HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — One horseman didn’t like a disqualification, another didn’t like that there wasn’t one.
Though Jimmy Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert, and Hall of Fame conditioner D. Wayne Lukas have turned the page on the respective last starts for Solomini and Sporting Chance, every point in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series counts. Both colts will be gunning for the 50-point prize that awaits the winner of Saturday’s $900,000 Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.
Solomini, the likely favorite, was a clear second to Bolt d’Oro in the FrontRunner (G1) and second again behind Good Magic in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). That netted him 12 Derby qualifying points, but a demotion from first to third in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) cost the son of Curlin eight points. It’s not a huge factor if he wins the Rebel or another prep, but potentially an issue if he doesn’t.
“I don’t think they should have taken him down, personally, that particular day, but he shows up,” Barnes said Friday morning at Oaklawn. “You look at his race in the Breeders’ Cup, he was right there. His race in the Futurity, right there. He’s a horse that shows up in the afternoon. That’s what we want.”
The stewards, at Oaklawn, didn’t please Lukas either when Sporting Chance was left in third place in the Southwest (G3) last month. Lukas says he felt there were grounds for a disqualification of runner-up Combatant when he leaned in on Sporting Chance in mid-stretch, causing Sporting Chance to react negatively.
“Everybody that gets a ruling in their favor, or adversely, has an opinion. I thought it was an easy call,” Lukas said Friday. “The thing that happened that I thought made it obvious was that it broke his momentum. He regained his stride and got back for third, surprisingly well, but he’s very athletic. He gets his feet under him really quick.
“He probably would have been second. The golden rail with that other horse [My Boy Jack], I wish we had stayed down there. We were on there when we hit the quarter pole.”
The difference in Kentucky Derby points between second and third in the Southwest was a mere two points, but Sporting Chance has had to play catch-up with his peers in this regard having gone to the sidelines with an infirmity following a win in last summer’s Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, which does not offer any qualifying points.
The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is an important race for both colts, and both Barnes and Lukas have reason for optimism.
“From age two, I think he’s maturing,” said Barnes of Solomini. “He’s going to need a clean trip. The fields are picking up. They’re larger fields. You basically need the trip, and if he’s good enough he’ll prove himself.”
Lukas believes he has Sporting Chance in a better position for the Rebel than the Southwest, his first start in more than five months and his first ever beyond seven furlongs.
“From A to B we try to move forward, especially in the Triple Crown picture,” said Lukas of the way he’s prepared Sporting Chance. “Everything we did we tried to get a little tighter horse, a little sharper horse, a little more fitness. That’s what we’re paid to do, and try and do a good job.”