September 19, 2020

Five points to ponder: Rebel and Jeff Ruby Steaks

American Theorem is by 2015 Rebel star American Pharoah (Oaklawn Park)

Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1) points races, the $1 million Rebel (G2) and $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), have different characteristics.

The Rebel on the Oaklawn Park dirt has greater relevance for the Triple Crown trail than the Jeff Ruby on Turfway Park’s Polytrack, which has again attracted several turf or synthetic types. Accordingly, the Rebel is worth more Derby points (50-20-10-5) than the Jeff Ruby (20-8-4-2).

But the two preps have a common story line of prolific trainers going for another win. Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, the Rebel’s all-time leader with six wins, brings hotpot Nadal in search of a seventh trophy, while Mike Maker is triple-handed in hopes of a sixth Jeff Ruby title.

Here are my five points to ponder:

1. Unbeaten Nadal and No Parole have questions to answer.

Nadal’s two-turn test is the obvious starting point for discussion. Baffert’s 5-2 morning line favorite didn’t necessarily give off the vibe of a natural router last time. After showing blistering speed in his 6 1/2-furlong debut victory, Nadal prevailed in a pace war in the San Vicente (G2) but appeared spent at the end of 7 furlongs.

Granted, the blinkers-off move here should help him relax enough to avoid any more :44-and-change half-miles, and his pedigree suggests that 1 1/16 miles ought to be within his scope. Still, sire Blame can get speedier sorts too (e.g., Marley’s Freedom). We’ll need to see a new dimension if Nadal is to remain unbeaten.

Even so, remember that a couple of Baffert’s Rebel winners ended up having distance limitations. My suspicion is that Nadal shapes more like The Factor (2011) or Secret Circle (2012) than Lookin at Lucky (2010) or American Pharoah (2015).

Normally you wouldn’t bracket a Baffert beast with a Louisiana-bred venturing into open waters for the first time, but No Parole isn’t the usual Pelican State native. By Violence and out of a Bluegrass Cat mare from the family of License Fee, No Parole has wired his three starts by a combined margin of 34 lengths. The Tom Amoss pupil has already answered questions that remain outstanding for Nadal: successfully negotiating two turns, moderating his natural speed when required, and relishing a muddy track (quite likely Saturday given the rain in the forecast).

No Parole’s serious question is whether he can transfer his bossing of inferiors to dispatching bona fide Derby hopefuls. If he’s let alone with Nadal possibly experimenting to stalk, the 8-1 chance might get bold on the front end, and his last-out Brisnet 103 Late Pace rating suggests he’ll keep going. Or if Nadal is just too quick early from the rail, No Parole projects a favorable tracking trip from post 5 – if he’s good enough as the co-highweight with 122 pounds.

2. American Theorem brings a tantalizing piece of form.

A debut-winning son of American Pharoah, American Theorem was best of the rest behind Baffert’s then-leading juvenile, Eight Rings, in the American Pharoah (G1) at Santa Anita. Well back in third was future Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) shocker Storm the Court. Unfortunately, like his sire, American Theorem missed the Juvenile with a setback, and it’s tempting to play the what-if game had he been able to compete in the Breeders’ Cup. His sire made a triumphant return in the 2015 Rebel, and American Theorem aims to do the same.

Although his last appearance seems like a lifetime ago, the American Pharoah S. form speaks very well of American Theorem in this spot. Storm the Court has gone on to finish a useful fourth in the San Vicente to Nadal and most recently placed third to Authentic and Honor A. P. in the San Felipe (G2). And there’s also collateral form operative at Oaklawn: the fifth from the American Pharoah, Shoplifted, was third in the Smarty Jones and fourth in the Southwest (G3).

Had he not been sidelined, American Theorem would likely have a more prominent profile on the trail. Trainer George Papaprodromou told Oaklawn publicity that the gray’s setback was minor, associating it with growing 2-year-olds. Given his ability to fire fresh, and his tactical adaptability, American Theorem has plenty of appeal at 6-1 with regular rider Tiago Pereira.

3. Comebacker Basin must regain the spotlight from Silver Prospector.

While Hopeful (G1) hero Basin sports the biggest win among Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s trio, he’s been out of action since Saratoga. But his task goes beyond just trying two turns off a 6-month layoff. As a precocious juvenile who was a tad unlucky not to break his maiden first out in mid-June, Basin must show that he’s kept pace on the developmental curve, and not lost ground to later-maturing types. If so, his drubbing of Shoplifted in the Hopeful would retain meaning here. At least we know he handles off going, since that romp came in the slop.

Exhibit A of such developing types lives in his own barn in the form of Silver Prospector. The son of Declaration of War turned the corner in the fall, upsetting the troubled Tiz the Law in the sloppy Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) (where Enforceable was fourth). Silver Prospector took another step forward second out this term in the Southwest, recording a 96 Brisnet Speed rating at last to equal Basin’s from the Hopeful. On the other hand, he now totes 122 pounds, a five-pound weight concession not only to Basin but everyone other than co-highweight No Parole.

4. Three Technique needs to come up with a big play.

I’ve rated Three Technique highly ever since his bang-up second to Basin in a Saratoga maiden, which he backed up with a stunning rally to win going away next out. The son of Mr Speaker showed more precocity than expected from his pedigree, often an auspicious sign that I’ve been waiting for him to fulfill.

Scratched from the Champagne (G1) due to illness, Three Technique was next seen capturing a slowly run allowance. His stakes debut finally came in the Smarty Jones, resulting in a promising if inconclusive second. Trainer Jeremiah Englehart didn’t think he was in love with the muddy track that day, but that was his first two-turn try, and he did stay on behind the pace-controlling mudlark Gold Street.

Freshened with an eye on the Rebel, Three Technique has a good chance of finding it wet again. Yet he stands to benefit from his initial route experience, and Luis Saez intriguingly picks up the mount. I’d love for Three Technique to advance his classic ambitions for his owner – Bill Parcells – but he has to up his game to sack them.

5. Only half of the Jeff Ruby field is Triple Crown-nominated.

The six Triple Crown nominees are Wesley Ward’s Invader, the 3-1 morning-line favorite; Myamanoi; Halo Again; Finnick the Fierce; The Stiff; and Fancy Liquor.

Of those, only three have already competed in a Derby points race. Perhaps the most interesting from a classic perspective is Asmussen’s Halo Again, a wide-trip eighth in the Lecomte (G3). But the Ontario-bred landed the Coronation Futurity at this 9-furlong trip on a synthetic surface (Woodbine’s Tapeta), and a strong showing here would put him back on track for the Queen’s Plate. The other two have more to prove, Finnick the Fierce (second at 87-1 in the Kentucky Jockey Club but unplaced in the Lecomte and second division of the Risen Star [G2]) and The Stiff (fifth in the El Camino Real).

Invader, who demolished the John Battaglia, has to dispose of a better group here. Even if he bags the Derby points, he might revert to turf anyway. That’s where two of his key rivals are coming from, via Gulfstream’s Dania Beach – Maker’s victorious Field Pass (not a nominee) and the fast-finishing fourth Myamanoi. Note that Maker is also going turf-to-synthetic with Triple Crown-nominated Fancy Liquor, who scored on debut at Gulfstream with Proven Strategies (fourth in the Summer [G1] and sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf [G1]) third.