Horse Racing

Confidence Game Pulls a Fast One in Rebel Stakes

Confidence Game  may have fooled the betting public, surprising at 18-1 odds in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park Feb. 25, but nothing appeared fraudulent about his performance.

Facing a talented field that included stakes-winning or stakes-placed colts such as Verifying , Giant Mischief , Red Route One , and Reincarnate , the Candy Ride   colt illustrated his credentials to compete in the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs. Slingshoting to the lead from fifth place in early stretch under James Graham, he comfortably kept Red Route One and Reincarnate at bay to win the richest prep on the Road to the Kentucky Derby yet contested in 2023.

He won by a length, completing 1 1/16 miles in the slop under James Graham in 1:44.21. He returned $39 for a $2 win wager.

“This horse is really putting it all together, and he certainly did it today,” the rider said.

Confidence Game picked up 50 qualifying points for the Run for the Roses, giving him a total of 57, enough based on historical trends to secure entrance into the Run for the Roses. Churchill Downs uses points to promote its race and as a preference system when the 1 1/4-mile contest lures more than its capacity field size of 20 horses.

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The Rebel further provided qualifying points on a 20-15-10-5 basis to those finishing second through fifth—Red Route One, Reincarnate, Verifying, and Bourbon Bash .

The race was roughly contested for a handful of the Rebel competitors. Jockey John Velazquez, aboard slow-starting Reincarnate, claimed foul against Cristian Torres on Red Route One after being shut off and forced to steady his mount in the stretch. Stewards made no change to the order of finish.

Bourbon Bash, under Mickaelle Michel, appeared responsible for the interference.

Reincarnate raced for trainer Tim Yakteen after having been previously trained by Bob Baffert, who is banned by Churchill Downs from competing in the Derby due to medication violations. His trainees also cannot earn Derby points.

By running for Yakteen, he earned 15 points and, with a top finish in his next start, could have enough points to make the Derby.

“He ran giant,” Yakteen said. “The race didn’t come out the way we had scripted it. That happens in racing, but my horse ran huge.”

Most of those near the early pace—which unfolded with hot fractions of :22.75, :46.17, 1:11.45—backed up in the stretch, with favored Verifying, who was third in the early going before being shuffled back on the second turn in traffic, performing best of the horses that raced near the front.

Pace-chasing Giant Mischief faded to sixth in his first start of the year, and the race’s 1-2 leaders, Powerful  and Frosted Departure , were ninth and eighth, respectively.

Winning trainer Keith Desormeaux said he was pleased with his colt’s performance after the 3-year-old “sort of lost his mind in the paddock,” noting Graham got him to settle down.

“He’s really come into his own,” Desormeaux said. “He started off pretty immature, but as the races went on, he has improved things mentally and physically.”

Desormeaux is winless with three prior starters in the Kentucky Derby, with Exaggerator  giving him his best finish in 2016 when second. Exaggerator ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown that year, winning the Preakness Stakes (G1) and running 11th in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

The trainer’s other Derby starters were Sonneteer , 16th in 2017, and My Boy Jack , a troubled fifth in 2018.

The trainer’s brother, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux rode those horses, though in recent years, Graham has become his go-to jockey in Kentucky or Louisiana where the rider is based.

Confidence Game wins the Rebel Stakes on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at Oaklawn Park
Photo: Coady Photography

Confidence Game (outside) surges to the lead in the Rebel

Graham traveled from Louisiana for the mount on Confidence Game after having ridden him most recently to a third-place finish in last month’s Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The rider has been aboard Confidence Game in six of his seven career starts. The one exception was when Brian Hernandez Jr. rode Confidence Game to a victory over eventual Holy Bull Stakes (G3) winner Rocket Can  in an allowance optional claiming race at Churchill Downs Nov. 26.

Graham has twice ridden in the Derby, finishing eighth on Lone Sailor  in 2018 and 10th on Major Fed  in 2020 for different trainers.

The jockey said he views Confidence Game as well suited to added distance, noting that he needed an outsider’s help to pull up his mount when another horse game alongside him on gallop out. The colt now has a record of three wins, a second, and two thirds from seven starts.

“He keeps maturing and doing things the right way. I think the sky is the limit for him,” Graham added.

Bred in Kentucky by Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine, Confidence Game is out of the winning Bernardini  mare Eblouissante , a half sister to Hall of Famer Zenyatta . Confidence Game is her first black-type horse from seven foals, three of which have raced with two victorious. Two foals have not yet had an opportunity to start: a 2-year-old colt by More Than Ready  and a yearling colt by Speightstown  .

Confidence Game earned $581,750 in winning the Rebel, vaulting his earnings to $785,525 for Don’t Tell My Wife Stables, a partnership founded by Kirk Godby and Rob Slack. Desormeaux serves as trainer and bloodstock agent for the group.

Desormeaux purchased Confidence Game at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the Lane’s End consignment for just $25,000. 

Video: Rebel S. (G2)


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