffert, has won the last three Rebels, and, for that matter, has won 13 of the last 18 stakes for 3-year-olds tun in Hot Springs.
For my selections for the Rebel Stakes, and click here and get ALL the remaining Derby Preps including Saturday's race. Or call the John Piesen Hot Line at 1-888-612-2283. You can get my Daily Best Bets here.
Hot stuff indeed!
But, as usual, in the racing game, there are cons to consider...and in this case it's post position.
Super had the misfortune to draw the outside post in the field of 11 going a mile and a 16th, and, as one who spent 15 years at Oaklawn, I can attest to the fact that that is a death trap.
This year for example horses breaking from the 11-hole are 3-for-77, and that's really not a comforting thought when taking 3-5.
Look no further than last Saturday.
Multiple stakes-winners Alternation and San Pablo were the first two choices from the extreme outside posts going the same distance in the Razorback Handicap.
Trying to save some ground from the gate, jockey Quinonez on Alternation angled his horse in from the outside, and clobbered San Pablo.
With both horses kaput, the horses breaking from the three inside posts went on to finish 1-2-3. Turn the posts around, and it's a whole
Super Ninety Nine had no trouble making the lead from post six in the Southwest, and won for proverbial fun under Bejarano.
Bejarano will have a much more difficult time in the Rebel. Besides the poorer starting spot, Super picks up five pounds to 122, and, with three times the purse, the opposition will be considerably tougher, notably Delhomme, Treasury Bill and Oxbow, all of whom will be handled by top riders -- Gomez, Talamo and Smith, respectively.
Trainer Pletcher has been taking his time with Delhomme, a 400K Dixie Union colt named by WinStar Farm, owner of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, for ex-NFL QB Jake Delhomme, now a full-time horseman himself.
This will be the 3-year-old debut for Delhomme, who was a close-up third in the Remsen back in November.
Delhomme is all about speed, and you can be sure that Gomez, a native of Hot Springs, will use that speed to occupy Super Ninety Nine.
There's a bit of irony here because Baffert just this week replaced jockey Leparoux with Gomez for Flashpoint's next start in the Santa Anita Derby.
That's one great thing about racing. You never know from week to week who your friends -- and enemies -- are.
Treasury Bill is fresh from a closing second in the seven-furlong San Vicente. Like Delhomme, TB is getting seven pounds from Super Ninety Nine, he's drawn inside (two), and as we said for years at the Post, he's the in-form closer in a race packed with speed.
Mike Smith, who settled for second on the 1-5 Flashy Doll last Saturday at Oaklawn, makes the repeat flight from the coast to ride Oxbow, another speed horse, for trainer Lukas.
Curiously, of the four horses mentioned above, only Delhomme will not have a runningmate, be it coupled or uncoupled.
Baffert also will run Den's Legacy, fresh from seconds to Flashback and Goldencents. Albarado, engaged with jockey Santana for top jock at OP, replaces Gomez on Dan, whose sire, Medaglia d'Oro, broke his maiden over the track.
Treasury Bill will run coupled with Title Contender as the West-owned entry, and D. Wayne will run Will Take Charge uncoupled with Oxbow.
Trainer Asmussen, who has longshot Carve in the Rebel from the one-hole, brings back Eclipse filly My Miss Aurelia in the co-featured 150K Azeri a race earlier at the same distance.
Nakatani will break MMA from the outside post in a field of seven fillies and mares.
MMA, owned by Rachel Alexandra's people, has been training at Santa Anita, and would have been favored Saturday at that track in the 300K Santa Margarita, but her connections surprisingly decided to ship to Hot Springs for half the purse.
Obviously, a prep race over the track for the Apple Blossom means more than mere money... at least in these guys' tax bracket.
The opposition in the Azeri includes Don't Tell Sophia, a two-time stakes-winner over the track; the Donnie K. Von Hemel uncoupled entry of Songs and Sonnets, and She's All In, and Tiz Miz Sue, the winner of this race last year.
This is no stroll in the park for MMA, yet another odds-on favorite.
Speaking of odds-on favorites, Verrazano lived up to his hype winning the Tampa Bay Derby last Saturday at odds-on, but I was equally impressed with runnerup Java's War, a McPeek-trained colt whom I had picked third at 30-1 as the John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) hit the $43.20 exacta box.
Ridden by jockey Martinez, who, nine years back, was the regular exercise rider for Smarty Jones, Java's War closed ground relentlessly for second, beaten only three lengths in his first start in four months.
In a conversation with McPeek this (Friday) morning, he told me that he will run Java's War in the Blue Grass at Keeneland rather than ship to Dubai as originally planned.
The mere fact that McPeek was considering a Dubai run suggests he is high on this guy, a smallish War Pass colt.
With 22 points, JW would need only finish in the top three in the Blue Grass to qualify for the Derby, a race McPeek coulda/shoulda won with Tejano Run, Harlan's Holiday and/or Noble's Promise.
"I was thrilled with Java's War's performance at Tampa Bay," McPeek said, "and I'm confident he'll only get better."
McPeek said Martinez is not a sure thing to ride JW back in the Blue Grass.
Sounds like another case of the horse's owner preferring a big-name rider. Such strategy has a history of failure.
Speaking of rider changes, with Gomez switching to Flashback for the Santa Anita Derby, this leaves trainer Aguirre needing a rider for Tiz A Minister for that race.
In the San Felipe last Saturday, where he was the Hot Line choice at 10-1, Minister made up some 20 lengths from dead last, but was shut off by the winner at the furlong pole, and settled for fourth, beaten two-plus lengths.
I believe Gomez is making a mistake in switching horses in mid-stream, but of course we all know that Gogo rides a lot more winners for Baffert than he does for Aguirre.
The big story in New York this week is the 40-day suspension (reduced to 20) and fine levelled on leading trainer Rodriguez.
RR went out with a bang, winning the Thursday finale with the longer-priced horse in an uncoupled entry.
Happens all the time.
Brother Gustavo will be the program trainer in Rudy's absence.
Thanks for tuning in. Good luck this weekend, Click here for my Derby Preps and keep the Hot Line 1-888-612-2283 on speed dial, and see you back here next Friday.
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