Desormeaux-trained Confidence Game takes Rebel

Oaklawn Park publicity department stakes recap (Coady photo of Confidence Game winning the Rebel under Kentucky-based jockey James Graham)

HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023) – A colt from a family bred for success in Hot Springs shuffled the deck on the Kentucky Derby trail when Don’t Tell My Wife Stables’ Confidence Game swept to victory in Saturday’s $1-million Rebel Stakes (G2) before a crowd of 42,000 at Oaklawn.

The 18-1 upset came under jockey James Graham and touched off a raucous celebration in the winner’s circle while moving the colt to the top of the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 57 qualifying points. Confidence Game, based in Kentucky last summer and fall with trainer Keith Desormeaux, won Churchill Downs maiden and allowance races and was second in a Keeneland allowance in his first five starts.

“He’s really come into his own,” said Desormeaux, who worried the colt might leave his race in the paddock after acting up prior to the race. “He started off pretty immature, but as the races went on, he has improved things mentally, and physically.”

Confidence Game ($39.00 to win) passed a pack of front-runners en route to the one-length win over Red Route One with Reincarnate in third. The winner and Giant Mischief bumped shoulders at the top of the stretch while other horses waited in traffic, leading to an objection that was disallowed by the stewards. The final time over a sloppy track was 1:44.21.

“He had a ton left down the lane,” said Graham, who was also aboard for the colt’s third-place finish in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds in his previous start. “He keeps maturing and doing things the right way. I think the sky is the limit for him.”

Red Route One came from far back while charging at the winner in the stretch. Reincarnate suffered traffic trouble in his first start for trainer Tim Yakteen. The 3-2 favorite Verifying, stalked the pace but failed to find a clear path when pushed to the front and settled for fourth.

While Confidence Game’s odds didn’t indicate obvious success, close readers of his breeding lines could see his dame, Eblouissante, is the half-sister of Hall of Fame mare Zenyatta, who twice traveled to Oaklawn for dominant victories 2008 and 2010 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1).

Confidence Game is now 3-for-7 on his career with a bankroll of $785,525.

Live racing resumes Sunday with a 12:30 p.m. first post.

Stakes Quotes:

Winning jockey James Graham, Confidence Game: “I was able to settle him down when we were warming up 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.”

Winning trainer Keith Desormeaux, Confidence Game: “He sort of lost his mind in the paddock, 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.”

Jockey Cristian Torres, second on Red Route One: “He definitely ran like I thought he would. I knew he was going to run huge. Steve (Asmussen) said the horse was doing very, very good. We were hoping for this kind of race and he did run well.”

Trainer, Steve Asmussen, Second with Red Route One: (Red Route One): “He’s a nice 3-year-old. Obviously, we’re anxious for the races to go further. Not positive we won’t wheel him back in the Louisiana Derby, a mile and three-sixteenths. Quit messing around and get him on out there.” Gun Pilot: “Just buried. Ate him the whole way.”

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

Jockey Florent Geroux, fourth on Verifying, fourth: “Actually, I liked the beginning, but not the ending. From the quarter pole home, it took me a very long time to find some room and all the horses in front of me, they were just stopping. It took me a long time to find some room. Got through late, but the race was already over.”

Trainer Brad Cox, fourth with Verifying and sixth with 2-1 favorite Giant Mischief: “Kind of set close to a hot pace. I really don’t know what to make of it yet. Need to watch the replay. Obviously, going pretty quick early on. They both bounce out of it in good order, we’ll see what happens.”

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.