“The Pressbox’s” KY Derby Rankings — Edition #4 / Haikal, Tacitus Move Up, But Real Noise Will Come With Rebel Yells

(Gunmetal Gray will take on the big boys again in the G2 Rebel Stakes on Saturday. Here he was before the 2018 Breeders’ Cup. Photo by Holly M. Smith)

HorseTrainerJockeyLast RaceNext RaceComments
1Game WinnerBob BaffertJoel Rosario1st in Breeders’Cup JuvenileG2 Rebel Stakes on 3/16/19Trained Well on Sunday / Ready?
2War of WillMark CasseTyler Gaffalione1st in the G2 Risen StarG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19Casse Loved His Work This Weekend
3ImprobableBob BaffertDrayden Van Dyke1st in Cash Call FuturityG2 Rebel Stakes on 3/16/19Super Work at Los Alamitos on Sunday / Critics Choice
4RoadsterBob BaffertMike Smith1st in SA AllowanceUndecidedMike Smith Says “He’s Back!”
5Bourbon WarMark HennigIrad Ortiz, Jr.2nd in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Now, People Take Notice
6Mucho GustoBob BaffertJoe Talamo1st in G3 Robert B. LewisSunland Derby 3/24/19Don’t Count This One Out
7Gunmetal GrayJerry HollendorferMike Smith2nd in Robert B. Lewis StakesG2 Rebel Stakes on 3/16/19Gutty Guy Will Do Better Than Expected in Rebel
8Country HouseBill MottLuis Saez2nd in the G2 Risen StarG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19To Try War of Will Again
9Code of HonorShug McGaugheyJohn Velazquez1st in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Perfect Trip Renders Perfect Finish
10Hidden ScrollBill MottJoel Rosario4th in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Speed Figs Love Him / I’m Skeptical
11GalileanJerry HollendorferFlavien Pratt1st in California CupG2 Rebel Stakes on 3/16/19Now, We Shall See
12HaikalKiaran McLaughlinRajiv Maragh1st in G3 Gotham StakesG2 Wood MemorialGotham Set Up Perfectly / Needs a Hot Pace
13Long Range ToddySteve AsmussenRichard Eramia3rd in G3 Southwest StakesG2 Rebel Stakes on 3/16/19Depends on What Division He Gets, But Could Get Swamped Out of Boat
14Sparky VilleJeff BondeJoel Rosario1st in G2 San Vicente StakesUndecidedWhere Does He Go / Louisiana?
15InstagrandJerry HollendorferJavier Castellano3rd in G3 Gotham StakesUndecidedRemember Skeptics, First Race Since August & First Route Race
16TacitusBill MottJose Ortiz1st in G2 Tampa Bay DerbyUndecidedHuge Move, but Expertly Ridden
17Harvey WallbangerKen McPeekBrian Hernandez1st in G2 Holy Bull StakesG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Has Moved Ahead of Stablemate For Now
18SignalmanKen McPeekBrian Hernandez7th in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Looked Very Dull in 2019 Debut / Drawing Board
19Standard DeviationChad BrownIrad Ortiz2nd in GP AllowanceG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Has To Take Giant Step Forward in Next Out
20RoilandTom AmossJames Graham3rd in the G2 Risen StarG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19Could Be a Shocker in LA Derby
1AnothertwistafateBlaine D. WrightJuan Hernandez1st in El Camino Real DerbyUndecidedWorked Great This Weekend
2SomelikeithotbrownMike MakerTyler Gaffalione1st in G3 Jeff Ruby SteaksUndecidedTurf to Poly — Check / Can He Convert to Dirt?
3Our BraintrustMark CasseJose Lezcano3rd in G3 Withers StakesG2 Rebel Stakes on 3/16/19Worked at Casse TC on 2-23
4TaxDanny GarganJunior Alvarado1st in G3 Withers StakesG2 Wood MemorialGuts
5DessmanBob BaffertFlavien Pratt2nd in G2 San Vicente StakesUndecidedAnother Baffert Audible
6VekomaGeorge WeaverManny Franco3rd in G2 Fountain of YouthG2 Florida Derby on 3/30/19Passed Late / Tiring?
7Mr. MoneyW. Bret CalhounGabriel Saez7th in G2 Risen Star StakesG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19Dull. Maybe Needed a Race?
8KinglyBob BaffertDrayden Van Dyke2nd in El Camino Real DerbyUndecidedBeaten 7 lengths. Ouch
9AquadiniDallas StewartCorey Lanerie2nd in FG AllowanceG2 Louisiana Derby on 3/23/19Well Bred / Developing Late / Enough Time?

We had two major and one semi-interesting prep races on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” this past weekend, but the biggest bang came without a drum roll — just a crash of a cymbal.

Yeah, I know Tacitus got a masterful ride from the masterful Jose Ortiz and won the Tampa Bay Derby, giving rise to his name and game. As a result, the Tapit colt catapults to #16 in his first appearance in the rankings.

Yeah, I know Haikal came running late — looking all the world like a 11/4-mile colt — to win the Gotham Stakes over the imposing Instagrand, Mind Control, and Much Better up in New York. As a result, he runs himself to #12 in the rankings.

And, yeah, yeah, yeah, Somelikeithotbrown beat absolutely no one to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park over the landfill chum of poly track. While the connections may consider the Derby, he is still parked outside of the Top 20 for me — and resides at #2 on the “Others” list.

But the real news came with no news at all.

This past Saturday, we were supposed to see and witness the return to the races of the undefeated, 2YO Champion Game Winner. We were supposed to see the long-awaited matchup and showdown with his roommate Improbable. We were supposed to see the return of the gritty Gunmetal Gray. We were supposed to see the best Kentucky Derby prep of the young season. We were supposed to get the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita — and all of its drama.

Instead, we got to see the green tractors underneath of the backdrop of the beautiful mountains, as Santa Anita’s racetrack was turned upside down — both literally and figuratively —  in an attempt to discover why so many horses are having catastrophic injuries while running over and through it.

Instead, we got to see all the West Coast trainers with a horse and an interest in the Kentucky Derby scramble for Plan B.

Instead, we will now get to see how magical and talented the guru of horse training — Bob Baffert — will be able to adjust at halftime and make game-time decisions on what to do next, and how to get his horses back on the right track towards the “First Saturday in May.”

On Sunday, the Santa Anita world journeyed across town to breeze their top contenders at Los Alamitos. Had to get in all of their respective works and exercises. Not the original plan, mind you. But not a bad option, either. And, the world went on without incident.

And, now we know that both Game Winner and Improbable will join up with some others from the West Coast contingency and head to Arkansas for this Saturday’s G2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. A place that Bob Baffert has gone and conquered before. After all, he won the Rebel in 2010 with Lookin At Lucky, in 2011 with The Factor, in 2012 with Secret Circle, in 2014 with Hoppertunity, in 2015 with American Pharoah, and in 2016 with Cupid.

So, welcome second home?

“We knew the Rebel was always there, but at first we were thinking not to ship,” Baffert told the media team at Oaklawn Park. “We could come back. We hate to ship twice. It changes things a little bit, but right now we’re going through a little crisis here in Southern California. We never dreamed the day would come they would close down Santa Anita, but we’re getting through it. The main thing is that the 3-year-olds, they worked well. They’re coming up there. I think it’s very nice of them to want to split that race. That’s the key thing.”

Gunmetal Gray and Galilean, from the barn of Jerry Hollendorfer, are supposed to make the trip, too.

And, so too are Richard Mandella’s Omaha Beach and Extra Hope, and Kent Desormeaux’s Easy Shot.

In addition, there are the horses stabled at Oaklawn Park that have been pointed to this race all along. Trainer Steve Asmussen has Long Range Toddy, and there are others.

There are so many horses coming from this California rush that Oaklawn Park has graciously decided to split the Rebel into two divisions. Each division will carry a purse of $750,000, and each division will offer 63.75 points to the top four finishers seeking eligibility to the Derby. Both of those issues are critical at this time of year.

So the big bang theory didn’t materialize last weekend. But it is time for it to hit this Saturday

It is Rebel week. It is time for the big boys to come to town. It is time for noise.


The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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