Confidence Game paid $39 in his Rebel upset (Photo by Coady Photography)
As a well-bred “nephew” of Zenyatta, Confidence Game has inspired hopes of developing into a top-class colt. But after a pair of well-beaten efforts on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the Keith Desormeaux pupil was overlooked at odds of 18.50-1 in Saturday’s $1 million Rebel (G2). Whether it was the sloppy track at Oaklawn Park, or just improvement with maturity, Don’t Tell My Wife Stables’ Confidence Game jumped up to become the new Derby points leader.
By Candy Ride and out of Eblouissante, who is Zenyatta’s half-sister, Confidence Game had been on the early lead in his two prior wins, both at Churchill Downs. But his pace-pressing role in the Jan. 21 Lecomte (G3)
hadn’t worked out so well, as he retreated to a distant third behind Instant Coffee. A similar trip in a speed-laden Rebel wouldn’t appear favorable. On the other hand, his previous attempts from off the pace hadn’t been successful either, including a fifth in last fall’s Iroquois (G3)
So what kind of passage would jockey James Graham engineer in the Rebel? Confidence Game’s behavior in the paddock didn’t bode well for his chances either. Yet once regaining his composure on the track, he settled into fifth, on the outside of the horses in the third flight.
A fast pace unfolded, with early leader Powerful pressed by Frosted Departure. In the next flight came the well-fancied Brad Cox duo of 3-2 favorite Verifying and the 2.20-1 Giant Mischief. Much farther behind than expected was California shipper Reincarnate, who wasn’t fast away and got troubled in the first strides from the gate. Instead of taking up a handy position, he found himself in the very unfamiliar spot of racing near the back of the pack.
Giant Mischief was the first to move on the tiring leaders turning for home, as stablemate Verifying was stuck on the inside and looking for room. But Confidence Game was also on the march, circling in the clear, and he had more momentum to strike the front in the stretch.
Red Route One rallied from last on the outside, and Reincarnate was beginning to unwind in tandem when he had another misfortune. A wayward Bourbon Bash crossed directly into his path, forcing Reincarnate to check hard so he wouldn’t clip heels. Reincarnate recovered to finish with interest in third, although his best chance had gone.
Confidence Game looked to be idling, and still on his left lead, as Red Route One closed. But he crossed the wire one length in front while finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.21, picking up 50 Derby points for a total of 57.
“He sort of lost his mind in the paddock,” Desormeaux said, “so I was worried until he got on the track. James got him to settle down out there. He’s really come into his own. He started off pretty immature, but as the races went on, he has improved things mentally, and physically.”
“I was able to settle him down when we were warming up,” Graham said, “so he got back in the things mentally. I was really happy with where I was early in the race. He wasn’t doing too much too soon. He had a ton left down the lane. I’m just so happy for everyone involved and especially this horse. He keeps maturing and doing things the right way. I think the sky is the limit for him.”
Red Route One continued his string of admirable performances in defeat, and the runner-up earned 20 points to increase his tally to 33. Reincarnate’s honorable third netted him 15 points, and reiterated that he’s one to watch for new trainer Tim Yakteen. Verifying worked his way into fourth, and the 10 points upped his total to 14. Bourbon Bash received five points for fifth.
Confidence Game’s first stakes win advanced his line to 7-3-1-2, $785,525. Although the dark bay had not broken through at this level until Saturday, he had beaten two future prep winners in his Churchill allowance. On that Nov. 26 “Stars of Tomorrow II” card, Confidence Game bested Rocket Can, who went on to win the Holy Bull
(G3), and Hit Show, who would impress in the Withers
Bred by Summer Wind Equine, also responsible for Horse of the Year Flightline, Confidence Game was a bargain $25,000 Keeneland September yearling – despite his pedigree. His dam is not only a half-sister to Hall of Famer Zenyatta. Eblouissante, by champion Bernardini, is also a half to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Balance, and the family has since produced Group/graded scorers Long Island Sound and She’s Not Here.
There was also an echo of Zenyatta in Saturday’s companion race on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, the Honeybee (G3). The victorious Wet Paint is by Zenyatta’s nemesis, Blame, and out of a mare by Zenyatta’s sire, Street Cry.