The two “biggest” races in the Thoroughbred world on Saturday, February 26 produced a pair of HUGE upsets. Upon completion, the shocking finishes left me feeling …shocked.
On the other side of the globe, the third running of the world’s richest race featured runners from seven different countries. The Saudi Cup has attracted top horses in its brief history with all of the entrants eyeing 20 million reason$ to run. With ALL that money on the line, large fields are the norm which means ANYTHING can happen. And it did!!!
The Saudi-based Emblem Road rolled home in fine fashion and nipped the Bob Baffert-trained Country Grammer by a half-length at the wire. Crossing the finish at odds of 99-1, this four-year-old son was actually a huge longshot that made $ense. The American-based horses were catching most of the money as the Brad Cox-trained Mandaloun went off at 6-5. Shipping is always a challenge, especially when you think about traveling to the other side of the globe. Emblem Road had won six of eight previous starts with a second and a third in there as well. Five of those wins had come at this same King Abdulaziz Racecourse. A horse for the course is always an angle and Emblem Road was absolutely that.
The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park was another big race with an electrifying finish. Traditionally a stepping stone to the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby, this $1 million drive over the Arkansas dirt also attracts bigger fields. Unpredictable weather and even more unpredictable young three-year-old runners mean this race too can produce surprises.
Bob Baffert has been a big winner in Oaklawn’s three-year-old series over the past decade or so. Sending out Southwest winner Newgrange at 4-5, it looked like it was Big Race Bob’s race to lose. Somebody forgot to tell the other ten runners.
Moderate early fraction (23.42 opening quarter 48.86 half-mile) over a wet track saw Newgrange just off the pace, but so was the longest shot in the field Un Ojo. Riding the rail at odds of 75-1, this son of the speedy Laoban was rolling right along. As the horses turned for home Newgrange began to fade, but the Ricky Courville-trained underdog was still maintaining his spot along the rail. Inside the sixteenth pole, Un Ojo suddenly found a little extra and surged just past both Etheral Road and Barber Road. Winning by a half-length, this determined runner with only one good eye saw himself come home as the longest shot to ever win the Grade 2 Rebel. This second career win from six starts provides 50 qualifying points and a likely spot in this year’s Kentucky Derby. And oh by the way, Un Ojo returned $152.80 on a $2 win investment.
After the shock wore off from these two shocking results, suddenly the old hillbilly turf writer’s horse racing adage came back to me …in this game, the only predictable thing is…unpredictability.
Un Ojo surges to the front in the Rebel Stakes (photo by Coady)