by Jon White
March 17, 2021
This Saturday’s Grade II Louisiana Derby, a 1 3/16-mile test at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds, is the first race this year to have 170 points up for grabs toward a starting berth in the Grade I, $3 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1. The Louisiana Derby offers 100 points to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth.
As for my Xpressbet.com selections last week for the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, I went against 6-5 favorite Caddo River by making Concert Tour my top pick. Concert Tour won by 4 1/4 lengths as the 17-10 second choice in the wagering.
In late January, I began making selections for Xpressbet.com in terms of this country’s races offering points toward the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.
Of the 13 such races, I have picked the winner in eight of them, as noted below:
Date Race (Selection) Finish, $2 win payoff if applicable
01-30-21 Holy Bull (Greatest Honour) WON, $7.60
01-30-21 Robert B. Lewis (Medina Spirit), WON, $4.00
02-06-21 Sam F. Davis (Candy Man Rocket), WON, $8.20
02-06-21 Withers (Donegal Bay), finished 7th
02-13-21 Risen Star (Senor Buscador), finished 5th
02-13-21 El Camino Real Derby (Rombauer), WON, $4.40
02-26-21 Battaglia Memorial (Gretzky the Great), finished 3rd
02-27-21 Southwest (Essential Quality), WON, $3.80
02-27-21 Fountain of Youth (Greatest Honor), WON, $4.00
03-06-21 Gotham (Freedom Fighter), finished 4th
03-06-21 Tampa Bay Derby (Hidden Stash), finished 2nd
03-06-21 San Felipe Stakes (Life Is Good), WON, $3.00
03-13-21 Rebel Stakes (Concert Tour), WON, $5.40
LOUISIANA DERBY SELECTIONS
My selections for the Louisiana Derby are below:
3. Hot Rod Charlie
4. Midnight Bourbon
The Louisiana Derby has attracted a field of eight. Three of the entrants are on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week: Mandaloun is No. 5, Hot Rod Charlie is No. 7 and Proxy is No. 10.
Why am I picking Proxy to win the Louisiana Derby even though he ranks lower than Mandaloun and Hot Rod Charlie on my Top 10? The Top 10 to a large extent is based on what a horse has done. Up to this point, Mandaloun and Hot Rod Charlie have done more than Proxy.
I also am making Proxy my top pick in the Louisiana Derby because I believe he offers wagering value vis-a-vis Mandaloun in this race. Mandaloun is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. Proxy is listed at 7-2.
Mandaloun is a prime example of how a horse can show improvement with the addition of blinkers. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt finished third as a 4-5 favorite in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 16. Midnight Bourbon won, while Proxy ran second.
Brad Cox, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer of 2020, decided to add blinkers to Mandaloun’s equipment for the Grade II Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 13. Mandaloun won by 1 1/4 lengths as a 2-1 favorite. Proxy finished second, while Midnight Bourbon ended up third.
This time it’s trainer Michael Stidham who is adding blinkers to Proxy’s equipment. In Proxy’s first published workout after the Risen Star, the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt worked four furlongs in a bullet :47.00. It was the fastest of 40 Fair Grounds works at that distance on that occasion. That, to me, strongly suggests that Proxy will be focused on the task at hand in the Louisiana Derby.
Micheline, a half-sister to Proxy, is a daughter of the multiple Grade I winner Panty Raid. Just last Saturday, Micheline won the Grade II Hillsborough Stakes on the grass at Tampa Bay Downs for Stidham.
And, yes, Micheline wore blinkers last Saturday. Stidham has said Micheline improved after blinkers were added to her equipment. In the filly’s first race with blinkers, she won an allowance/optional claiming race at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 20, 2019.
Last Oct. 10 at Keeneland, Micheline demonstrated that she certainly is a quality filly when she finished second to Harvey’s Lil Goil in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.
As for Hot Rod Charlie, who resides at Doug O’Neill’s Santa Anita barn, he will try to invade New Orleans and come away with a Louisiana Derby victory. Just last Saturday, a Southern California shipper, Concert Tour, won the Rebel.
Hot Rod Charlie is yet another example of how the addition of blinkers can produce dramatic improvement. The Kentucky-bred Oxbow colt could not finish better than third in his first three career starts without blinkers.
When racing with blinkers, Hot Rod Charlie won a maiden race at Santa Anita, then ran second at odds of 94-1 in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland, then finished a close third in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.
Midnight Bourbon certainly should not be taken lightly Saturday. He won the Lecomte by one length for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen when defeating both Proxy and Mandaloun. Midnight Bourbon subsequently ran third in the Risen Star.
Can Midnight Bourbon rebound and win the Louisiana Derby? That absolutely is not out of the question.
CONCERT TOUR MAKES LEAP ON MY DERBY TOP 10
In the wake of his sparkling win in the Rebel, Concert Tour leaps to No. 3 in my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week after being No. 6 last week. Also, Proxy debuts at No. 10 prior to this Saturday’s Louisiana Derby. Caddo River drops out of the Top 10.
My Kentucky Derby Top 10 for this week is below:
1. Life Is Good
2. Essential Quality
3. Concert Tour
4. Greatest Honour
6. Medina Spirit
7. Hot Rod Charlie
In a post-Rebel report written by Robert Yates and posted on Oaklawn Park’s website, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was quoted as saying: “To me, it was kind of an American Pharoah-type run. He was doing it with ease, with plenty left.”
American Pharoah splashed home a 6 1/4-length winner on a sloppy track in his 2015 debut. He would go on to win the Arkansas Derby prior to a Triple Crown sweep that ended a 37-year drought in the coveted series for 3-year-olds.
Last Saturday, Concert Tour began from post 7. Caddo River broke from post 1.
Concert Tour, ridden by Joel Rosario, seized the lead at once. When Concert Tour drew clear going into the clubhouse turn, Florent Geroux moved Caddo River off the rail and to the outside of Concert Tour.
Generally, it is preferable to race in the clear to the outside of a rival. But Caddo River was difficult to handle due to being quite headstrong while pressing the pace outside Concert Tour. Meanwhile, Concert Turn was sailing along on the lead through the early stages while rating kindly for Rosario.
It was evident turning for home that Caddo River was in deep water. While Rosario was sitting chilly on Concert Tour, Geroux was pumping away on Caddo River and not getting much response.
In upper stretch, while Caddo River was retreating to eventually finish fifth, Concert Tour drew away without being asked to sport a four-length lead at the eighth pole. With Rosario repeatedly looking back in the final furlong, Concert Tour cruised home to remain undefeated while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.18.
A son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Concert Tour has had a career so far that eerily mirrors that of the Baffert-trained Nadal.
Nadal and Concert Tour both won a Santa Anita maiden sprint as a 3-year-old at first asking in January. Both subsequently won Santa Anita’s seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes. And both then made it three wins in as many career starts by taking the Rebel.
After Nadal’s Rebel victory, he won a division of the Grade I Arkansas Derby on May 2. That turned out to be the final start of his career. It was announced on May 28 that Nadal had been retired from racing as a result of a condylar fracture in his left front leg following a four-furlong workout in :48.80 that morning at Santa Anita.
Finishing second in this year’s $1 million Rebel was the Baffert-trained Hozier, who was making his stakes debut. Big Lake finished third in the field of eight.
For Baffert, this was his eighth Rebel victory (Lookin At Lucky in 2010, The Factor in 2011, Secret Circle in 2012, Hoppertunity in 2014, American Pharoah in 2015, Cupid in 2016, Nadal in 2020 and Concert Tour in 2021).
REBEL WINNER TIES CAREER-BEST BEYER
Concert Tour was credited with a 94 Beyer Speed Figure for his Rebel triumph. The 94 tied his career-best Beyer. He also recorded a 94 in the San Vicente.
Keep in mind, though, the Beyer figure-making team does not take into account how easily a horse wins. The way I look at it, when a horse wins as easily as Concert Tour did in the Rebel, I add a plus to the Beyer Speed Figure. So, for me, it’s a 94+.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for Rebel winners going back to 1990 (the figures prior to 2020 are those listed in the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only):
2021 Concert Tour (94)
2020 Nadal (96)
2019 Omaha Beach (96)*
2019 Long Range Toddy (95)*
2018 Magnum Moon (97)
2017 Malagacy (94)
2016 Cupid (95)
2015 American Pharoah (100)
2014 Hoppertunity (100)
2013 Will Take Charge (95)
2012 Secret Circle (92)
2011 The Factor (103)
2010 Lookin At Lucky (98)
2009 Win Willy (102)
2008 Sierra Sunset (99)
2007 Curlin (99)
2006 Lawyer Ron (94)
2005 Greater Good (95)
2004 Smarty Jones (112)
2003 Crowned King (90)
2002 Windward Passage (94)
2001 Crafty Shaw (102)
2000 Snuck In (101)
1999 Etbauer (102)
1998 Victory Gallop (105)
1997 Phantom On Tour (102)
1996 Ide (93)
1995 Mystery Storm (92)
1994 Judge TC (95)
1993 Dalhart (105)
1992 Pine Bluff (106)
1991 Quintana (no Beyer listed)
1990 Nuits St. Georges (82)
*Run in divisions
SPRINT CHAMPION WHITMORE EDGED IN 2021 DEBUT
Whitmore, the runner-up in the 2016 Rebel and the 2020 Eclipse Award-winning male sprinter, won Oaklawn’s Hot Springs Stakes from 2017 through 2020. But he was thwarted in his bid to make it five straight wins in last Saturday’s renewal.
C Z Rocket rallied from last in the field of seven to win this year’s Hot Springs by a neck. Whitmore ran too good to lose, but the 8-year-old gelding had to settle for second.
This was sweet revenge for C Z Rocket, who had finished second to Whitmore in the Grade I BC Sprint. If C Z Rocket had won the BC Sprint instead of Whitmore, C Z Rocket most likely would have been voted the Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter.
Peter Miller trains C Z Rocket, a 7-year-old Kentucky-bred City Zip gelding.
SWISS SKYDIVER WINS FIRST START OF YEAR
After being rewarded with a 2020 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly, Swiss Skydiver won her first 2021 start by registering a 2 3/4-length victory in last Saturday’s Grade I Beholder Mile at Santa Anita.
By racing at nine different tracks in seven different states last year, Swiss Skydiver put together a 2020 campaign that was a throwback. Despite so much travel, she rose to the occasion to eke out a neck victory over Authentic in the Grade I Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Oct. 3. Authentic went on to win the Grade I BC Classic and was honored as the 2020 Horse of the Year in Eclipse Award balloting in addition to being voted the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male of 2020.
Swiss Skydiver finished seventh in the Grade I BC Distaff on Nov. 7, but she stumbled at the start and emerged from that race with an injured heel.
Four days after the Breeders’ Cup, trainer Kenny McPeek tweeted that the filly had injured her heel much worse than originally thought. McPeek went on to write that Swiss Skydiver “will rebound in 2021.”
Swiss Skydiver did indeed rebound from her BC Distaff setback by proving a punctual 7-5 favorite in the Beholder Mile, a race named in honor of the great four-time Eclipse Award winner.
McPeek has done a wonderful job with Swiss Skydiver, a Kentucky-bred Daredevil filly.
The likely next start for Swiss Skydiver is the Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn on April 17. That lucrative event also is the next target for two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl.
One of Swiss Skydiver’s 2020 losses came when she finished second to another Daredevil filly, Shedaresthedevil, in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in September.
Shedaresthedevil won last Saturday’s Grade II Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn by a neck. It was her first start since she finished third in the Grade I Spinster Stakes at Keeneland last Oct. 4.
While Swiss Skydiver deservedly received a lot of attention for her Beholder Mile victory, As Time Goes By ran quite well in defeat.
Baffert trains As Time Goes By, a beautifully bred Kentucky-bred 4-year-old daughter of 2015 Horse of the Year American Pharoah and the multiple Grade I winner Take Charge Lady (who was trained by McPeek). Take Charge Lady is the dam of Will Take Charge (the 2013 Rebel winner), who was voted a 2013 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
Baffert has said that he believes As Time Goes By will be even better going farther than one mile. That supposition is supported, at least to some extent, by the fact that As Time Goes By galloped out strongly after the finish last Saturday. She was about four lengths clear of Swiss Skydiver when reaching the clubhouse turn.
Considering the Apple Blossom has a $1 million purse and is an eighth of a mile longer than the Beholder Mile, it would seem that the Apple Blossom would make a lot of sense (and perhaps dollars) for As Time Goes By.
Granted, having to face Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver is a tough task. But because the Apple Blossom is a handicap race and As Time Goes By is not even a stakes winner, one would expect Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver to spot a fair amount of weight to As Time Goes By.
If As Time Goes By did defeat Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver, it would be a huge boost to As Time Goes By’s resume and put her in the early conversation for a possible Eclipse Award.
EMERALD DOWNS ANNOUNCES STAKES SCHEDULE
The 86th running of the Grade III Longacres Mile tops the 2021 stakes schedule announced by Emerald Downs, the track where horses compete in the shadow of majestic Mount Rainier.
The $100,000 Longacres Mile is the richest race in the Pacific Northwest. It will be run this year on Aug. 15.
The 2021 Emerald meeting begins on May 19 and will be adjourned on Sept. 23.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Following her Beholder Mile victory, Swiss Skydiver moved up one notch to No. 3 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. Shedaresthedevil zoomed up to No. 9 this week after being No. 26 last week.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 362 Charlatan (22)
2. 348 Monomoy Girl (13)
3. 288 Swiss Skydiver (2)
4. 275 Knicks Go (1)
5. 169 Idol
6. 159 Mystic Guide (1)
7. 123 Colonel Liam
8. 110 Maxfield
9. 58 Shedaresthedevil
10. 57 Gamine
In the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, Rebel winner Concert Tour rose to No. 3 after being No. 7 last week.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 372 Essential Quality (20)
2. 365 Life Is Good (14)
3. 306 Concert Tour (2)
4. 290 Greatest Honour (2)
5. 239 Mandaloun (1)
6. 156 Medina Spirit
7. 77 Helium
8. 73 Risk Taking
9. 57 Proxy
10. 38 Hot Rod Charlie