Holy Bull: An Enduring Legacy of Brilliance
Confidence Game may have fooled the betting public, earning a surprising victory at 18-1 odds in the $1 million Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 25, but nothing appeared fraudulent about his performance.
Facing a talented field that included stakes-winning or stakes-placed colts such as Verifying, Giant Mischief, Red Route One, and Reincarnate, Confidence Game illustrated his credentials to compete in the May 6 running of the 2023 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. Sling-shotting to the lead from fifth place in early stretch under James Graham, he comfortably kept Red Route One and Reincarnate at bay to win the richest prep on the Road to the Kentucky Derby yet contested in 2023.
Confidence Game won by a length, completing 1 1/16 miles in the slop in 1:44.21. He returned $39 for a $2 win wager.
"This horse is really putting it all together, and he certainly did it today," the Graham said.
Confidence Game picked up 50 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, giving him a total of 57 - more than enough based on historical trends to secure entrance into the Run for the Roses. Churchill Downs uses points to promote its race and as a preference system when the 1 1/4-mile contest lures more than its capacity field size of 20 horses. The Rebel further provided qualifying points on a 20-15-10-5 basis to those finishing second through fifth. Those finishers, in order, were Red Route One, Reincarnate, Verifying, and Bourbon Bash.
The race was roughly contested for a handful of the Rebel competitors. Jockey John Velazquez, aboard slow-starting Reincarnate, claimed foul against Cristian Torres on Red Route One after being shut off and forced to steady his mount in the stretch. Stewards made no change to the order of finish. It was Bourbon Bash, under Mickaelle Michel, who instead appeared responsible for the interference to Reincarnate.
Reincarnate raced for trainer Tim Yakteen after having been previously trained by Bob Baffert, who is banned by Churchill Downs from competing in the Derby due to medication violations. His trainees cannot earn Derby points. By running for Yakteen, Reincarnate earned 15 points and, with a top finish in his next start, could have enough points to make the Derby.
"He ran giant," Yakteen said. "The race didn't come out the way we had scripted it. That happens in racing, but my horse ran huge."
Most of those near the early pace, which unfolded with hot fractions of :22.75, :46.17, 1:11.45, backed up in the stretch, with favored Verifying, who was third in the early going before being shuffled back on the second turn in traffic, performing best of the horses that raced near the front to finish fourth.
Winning trainer Keith Desormeaux said he was pleased with his colt's performance after the 3-year-old "sort of lost his mind in the paddock," noting Graham got him to settle down.
"He's really come into his own," Desormeaux said. "He started off pretty immature, but as the races went on, he has improved things mentally and physically."
Graham traveled from Louisiana for the mount on Confidence Game after having ridden him most recently to a third-place finish behind Instant Coffee in last month's Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds. The jockey said he views Confidence Game as well suited to added distance, noting that he needed an outrider's help to pull up his mount when another horse game alongside him on gallop out. The colt now has a record of three wins, a second, and two thirds from seven starts.
Confidence Game earned $581,750 in winning the Rebel, vaulting his earnings to $785,525 for Don’t Tell My Wife Stables.
Wet Paint Leaves Her Mark to Win the Honeybee Stakes
Marking hoofprints into the sloppy surface Feb. 25 at Oaklawn Park, Wet Paint, a 3-year-old daughter of Blame sketched a path to the wire to add the $300,000 Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes along with 50 points toward the May 5 Longines Kentucky Oaks to her growing portfolio of achievements.
Away a step slowly from the gate in the 1 1/16-mile race, Wet Paint raced toward the back of the 12-horse field under a patient Flavien Prat, while Condensation and Taxed set the pace with a quarter-mile in :23.54 and a half-mile in :48.19. With three-quarters in 1:13.51, it was go time for the Godolphin homebred Wet Paint. Given daylight at the top of the stretch, she drove quicker and quicker to unleash a devastating late move, finishing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.35, three lengths ahead of runner-up Condensation.
Wet Paint ($5.40) now has 70 points to top the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard after earning 20 points in the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes at the same track, distance, and conditions a month prior.
Trainer Brad Cox could not hold back a smile as he discussed the filly's Honeybee trip and her path to the Oaks.
"She's a very good filly," Cox said. "Florent did a great job of being patient and not panicking at the quarter pole. I didn't like what I saw, but he stayed on the rail, and it opened up and he kicked on."
With $334,100 in earnings and a 3-1-0 record from five starts, Cox says he will likely aim Wet Paint toward a start in the April 1 Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park as a final prep for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on the first Friday in May. -- Corrie McCroskey