Five Key Takeaways You Need to Know From an International Weekend of Racing

Confidence Game (far left) holds off Red Route One (third from left, white jockey cap) to win the Rebel Stakes by a length Feb. 24 at Oaklawn Park. (Coady Photography)

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from racing action near ($1 million Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.) and far ($20 million Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).

The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is a major prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. It awarded Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis as part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series.

Confidence Game (Eclipse Sportswire)

PRE-RACE JITTERS: It would have been difficult for handicappers to back Confidence Game with the way he acted up in the paddock and he went off 18.50-1 in the Rebel for trainer Keith Desormeaux and jockey James Graham. The colt regained his composure and was all business once he reached the track and rallied for a one-length victory. “He sort of lost his mind in the paddock, so I was worried until he got on the track,” said Desormeaux. “James got him to settle down out there.” With the 50 Derby qualifying points awarded to the Rebel winner, Confidence Game secured a berth in the run for the roses. But if he misbehaved badly in front of approximately 42,000 fans at Oaklawn, how will he react to the massive Derby crowd at Churchill Downs?

SECOND AGAIN: Red Route One staged a dramatic rally for the second time this season and again placed second at Oaklawn Park. He closed to miss by 5 ½ lengths to Arabian Knight in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes in his 3-year-old debut. He unleashed a tremendous kick in the Rebel after traveling last through the opening three-quarters of a mile before coming on to be second. He also encountered a sloppy, sealed track for the second time. Red Route One bears watching with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen looking to give the son of Gun Runner more distance and a long stretch in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds March 25. “He’s a nice 3-year-old,” Asmussen said. “Obviously, we’re anxious for the races to go further.”

Bill Mott (Eclipse Sportswire)

HOT HAND: The long journey to Saudi Arabia did not keep two runners from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott from producing huge performances. Sprint champion Elite Power captured the Riyadh Dirt Sprint at King Abdulaziz Racecourse while Casa Creed narrowly missed in the 1351 Turf Sprint Presented by STC. Mott will hope to stay on a roll in the Fountain of Youth Stakes March 4 at Gulfstream Park. He will be represented there by Rocket Can, winner of the Feb. 4 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream. Not surprisingly, Rocket Can is viewed as a major threat to 2022’s juvenile champion male Forte, who will also start in the Fountain of Youth (see below). “The first race back down here wasn’t that hard on him and he seems to have recovered fairly well,” Mott said. “A lot of times the first race will tire them out a little. But he seems to come back good, so hopefully he moves forward a little more.”

ON TO DUBAI: Country Grammer finished second in the $20 million Saudi Cup for the second consecutive year when he failed to overtake front-running Panthalassa of Japan by three-quarters of a length. “I always complain that stretch is too long,” Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert told BloodHorse. “This year, it was too short.” Taiba, Country Grammer’s more heralded stablemate, ran a lackluster eighth. Country Grammer will go on to Dubai to defend his title in the March 25 Dubai World Cup Presented by Emirates Airline.

Forte (Eclipse Sportswire)

WORKING WELL: Two-year-old champion Forte is signaling his readiness for his 3-year-old debut in the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes with the way he has worked at Palm Beach Downs for Todd Pletcher. The Hall of Fame trainer likes to give his horses their most strenuous work two weeks ahead of a targeted race and he followed that pattern with the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance winner. Forte zipped five furlongs in a bullet 1:01.41 ahead of a five-furlong move in 1:01.99 this past Saturday. “Last week was the work we wanted to make sure that we were on target. We got a good, strong work into him,” Pletcher noted. “We got a good work (Saturday), but after last week, we weren’t looking for him to do too much.”

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