WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, and Starlight Racing’s Improbable was going to win the first heat of the Grade 2, $750,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 16.
Under jockey Drayden Van Dyke, the heavily favored chestnut trained by Bob Baffert breezed past a pair of rivals at the top of the lane and was primed to be anointed as the next big thing.
But the cumulative impact of the trip kicked in during the stretch run as Willis Horton Racing’s homebred Long Range Toddy surged in the final furlong to edge the 2-5 favorite in the final strides.
The trip carved out by jockey Jon Court aboard Long Range Toddy was nothing if not masterful.
After a good break from post-position two at 8.40-1 odds, the Take Charge Indy colt trained by Steve Asmussen had the lead as the field entered the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile Rebel but was being pressed on the outside by Classy John, so Court decided to let the longshot go as Galilean took up pressing duties early on the backstretch.
Court continued to be patient on the rail as Galilean and Extra Hope both went at the leader through the backstretch run, and the half-mile fraction went in :47.58. Improbable, who was wide on the first turn and four wide through almost all of the second bend, even got the jump on Long Rang Toddy, but again Court bided his time behind a wall of horses as the field turned for home.
The first to drop out was Classy John, who got burned up by his classy challengers, and the three Southern California shippers — Improbable, Extra Hope, and Galilean — lined up late in the turn to vie for the lead.
Now multiple lengths behind the leaders, Long Range Toddy was angled by Court to the outside and just started to kick in as Improbable appeared to kick away. But the final furlong was owned by Long Range Toddy, and he got his neck in front to finish the distance in 1:42.49 and earn 37.5 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Long Range Toddy ranks third on the Derby leaderboard with 53.5 points.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
“Jon gave him a beautiful trip today, and I love how he earned it late,” Asmussen said. “The horse is extremely kind. Jon worked him the other day, and his comment was that he was push-button. The horse was away well and got a good spot. They went about their business, and he relaxed down the backstretch. You could tell coming into the stretch he was loaded. He waited until they all lined out, didn’t waste any ground, and wheeled him out late, like he should, and got rewarded for it.”
The Rebel was the first win for Long Range Toddy since the Dec. 16 Remington Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park, where he made the first four starts of his career. In his first two starts at Oaklawn this season, he came in a neck behind Gray Attempt in the Jan. 25 Smarty Jones Stakes and a troubled third in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18.
After a slow break and a rush to the front, Galilean held third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Improbable and a length ahead of Extra Hope in fourth.
Bred in Kentucky, out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Pleasant Song, Long Range Toddy has four wins, one second, and one third from seven starts and $851,125 in earnings.
The Rebel was the first loss of Improbable’s career. Saturday’s race was the first start of the City Zip colt’s 3-year-old campaign. He went undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old, including a score in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 8.