Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Fact Over Fiction: Rebel and Azeri Recap

Posted by Brian Appleton on March 21, 2011

It was well documented as the deepest Kentucky Derby prep field of the year but when all the dust had cleared and the race was run it looked more like a one horse show. The Factor remained undefeated Saturday in a dominant gate-to-wire performance, giving the field for the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes a thorough thrashing at Oaklawn Park and stamping himself as a serious contender on the Kentucky Derby trail. Leading into the race he was the deserving favorite but questions regarding his ability to handle two-turns while holding off a full field of talented colts abounded.

The Factor temporarily put those questions to rest as he bounded out of the gate in the Rebel Stakes, immediately seizing the lead and drawing away from the field. Down the backstretch he was already three lengths out in front for jockey Martin Garcia while Southwest winner Archarcharch stalked the pace with J P’s Gusto and Caleb’s Posse not far behind. As the field approached the far turn The Factor’s lead shrunk to less than 2 lengths as the field began to move up but the speedy son of War Front was toying with the competition, simply waiting for Garcia to let him do some real running. Halfway around the turn Garcia let the 3-year-old colt loose and received an immediate response as The Factor surged ahead with Caleb’s Posse making a powerful closing move from mid pack. Down on the rail Archarcharch was a clear second as The Factor began to extend his lead, drawing off to win going away by 6 ¼ lengths in a final time of 1:42.19 for the 1 1/16 miles.

It was an impressive win for sure and proved that The Factor did not have as many distance restrictions as many people thought. He manhandled a deep field in the Rebel and soundly defeated Sway Away who many thought would turn the tables on his opponent after finishing a brilliant second to The Factor in the San Vincente Stakes (gr.2) last month. It was his diminishing ¾ length victory in the San Vincente that had most people doubting The Factor’s ability to hold off horses like Sway Away in a two turn race. I remember watching his gallop out after the San Vincente and seeing him pull away from Sway Away after that one came with a neck of him after the wire and that convinced me he would be able to get two turns. I was not convinced however that he would be able to win the Rebel over Sway Away or J P’s Gusto but he proved me very wrong. Aside from the winner only Caleb’s Posse made any rally worthy of mention and Archarcharch began a move that ultimately fizzled mid stretch.

Being an uncontrollable speed-ball who must be on the lead the big question now is whether or not The Factor can sustain his front-running ways in a 1 ¼ mile race, namely the Kentucky Derby. I doubt it. I think he is capable of successfully winning at 1 ¼ miles but not in the Derby with so many other talented speedsters breathing down his neck. He has speed, blazingly fast speed that isn’t cheap by any definition but in a Derby with an Uncle Mo rating comfortably behind or even helping set the pace, The Factor doesn’t stand a chance in my humble opinion. The Rebel Stakes was a great effort yes, but when compared to another colt’s 1 1/16 mile romp last year in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile I’d have to say it’s an easy choice for me who will be more prepared on the first Saturday in May.

Grace under Pressure in the Azeri Stakes:

Havre de Grace - Coady Photography

Oaklawn Park had the complete package on Saturday, featuring a riveting Rebel Stakes field as well as a stellar renewal of one of racing’s most spellbinding rivalries in the Azeri Stakes (gr.3) for older fillies and mares. 2010 Champion 3-year-old Filly Blind Luck was making her third start of the year in the Azeri after finishing second to Always A Princess in both the El Encino and El Canada Stakes, both Grade 2 events. She was facing her biggest challenge of the year in the Azeri in her arch nemesis Havre de Grace who pushed the champion to ever-greater heights of achievement and performance last year.

Last year Havre de Grace and Blind Luck were virtually inseparable in four consecutive starts with Blind Luck defeating Havre de Grace three times including wins in the Delaware Oaks and Alabama Stakes by nose and a neck. Havre de Grace turned the tables in the Fitz Dixon Cotillion, holding off Blind Luck’s furious late rally to win by a neck. In the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic the two fillies finished second and third behind Unrivaled Belle with Blind Luck once again finishing ahead of her counterpart.

The results were a little more dominant this time as Havre de Grace coasted from just off the pace to take control of the lead coming into the homestretch and Blind Luck launched her patented late rally from far back in last. Off the turn Havre de Grace steadily drew off as Blind Luck exploded from the rear, making up more than eight lengths on her rival down the stretch but she was once again too late. Havre de Grace cruised through the stretch under Ramon Dominguez to win easily by 3 ¼ lengths over Blind Luck who was a clear second.

Havre de Grace has been waiting to show how explosive she can be since delivering a brilliant 3-year-old season of racing last year and she made a good show of it in her 4-year-old debut for new trainer Larry Jones. It’s not hard to imagine this impressive daughter of Saint Liam continuing to improve this year as she risen to the challenge in each and every start of her career.

Blind Luck has been racing virtually non-stop since June 0f 2006 when she was a 2-year-old and has never finished worse than 3rd in her entire career, and hasn’t finished worse than 2nd in her last 10 starts but something just isn’t the same with her this year. She has now finished 2nd in her last five starts. Her two second place finishes to Always A Princess were dull compared to all of her 2010 performances and it surprised many fans to see her finish so far behind a filly that she should have handled with ease. We’ve all come to expect more from her than that, so five consecutive runner-up finishes is shocking to say the least. In the Azeri she produced an explosive move much more reminiscent of her 2010 rallies so hopefully she will be able to move forward off this run and find some luck next out. I still think it would be nice to see her get a well deserved break for a couple of months and then brought back fresh for a fall campaign where she could run to her full potential.

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3 Responses to “Fact Over Fiction: Rebel and Azeri Recap”

  1. Can’t deny that THE FACTOR’s speed scares me re: UNCLE MO’s chances. He’s the legit speed that will force ‘MO’s toes early and may bring a serious question the final 1/4.

    As we’d shared before, BLIND LUCK has danced way too many dances. I applaud “The King” for sending her around and taking on all comers, but enough’s enough. She needs a break. Turn her out and let her find her mojo again. We know she handles CD. She needs two preps max, then the Ladies’ Classic. Any more than that and we may not see her at year’s end.

    • Hi Rob!

      I think if they both go in the Derby Uncle Mo has a huge edge due to his ability to relax, rate and respond on cue. The charge for the wire in the Kentucky Derby is going to be a thriller this year, no doubt about it!

      Yes, I would love to see the same thing with Blind Luck and I completely agree. With a break she could come back and prep for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic and romp a fresh horse.

  2. […] Fact Over Fiction: Rebel and Azeri Recap « Rail Runner […]

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