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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Lukas Longshot Takes Charge Late – Stable Mate Holds Place

There is lots to look back on regarding Saturday’s Grade II Rebel Stakes from Oaklawn and even more to recount, but perhaps the best lead in would be…that’s horse racing.

Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas each had an uncoupled entry In the Rebel Stakes with Baffert sending out favored Super Ninety Nine and Den’s Legacy while Lukas saddled Oxbow and Will Take Charge. Based on his daylight victory in the slop over the same surface when he trounced the Grade III Southwest field by 11 lengths, Super Ninety Nine was sent off as the 6-5 favorite while Den’s Legacy left the gate at 14-1. As for the Lukas pair, based on two strong efforts at the Fair Grounds Oxbow was sent off as the 3.8-1 second favorite while Will Take Charge, who was beaten 18 lengths by Super Ninety Nine in the sloppy Southwest was ignored at 28-1 and came on strongly from about 5 lengths tracking lengths back at the 9/16ths pole with a sustained drive that saw him catch entry mate Oxbow in the last few jumps and return $58.00 while combining for a $275.80 Exacta.

As I said, that’s horse racing. Den’s Legacy outpaced his favored entry mate and Will Take Charge out-closed his well-regarded stable mate. However, it was the Lukas entry that ran one-two while the best Baffert could do was check in third with Den’s Legacy.

First off, we haven’t seen this kind of visibility regarding the 3-year old Kentucky Derby lineup from Hall Of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas in many a moon. Sure, he’s had a few runners that have pulled an upset or two on the Derby Trail but few if any have shown enough consistency to merit the attention that both Will Take Charge and Oxbow should now command. Nonetheless, knowing Lukas’s penchant for racing them into condition regardless of the previous outcomes, we are likely to see both 3-year olds in another prep before the Derby. Therefore it is worth reflecting on the fact that since 2005 Lukas has managed to get just 4 horses to Louisville on the first Saturday in May. However, running 1-2 in the Rebel are by far his most promising results since 2005

Here is how Lukas’ last 4 runners to make it to the Derby fared in their final two Derby preps and the Derby:

2012 – Optimizer – (3/17) 2nd in the Rebel Stakes at 28-1…(4/14) 9th in the Arkansas Derby at 5-1…11th in the Kentucky Derby.
2010 – Dublin – (3/13) 3rd in the Rebel as the 7-5 second choice…(4/10) 3rd in the Arkansas Derby at 5-2…7th in the Kentucky Derby.
2009 – Flying Private – (3/21) 2nd in the Lane’s End at Turfway at 25-1…(4/11) 5th in the Arkansas Derby at 13-1…Last of 20 in the Kentucky Derby
2005 – Going Wild – (4/9) 7th in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct as the 5-2 second choice…(4/23) 5th in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland at 9-2…18th in the Kentucky Derby.

This means that there are two ways to look at the two Lukas runners. By the time (if they should) Oxbow and/or Will Take Charge reach the Kentucky Derby they will be cooked or given how much better they have performed in their preps, their foundation and confidence might have Lukas with live runner(s) for the first time in years.

Speaking Of Live Runners…Will The Recent Trend Of “Fresh” Horses Conquering The Derby Hold Out Again In 2013?

If it did nothing else, the Rebel Stakes gave hope to those connections that still believe there is a place for foundation and experience and stamina as a factor in performing well in the Kentucky Derby.

Both Will Take Charge and Oxbow went into the Rebel as well-seasoned runners. Will Take Charge was making his seventh career start and his fifth at a mile or longer. He had already faced graded company as a two-year old and finished second in the Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park and won the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn. Runner-up Oxbow was making his eight career start that already included three races at a mile and seventy yards or longer that includes a win in the Grade III Lecomte and a tough trip quarter-length beaten fourth in the Grade II Risen Star.

Even third place finisher Den’s Legacy, who ran a good race along the rail entered with a resume of ten starts, with six coming at a mile or longer. The Bob Baffert trainee has now hit the board in five straight graded stakes and has shown no signs of slowing down. In a side note, in years past he would certainly have earned enough graded stakes money to qualify for the Kentucky derby, but with the new points system his second and third place finishes might not afford him enough to become qualified.

Favored Super Ninety Nine certainly has had enough foundation, with five races heading in, but as a speed horse he either didn’t respond from a tough cross over trip from the outside (if not, why did Oxbow race so well from just inside him?) or didn’t like the fast surface after freaking in the slop in the Grade 3 Southwest over the same oval 4 weeks earlier.

As for the lightly raced horses, Todd Pletcher’s Delhomme was dreadful in his three-year old debut following a successful three race juvenile campaign that saw him break his maiden in start number two and finish third in the Grade II Remsen Stakes and neither Carve or Treasury Bill, both lightly raced, had anything to offer.

I only mention this in order to suggest that there are a multitude of reflections that must be considered when delving through the entire Derby Prep scheme of things, but given the fact that for at least 5 decades Derby starters who didn’t run at least three sophomore races prior to their Run For the Roses fared very poorly before Street Sense broke the trend by winning with only a pair of races in 2007. That feat seemed to break the ice with a number of conditioners as after only a single Derby winner with less than three prep races in over twenty five years (Sunny’s Halo in 1983…although he ran eight times as a juvenile) the last six Derby winners have had only two 3-year old preps…and if you include Barbaro’s first of three Derby preps in 2006 coming on New Year’s Day you could make it seven years in a row.

Of course there are many factors that could play into this. After all, as the breeding lines become thinner and thinner with 5 by 5 and 4 by 5 in breeding, young horses are a lot more fragile and collectively the entire group is lightly raced. But those kinds of training trends have always been made to be broken so who knows if the better conditioned runners will hold sway this year. In addition to the aforementioned Rebel Stakes, the recent Gotham also favored more recently seasoned runners as Vyjack, (longshot) West Hills Giant and plodder Siete D’Oro finished in front of the well regarded and favored Overanalyze, who was making his sophomore debut. Again, none of this in any way declares a reversal of the recent trend, but it does make one want to carefully reflect.

Next Two Weekends Will Tell Us Much More

We’ll be able to measure the more seasoned vs the less seasoned three-year olds much more closely and get a better idea if trainers are beginning a reverse trend over the course of the next two weekends with a loaded Derby Prep Lineup.

Saturday 3/23 – Spiral Stakes – Turfway Park…2011 Derby Winner Animal Kingdom exited the Spiral
Sunday 3/24 – Sunland Derby – Sunland Park…2009 Derby Longshot Winner Mine That Bird ran in this race.
Saturday 3/30 – Florida Derby – Gulfstream Park…2010 Kentucky Derby runner up won this race as did 2008 and 2006 Kentucky Derby winners Bog Brown and Barbaro respectively>
Saturday 3/30 – Louisiana Derby – Fair Grounds…While not many of this prep’s graduates have fared well, Mucho Macho Man did run third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby and this race always draws a deep and competitive field.
Saturday 3/30 – United Arab Emirates Derby – Meyden Race Course – After a number of tries, most European based outfits, particularly those of Darley Stables, Godolphin (Saeed bin Suroor), Shadwell and Coolmore (Aiden O’Brien) have seemed to shy away from the Derby to the desert trek in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that one of this year’s graduates won’t make the attempt, and the race itself always draws a full field and deep contention.

So make sure to keep it right here on these pages…check back this Friday for the Spiral Stakes and Sunland Derby previews. .  

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