At a time when speed has become an increasingly more important commodity in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, trainer Bob Baffert is certainly well-stocked in that department.
One week after the Baffert-trained Life Is Good wrapped up a spot in the run for the roses with a gate-to-wire victory in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, Gary and Mary West's homebred Concert Tour added to Baffert's powerful Triple Crown hand March 13 by registering a front-running, 4 1/4-length victory in the $1 million, Grade 2 Rebel Stakes for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park.
"I was hoping for that. That's the way Concert Tour was working," said Baffert, who also sent out second place-finisher Hozier. "This horse tipped his hand early that he's special."
The victory was the eighth for Baffert in the Rebel since 2010 and the 50 qualifying points Concert Tour earned for his victory in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel will assure him of a spot in the May 1 Kentucky Derby, where Baffert will take aim at a record-breaking seventh victory in the 1 1/4-mile classic.
Baffert posted his sixth Kentucky Derby win last year with Authentic, tying him with Ben Jones for the most victories in the race.
"You need a good horse to win the Kentucky Derby," said Baffert, who plans to give Concert Tour his final Kentucky Derby prep in the April 10 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
Concert Tour, who is now a perfect 3-for-3, certainly looked the part of a "good" horse Saturday as he lifted his owners, Gary and Mary West, back into the rarefied air of the Kentucky Derby, a setting that generated a nightmare for them in 2019 when their homebred Maximum Security crossed the finish line first but was placed 17th for interference, becoming the first horse to be stripped of a Kentucky Derby win due to a racetrack incident.
"Most people would have folded their tent a long time ago in this sport," said West, who has yet to receive Maximum Security's winner's share of the $20 million 2020 Saudi Cup purse due to the federal indictment of the colt's former trainer, Jason Servis, in a race-doping scheme. "I'm not smart enough to do that."
For West and his wife, who were on hand at Oaklawn Park, Saturday's victory produced a much more exhilarating and enjoyable result that could ultimately bring him back to a spot filled with painful memories.
"It's always fun to win races like this," West said, "but I've learned the hard way not to get excited this far out from the Kentucky Derby. I don't have any feelings about the Derby right now. Horses are very fragile animals and I hope he stays sound and gets back to the Arkansas Derby and does well there and then it's on to the Kentucky Derby and we'll see what happens. But I'm not making any plans for anything yet. This game brings you up and then down."
By Street Sense out of the Tapit mare Purse Strings, Concert Tour is yet another success story for West's breeding operation, which numbers about 60 mares and has produced both Life Is Good and Concert Tour as well as Maximum Security, the champion 3-year-old of 2019.
"We don't have several hundred mares like a lot of the big operations do, but we're pretty particular about what we do and we try to do the right thing," West said. "We've had some success with homebreds and we'll stay with the program we developed."
Concert Tour is the second foal from Purse Strings, who also has a yearling colt by Lookin At Lucky.
"Gary bred the two best 3-year-olds in my barn. That's impressive," said Baffert, who has a record 16 Triple Crown wins. "I'm happy for Gary and Mary. Gary is easy to train for. He raises them and buys them, and I told him early on I think I have a really good one for you."
That was, of course, Concert Tour, who put his potential on display with a maiden win and victory in the Feb. 6 Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs, both at Santa Anita Park.
In stretching out to two turns, the bay colt took full advantage of the speed that should come in handy in the Kentucky Derby, where the last seven horses to cross the wire first have been no worse than third at any call.
The scramble for the early lead in the Rebel played a decisive role Saturday as both the favored Caddo River and the second choice Concert Tour ($5.40) both broke from the gate eager to reach the front.
Caddo River, the 6-5 favorite, had the advantage of the rail in the field of eight, but jockey Joel Rosario and Concert Tour from post-position seven won the race to the first turn and cut over to the rail. Florent Geroux guided Shortleaf Stable's Caddo River, a 10 1/4-length winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes in his previous start, outside of Concert Tour on the bend and the betting choices raced as a team through an opening-quarter mile in :23.42.
"Around the first turn I was concerned they were going too fast," West said. "I thought they were the two best horses in the race and something bad would happen."
The duel didn't work out too well for the Brad Cox-trained Caddo River, who gave way turning for home as Concert Tour scampered away to a four-length lead in mid-stretch after a mile in 1:36.65.
"The most impressive part was that when Rosario turned for home, he was sitting still on him," Baffert said. "He was cruising with a lot of horse."
Final time on the fast track was 1:43.18.
As Caddo River dropped back to fifth, Hozier, a son of Pioneerof the Nile coming off a maiden win at Santa Anita, moved up from seventh to complete the all-Baffert exacta.
Owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Stonestreet Stables, Golconda Stable, Siena Farm, and Robert Masterson, Hozier was purchased in 2019 for $625,000 from Taylor Made Sales Agency's consignment to The Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton's select yearling sale in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., by the bloodstock-ownership group dubbed "The Avengers."
Sent off at 18-1 odds, he rallied along the inside to take second by three-quarters of a length over fellow 18-1 shot Big Lake and collect 20 Kentucky Derby points. He is 12th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
"He ran a really big race," Baffert said.
Big Lake picked up 10 Kentucky Derby points in a good effort for owner-breeder Mike Rutherford and trainer Steve Asmussen.
A son of Baffert's Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Big Lake was bothered when Caddo River drifted out in the stretch but still managed to hit the board.
Super Stock, also trained by Asmussen, was fourth in his first start of 2021 and netted five Kentucky Derby points to give him nine.
"The winner was ultra-impressive," Asmussen said. "I thought Big Lake sat a good trip. Wish he would have avoided the bumping in the stretch, but the winner was clear-cut. But for his first step into a stakes, that was solid. I thought [Super Stock], off the long layoff, had a solid run."
Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Keepmeinmind was last early and finished a nonthreatening sixth in his 3-year-old debut.