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Mar 20, 2015

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD-REBEL-UNDERCARD

By: JOE GIRARDI


               There was only one Kentucky Derby prep race run on March 14th and that race was at Oaklawn Park. The Rebel, a Grade II for three year olds was run on Saturday March 14th at 1 and 1/16th miles and carried a large purse of $750,000. There were a 100 Kentucky Derby points on the line with 50 going to the winner, 20 for second, 10 for third and 5 for the fourth place finisher.

               The Rebel Stakes also saw the return of the 2014 two year old champion, American Pharoah. This Bob Baffert trainee was 2 for 3 as a two year old after losing his first start as the favorite at Del Mar. He would have been the favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but had to be scratched due to a foot injury. He was working extremely well coming into the Rebel and was sent off as the heavy 2-5 favorite in a race that was run over a sloppy/sealed track. When the gates opened, American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza went right to the lead and easily established a clear lead through some very moderate splits of 24:2, 49:3, 1:15:1 over a track that was very wet and one that wasn’t producing fast times. As they moved down the backstretch and around the final turn, American Pharoah was still travelling easily and was beginning to get away from the field. Into the lane he held a clear advantage but was visually impressive drawing away to score by more than six lengths in a final time of 1:45:3, very much on the slow side but the track had a lot to do with it. It was a very good return race for the two year old champ and although he didn’t beat much, got a great trip and did it in a slow time, but he was a very visually impressive winner and he it was only his first race back. After stumbling slightly at the start, American Pharoah was found to have sprung his right front shoe but he was no worse for the wear. It will be interesting to see how American Pharoah responds when challenged early and if he can’t make an easy early lead but he is an exciting prospect to say the least. Madefromlucky, who was making just his second start for the Todd Pletcher barn, stayed on the inside and ran on some through the lane to finish second, Bold Conquest closed some ground to finish a distant third with the Truth Or Else checking in fourth. The next step, at least at this time is the Grade I, $1 million dollar Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 11th, but that can change.

               American Pharoah wasn’t the only champion to return on the March 14th card at Oaklawn, last year’s three year old filly champion was returning to the races as well in the Grade II Azeri, a race for fillies and mares, four year olds and upward run over 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $300,000. With only five horses going postward with the scratch of Sugar Shock, Untapable was sent off as the 1-9 favorite in the race and was breaking from the rail post. When the gates opened Gold Medal Dancer was sent to the lead with Untapable getting away in second. As they moved around the turn and into the backstretch, Gold Medal Dancer continued to lead through fractions of 24:3, 48:4, 1:13:4. Moving into the far turn, John Velazquez and Untapable moved up to challenge Gold Medal Dancer getting a slight lead into the lane. However, through the stretch, Gold Medal Dancer and jockey Luis Quinonez battled back and outgamed the champion to score by a half-length over Untapable, Mufajaah closed from fifth to finish third with the other two well back. The final time of 1:45:4 was slower than American Pharoah despite the quicker early fractions. Untapable was making her first since October 31st and had to run over a wet track but she should have still beat that field. It will be interesting to see how she bounces back out of that race.

               The Grade III Razoeback was also run on this card, a race for four year olds and upward, run over 1 and 1/16th miles and a purse of $250,000. There was a field of six going postward with Todd Pletcher’s Race Day going off as the slight 2-1 favorite. Midnight Hawk came out running for the lead and set the pace while being tracked by Race Day who was second through fractions of 23:4, 48:1, 1:12:2. As they moved around the turn, Midnight Hawk still held the advantage but Race Day was moving closer. Into the lane, Race Day took a slight lead from Midnight Hawk but Midnight Hawk didn’t give up and battled back to push him all the way to the wire. However, in the end Race Day prevailed scoring by a neck over Midnight Hawk who was seven lengths clear of the third place finisher Golden Ticket. The final time of the 1 and 1/16th miles was on the slow side, 1:44:4, faster than the other two races but not by much. Race Day is now 2 for 3 since moving into the Pletcher barn and could make an impact on the handicap division, at least on the east coast.



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