Kentucky Derby Countdown

The Rebel Stakes and Jeff Ruby Steaks are the two key Kentucky Derby Trials in the US on Saturday night, and here, Peter Fornatale - our American expert - previews both events.

  • Saturday 14 March
  • Blog
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Well that didn’t go as expected.

After a fun weekend on the channel, I headed up to Cheltenham as planned, confident we were ahead enough of the Covid-19 curve that my choice to be so far from home wasn’t completely irresponsible.

Monday went exactly according to plan: a tour of the famed Overbury Stud, a visit to a fantastic local brewery (Mills Brewing), and dinner at The Plough in Prestbury were the highlights. More accurately, seeing old friends and making new ones was the highlights, but the settings were superb.

On Tuesday, I saw half of a great day of racing. Oh, I was there for every race, taking in the triumphs of Epatante and Honeysuckle and the rest, but I only saw half because one of my eyes went wonky, necessitating trips to three different hospitals over the course of Tuesday night into early Wednesday afternoon. 

On every trip across an ocean, I forget something. Usually it’s something innocuous, like a beloved T-shirt. This time it was more serious: I had forgotten my eyeglasses. We got the eye under control quickly, but contact lenses were not allowed, and thus I was one eyed for Wednesday at Cheltenham. After a few pints of Guinness, my vision evened out OK.

Then Thursday morning, I woke up to the news that a travel ban was coming to the U.S., the NBA was suspending its games, and Tom Hanks had the virus. It was time to go home.

Racing in the U.S.A. will continue unabated, albeit without any spectators for the foreseeable future. This is a much more feasible option in the USA, where racecourse and horsemen get a much larger chunk of the betting dollar than do their counterparts in England and Ireland. This is the good news, such as it is. Even as many in the USA are going to have a hard time working their jobs, mine will continue.


There are two Kentucky Derby prep races to look at, one a lot more significant than the other. As for the Derby itself, I’m going to operate on the assumption that it will still be run on the fist Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, though I suspect there is a large chance it will be run without spectators, as difficult as that is to imagine.

We shall see though, this is all subject to change at a moment’s notice. This brings me to mind of the excellent question we received on Stateside last weekend, when a viewer asked an excellent question about whether or not I saw Covid-19 having any impact on USA racing. I said something to the effect of “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” That didn’t take long.

And that brings us to Oaklawn Park this weekend and its Rebel Stakes. This year’s renewal has the potential to be a key pointer to the Kentucky Derby.

The marquee name, and a horse I’ve been excited about since before his debut, is Nadal. He’s physically imposing and has shown great speed in his races. Saturday’s added distance is a plus based on his appearance and pedigree and he’s been training well.

The issue is simply one of his odds-on price versus the associated question marks, which include his ability to handle off going and a field this deep so early in his career. The pace looks fast and there is other quality speed signed on. I think the move is to oppose him, knowing that if he comes out of this test unscathed he’ll be looking as strong as any horse to wear the roses.

Wagering wise, SILVER PROSPECTOR is the pick for me at current odds of 11-2 (at 7-2 or over that would still be the case). He’s more battle tested, has run as fast, is proven on the course and at the trip, has handled off going, and should see a great pace scenario with others including the favourite battling in front of him.

Another to keep a close eye on for the future is Basin, making his first start as a three-year-old after annexing the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Based on the numbers he ran as a two-year-old, he could be the best of these if he’s trained on. That’s too big of a question for me to back him here at the odds, but should he run well, he will vault up the various Derby “lists.”

The other prep on Saturday is the Jeff Ruby Steaks, cheekily named after the restaurants in Cincinnati, Louisville and now Lexington (they are excellent, by the way).

This one is being run on the synthetic at Turfway Park and is unlikely to have any effect on the Derby, but I think Mike Maker’s FIELD PASS might present a good wagering opportunity at odds of around 7-2.

I like the pace scenario for this improving son of Lemon Drop Kid, who could get a good stalking spot and has the finish to draw away from the competition in the stretch. He hasn’t run on synth but the turf form is good and Mike Maker is fantastic when it comes to runners switching distances and/or surfaces.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Rebel Stakes:
SILVER PROSPECTOR 

Jeff Ruby Steaks:
FIELD PASS 

Kentucky Derby Countdown
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