The Rebel Stakes was a perfect example of what has made this year's 3-year-old class confusing with three horses finishing within a length of each other (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire).
There are a couple of things that can be said with certainty about the Kentucky Derby.
It will be contested on May 3 and someone will win it.
Beyond that, the outlook for the 140th edition of the Run for the Roses is as muddled and confusing as it’s ever been in mid-March with only one horse generating an inordinate amount of attention these days.
In this instance, the missing star power is somewhat understandable because the reigning 2-year-old champ (Shared Belief) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner (New Year’s Day) are already out of the picture.
Another of last year’s top 2-year-olds, Honor Code, made his 2014 debut last week and wound up a disappointing second in an allowance race – not even a stakes, mind you – as he finished 10 lengths behind a horse making just the second start of his career.
As those stars have dimmed, Cairo Prince has become the horse to watch and for now anyway rates as a clear-cut favorite to join the illustrious list of Kentucky Derby winners.
He showed some promise at two, losing by a nose to Honor Code in the Remsen at Aqueduct. He also handled the transition from two to three with more aplomb than the more highly touted members of last year’s juvenile class. In his 2014 debut, he won the $400,000 Grade 2 Holy Bull by 5 ¾ lengths over a mediocre field.
CAIRO PRINCE HAS BEEN AN EARLY DERBY STANDOUT WITH HIS WIN IN THE HOLY BULL
He’ll be a heavy choice when he returns to Gulfstream for the Florida Derby on March 29, and a victory there should be enough to make him the betting favorite on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.
But if something goes wrong in his final prep, like an awful trip that leads to an unplaced finish, he might not make it to the starting gate on Derby Day. At the present time, Cairo Prince has 14 points and is 16th in terms of points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings.
A year ago, the horses scrambling for the final berth were a weak group and in the end 10 points was enough to secure a spot in the Derby field. Yet this year, we’ve yet to see a horse that can scare away contenders. There figures to be an overflow field of hopefuls and the cutoff for a starting spot should be higher.
This past weekend’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn typified what’s been happening this year. Tapiture was the 2-1 favorite after winning the Southwest Stakes by more than four lengths. Yet on a wet track, he was second after a bumpy stretch duel, finishing a half-length behind the victorious Hoppertunity.
When previously seen, Hoppertunity was finishing a wide fourth in the Risen Star.
His name now gets added to a list of horses like Intense Holiday, Ring Weekend, California Chrome, and Samraat, who have emerged on the scene in the last month. Successful in their penultimate Derby preps, each of them - and perhaps Social Inclusion, who dusted Honor Code, should be added to the list as well – will face bigger and more challenging tests in the next few weeks that will be quite revealing.
At that point, maybe a star or two will emerge and we’ll finally have a reason to believe the somebody who wins the Derby will not be a nobody.