A pair of Kentucky Derby (G1) prep races took place on Saturday, highlighted by a rising star from the Todd Pletcher barn.
Rebel S. (G2)
Robert and Lawana Low’s MAGNUM MOON ran his unbeaten streak to three with an impressive, 3 1/2-length win under Luis Saez. Son of Malibu Moon was always in contention and separated himself inside the final furlong, clocking 1 1/16 miles over the Oaklawn surface in 1:42 3/5. Colt earned a lifetime-best 100 Speed figure his work.
Talented sophomore broke alertly and proved just how push-button he is when flying home in the lane when given his cue. Magnum Moon stayed on the correct lead throughout in what was close to a perfect performance. He is the real deal.
Twice Grade 1-placed SOLOMINI was well in hand while forwardly placed and saving ground along the inside to the stretch. Baffert pupil didn’t have a perfect trip, though it was a clean one, and the colt showed a lot of heart to gain the place spot after being passed late.
Solomini never did get over to his right lead in the Rebel, which is something of a concern to me. But running second against this cast in a seasonal debut was a nice start to 2018. Consistently good chestnut has a long and fluid stride, as well as a fine juvenile foundation under him. Solomini will be very tough to deal with in his next prep engagement and beyond with expected improvement.
COMBATANT is a horse that continues to grow on me. Asmussen trainee has settled for minor awards this campaign but he always fires, and the cruising speed is impressive.
Settling near the rear early on, Combatant was picking off horses on his own accord down the back stretch and was a danger late, before flattening out some in the final sixteenth. I love how Combatant was in between runners, then along the rail to the top of the lane, before splitting runners once again for his final push.
I think the athletic three-year-old can become a serious turf performer, though his work on the main oval is nothing to take for granted. He advances to the next stage of Kentucky Derby prep races.
Fifth-place finisher SPORTING CHANCE failed to make a major impact for the second consecutive race in 2018 for D. Wayne Lukas. Grade-1 winner has to step it up soon.
The Rebel was a very good prep race in my view. Without question, each of the top trio should remain in the Kentucky Derby conversation.
Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3)
California invader BLENDED CITIZEN found his best stride late to out-finish PONY UP in earning a head victory and his first graded score. Doug O’Neill pupil has now registered back-to-back 100 BRIS Speed figures from a pair of synthetic races in 2018.
I will admit that I was impressed with how Blended Citizen found another gear when switching leads late. Improving bay has never been close from a trio of lifetime races on the dirt, though, and his action looks like that of a Turf/All-Weather runner.
Pony Up is a talented Pletcher sophomore who came a few jumps shy of giving his conditioner a sweep of the weekend prep races. Aikenite colt was no match in the Holy Bull (G2) on the dirt, however, and his future appears to be on the lawn.
ARAWAK had a tough 12 post and a wide journey, so we commend his third-place showing. But I don’t imagine the colt being in any future Kentucky Derby conversations.
The Ruby entrants are unlikely to have any impact on the Kentucky Derby.