The $1 million Rebel (G2), the third of four qualifiers at Oaklawn Park, took place over a sloppy track on Feb. 25, and Confidence Game jumped to the top of the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with the 50-point prize in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series race.

1. Upsetter with upside

Overlooked at 18-1, Confidence Game made his third stakes attempt a winning one, stalking the pace in fifth before advancing wide on the far turn. He blew into a clear lead while straightening for home and held a pair of late runners safe in deep stretch, scoring by a length. Regular rider James Graham was up for Keith Desormeaux.

His initial stakes appearance, the Iroquois (G3) last September, went poorly, but Confidence Game was exiting an improved third in January’s Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds, chasing a wickedly fast pace while the top two finishers rated patiently. He continued to show more in the Rebel, registering a career-best 95 Brisnet Speed rating, and those figures may continue to rise following a confidence-building win.

Closers have been in vogue this year, winning eight of the last 10 Kentucky Derby qualifiers before the Rebel, but Confidence Game will bring tactical speed to future engagements, netting triple-digit Early Pace ratings in the last two starts. He’s discovering his best form at the right time of year.

“He started off pretty immature, but as the races went on, he has improved things mentally, and physically,” Desormeaux said. “He keeps maturing and doing things the right way. I think the sky is the limit for him.”

2. Zenyatta’s nephew overlooked at auction

Owned by Don’t Tell My Wife Stables, Confidence Game boasts strong bloodlines but attracted little interest at the 2021 Keeneland September yearling sale, with Desormeaux expertly selecting him for $25,000. The dark bay colt is by Candy Ride, who stands for a $75,000 fee and is best known for producing top young sire Gun Runner, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner and 2016 Kentucky Derby third-placer. Confidence Game hails from the Bernardini mare Eblouissante, a half-sister to Hall of Famer Zenyatta and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Balance. Zenyatta earned more than $7.3 million, counting the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic among her 17 stakes victories, and she discovered her best form as an older horse.

3. Cox duo comes up empty as Red Route One, Reincarnate earn minor awards

A troubled fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), Red Route One got on track too late when recording a non-threatening second to Arabian Knight in the Jan. 28 Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park, and he saved his best for the final five-sixteenths of a mile in the Rebel, rallying dramatically from last on the far turn to be a clear second. The Gun Runner colt needs to get involved earlier to be more effective, and perhaps longer distances will benefit the Steve Asmussen-trained deep closer.

Reincarnate, a maiden special weight winner two starts previously, was exiting a pair of wire-to-wire tallies over short fields at Santa Anita, including a fast win over four rivals in the Jan. 8 Sham (G3), but the big colt found himself in unfamiliar territory leaving the starting gate of the Rebel, getting shuffled back toward the rear after breaking a little slowly. Reincarnate was not discouraged, offering a bold rally to reach a threatening position by deep stretch, but he was suddenly cut off by a tiring foe. The gray son of Good Magic quickly regained his momentum, surging for third under the wire, and Reincarnate gained valuable seasoning while displaying the ability to overcome adversity.

The place holders turned in commendable efforts, but the Brad Cox-trained duo of Verifying and Giant Mischief disappointed at short odds. Verifying, the 3-2 favorite off a convincing allowance win, was in position to challenge before coming up empty in the final furlongs, finishing about three lengths behind Reincarnate in fourth. Giant Mischief launched a brief bid on the far turn before weakening in the stretch to sixth as the 2-1 second choice.