Cupid flew to fourth on the Kentucky Derby points rankings with his victory in the Rebel Stakes. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
Making the Grade, which will run through the 2016 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
This week we take a closer look at Cupid, winner of the $900,000 Rebel Stakes on March 19 at Oaklawn Park.
Gray or Roan Colt
Sire (Father): Tapit
Dam (Mother): Pretty ’n Smart, by Beau Genius
Owner: Michael B. Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith
Breeder: JKG Thoroughbreds (Ky.)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Kentucky Derby Points: 50 (Ranked No. 4)
It was abundantly clear in midstretch of the Rebel Stakes when Cupid found another gear to put away Whitmore that this 3-year-old colt had serious ability. Trying to determine how good Cupid is in relation to the rest of this group of 3-year-olds, however, presents a much more difficult challenge. Fortunately, this lightly raced Tapit colt will have another race before the Kentucky Derby to help him prepare for that 1 ¼-mile challenge and also to give handicappers another significant piece of information. Right now, trainer Bob Baffert is considering the Santa Anita Derby or Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 9 or a return trip to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby on April 16.
Ability: Cupid was a $900,000 purchase by his current ownership group out of the first book of the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale, a book generally reserved for only yearlings that boast both impeccable physical conformation and outstanding pedigrees.
He ran well in his first two races in sprints, finishing fourth by three lengths in his December debut and second on Jan. 9 at Santa Anita Park. But Cupid really blossomed when given some additional real estate in his races. He improved his Equibase Speed Figure eight points to a 100 when going from 5 ½ furlongs to 1 1/16 miles in a Feb. 7 race that he won by 5 ¼ lengths. From that maiden race, Baffert plopped Cupid right to the deep end of the Kentucky Derby pool for the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes. He responded impressively by leading from start to finish to win by 1 ¼ lengths in 1:43.84, which was about three-tenths of a second faster than older horses covered the same distance in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap. After setting a swift pace through an opening half-mile in :46.82, Cupid still finished the final sixteenth of a mile in a very strong 6.19 seconds. His 106 Equibase Speed Figure for the Rebel was a new career best and puts him within striking range of the majority of his peers, although he has some ground to make up on Mohaymen, who earned a 115 for his Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Running style: Cupid appeared to show a new dimension in the Rebel Stakes when he took control right out of the starting gate and led from start to finish. In reality, it probably was the first real opportunity he’s had to makes use of his elite speed. His first two races were sprints, and in both races he was within a couple of lengths on the turn. In his first start going longer in his Feb. 7 win, he bobbled at the start and lost some early position but settled into a comfortable rhythm just off the pace. With a good break from the starting gate in the Rebel, Cupid simply ran the opposition off its feet.
It looks like Cupid is fairly adaptable. He could seize command if he’s the fastest of the bunch in a race or track just behind a swift pace, but the Rebel showed that Cupid’s speed is a valuable weapon. How best to use that weapon is up to trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia.
CUPID AND GARCIA IN THE OAKLAWN WINNER'S CIRCLE
Connections: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who won his fourth Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer in 2015, has amassed 12 victories in U.S. Triple Crown races: four Kentucky Derbys, six Preakness wins and two Belmont victories. He swept the Triple Crown in 2015 with future Hall of Famer American Pharoah, who became just the 12th Triple Crown winner in U.S. racing history. Baffert was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2009 and ranks fifth all time among North American trainers by lifetime purse earnings with more than $232.8 million through March 21.
Cupid is owned by the partnership of Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith, associates of Coolmore Stud, one of the world’s most important breeding operations.
Magnier is the daughter of the legendary Irish trainer Vincent O'Brien, who won 42 classic races in Europe during his career. Her husband, John Magnier, is the managing partner of Coolmore.
Tabor jumped into Thoroughbred racing in the mid-1990s after selling his 114-shop betting company to a rival bookmaker. He succeeded Robert Sangster as a partner in Coolmore Stud and quickly made an impact in the U.S. in May 1995 when Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby.
Smith is an Englishman who worked for British bookmaker Ladbrokes before going into business on his own in 1988. Among the horses he has owned in partnership with Tabor include 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches and 2004 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lion Heart as well as Pomeroy, Sense of Style and Chapel Royal.
Tabor, Magnier and Smith raced 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician.
Martin Garcia finished third in the 2015 Kentucky Derby aboard Dortmund, who finished three lengths behind eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Garcia was American Pharoah’s exercise rider in the mornings throughout his career for Baffert.
Garcia won the 2010 Preakness Stakes for Baffert with Lookin At Lucky and also guided Baffert’s Bayern to the most lucrative victory of Garcia’s career in the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2014. Garcia’s three Breeders’ Cup wins also include the Juvenile on New Year’s Day and the Xpressbet Sprint on Secret Circle, both in 2013. Garcia has 1,397 victories since taking out his jockey’s license in 2005, including 93 graded stakes wins.
Pedigree: Cupid is by two-time leading sire Tapit, whose runners amassed $18,307,469 in purse earning in 2015 to set a new record for progeny earnings in a single season.
Previous Making the Grades
Weanlings, yearlings and 2-year-olds by Tapit also are extremely popular at public auction. He had eight horses sell for $1 million or more in 2015, topped by a $2.1-million yearling colt out of Silver Colors who sold at the Keeneland September sale.
By Pulpit, the 2004 Wood Memorial Stakes winner stood his first season for a relatively modest fee of $15,000. Tapit’s fee dropped down to $12,500 by the time his first runners were ready to race but he earned his way to the top. He got off to a very fast start with 2008 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and champion 2-year-old filly Stardom Bound from his first crop and he has continued to excel with champions such as Hansen and Untapable. He now stands for a $300,000 fee at Gainesway in Lexington.
Tonalist won the 2014 Belmont Stakes to become Tapit’s first winner of a U.S. Triple Crown race. He has six champions among 48 career graded stakes winners from only eight crops of runners 3 years old and older.
Cupid’s dam (mother), Pretty ’n Smart, by Beau Genius, was a talented filly who finished third in the Grade 2 Railbird Stakes at 3 and won two of seven races. Pretty ’n Smart was better suited to sprinting as her only finish outside the top three came when stretching out to a mile.
Neither Cupid’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Charge d’Affairs, by Vice Regent, nor his third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Office Affair, by Secretariat, ever won a race. Charge d’Affairs did produce multiple graded stakes winner Hostess, however, a ray of stamina hope in this pedigree as a Grade 3 winner at 1 ½ miles.In addition to Cupid, Pretty ’n Smart also produced graded stakes winners Heart Ashley and Ashley’s Kitty and stakes winner Indianapolis. None of the three ever won a stakes longer than seven-eighths of a mile.
Based on ability, running style and Cupid’s connections, it’s tough not to like Cupid’s upside, but stamina on the bottom half of this pedigree looks like a serious concern.