Kentucky Derby 2022: Race Review of the G2 Rebel Stakes
As the freezing rain approached, and darkness was consuming the Hot Springs horizon, the race was off ...
Saturday was the $1 million Rebel Stakes, and with a full field of 11, it was going to be quite a contest. Of course, most believed that Bob Baffert's SoCal import ridden by John Velazquez, would repeat. After all, Newgrange #2 had stormed home in the Southwest Stakes back in late January, and even though his HOF conditioner could not collect KYD148 Points, that did not stop him from returning to Oaklawn Park again. The rest of the field would be after that purse money too. For their own sakes, the lucrative 50-20-10-5 "Points," respectively, that would go to the top 4 finishers would surely give the colt that crossed the wire first, a spot in the Australian-built starting gate on the "First Saturday in May."
As the Oaklawn tote flickered, and track announcer Vic Stauffer boomed the reminder that it was "2 minutes to post," the next of kin odds choices circled (Steve Asmussen's Chasing Time #8 - 5/1; John Ortiz's Barber Road #9 - 7/1; Dallas Stewart's Ben Diesel #7 - 8/1), ready to be unleashed. As they began to move in, it was Ricky Courville's Un Ojo #4 that was taking the least amount of interest ... the New York bred colt by Laoban was a hefty 75/1, as no one was giving the one-eyed runner (he lost his left eye in an accident as a yearling), piloted by Ramon Vazquez, much of a chance. Before Stauffer could say, "They're off ..." most knew that Chris Hartman's stellar claim, Kavod #1 and Francisco Arrieta, would take the lead. They did ...
Tackling the 1 1/16th, Hartman's entry was quickly joined by Baffert's, as Velazquez attempted to press the pace down the backstretch. Taking up a striking position, just off the leader, he seemed poised to overtake Arrieta, once the top of the lane arrived. Fractions of 23.42 and 48.86 spoke to a more than honest pace, and that would give Newgrange #2 a target. But what happened next was unexpected, and that's horse racing for you. As Turn-2 unfolded, Baffert's ace was joined by Barber Road #9, and winding up outside, D.W. Lukas' Ethereal Road #10. The latter, ridden by Luis Contreras who had celebrated his victory with "Coach" (Lukas' nickname) in the Honeybee (G3) earlier on the card, had a ton of horse under him. He chewed up ground, and took over the lead as the stretch began to unfold. Baffert's charge gave way, and Hartman's runner tried valiantly to rally ... and then there was the rail ride by Un Ojo #4.
For most of the race, Vazquez was biding his time aboard his long shot. Saving all the ground, he patiently waited for the opportunity, skimming that interior path. As the pellets of rain began to intensify, the colt got stronger and stronger, as the others began to fade. Towards the wire, with Barber Road #9 making a late rally, it looked as though Lukas was going to get the stakes double, but as Contreras' mount drifted inward, it was Vazquez that drove hard ... scoring the victory for Courville and the connections. A 75/1 shot had just upset the Rebel applecart at Oaklawn ...
The victory was shocking, especially considering the power of this field, but this colt with one eye was not a ridiculous pick (despite his price). The owners, Cypress Creek Equine, had shipped their prize up to Aqueduct, to conditioner Tony Dutrow, over the winter, and he ran admirably in the a pair of races (including, a runner-up in G3-Withers S.). Shipping back to Hot Springs, the dark bay gelding was hoping to take on this field, and chase not only those coveted "Points," but also the hefty cash prize of $600k.
Speaking of payouts, Un Ojo #4 rewarded those brave enough to back him, with $152.80 - Win, $41.80 - Place, and Show - 18.60 ... quite a tasty set of sums for the some $1.5 million+ that was in the WPS Pool. With that celebrated score, and the 50 KYD receipt in his saddle, it is presumed that he not only earns a spot in the Derby, but will attempt to come back for more in early April. That is when the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby unleashes, and the special horse with one eye will probably be there.
As for the rest of the "minors," it was Lukas' Ethereal Road #10 that ended up securing the "Place" (20 Total Points), the late-running Barber Road #9 that rallied for "Show" (now w/18 Total Points) and finally, Kavod #1 (7 Total Points) that ended up 4th, after being cutoff just before the tape by the #10. An inquiry sign was posted based on this event, but the OP Stewards ruled that it was too late in the race to truly make a difference.
So many storylines unfolded in the some 1:45.69 of this race ... dark and dreary conditions may have overwhelmed the scene, but there is nothing like a box car-priced long shot that makes you smile. Now, it is on to the the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby slated for 2 April. The Derby Trail ... it rolls on!