Trainer Keith Desormeaux is not afraid to take an uncommon path to the Kentucky Derby.
It seems forever ago that Confidence Game splashed home a one-length winner against Red Route One on a sloppy, sealed track in the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park. That victory, preceded by a third-place finish in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds, gave the former $25,000 purchase 57 Derby qualifying points.
With a place in the Derby starting gate virtually ensured, Desormeaux was under no pressure to send the horse into another prep. He focused solely on the best way to have a fresh and fit Derby runner. After considering most of the last major preps, he opted for the extended layoff.
Desormeaux emphasized that he believes he made the right decision for this particular horse. “A heavy-bodied, heavy-boned horse couldn’t do this,” he said.
Desormeaux went on: “I guess in most people’s mind it would compromise fitness. I thought about that as well. But the horse puts so much into his works. He’s not one of these lazy horses or a horse you have to work in company to maintain fitness. He maintains fitness and gains fitness very easily. He has that type of mentality. He has that body type. So the 10 weeks does not concern me.”
Desormeaux took a more traditional approach with Exaggerator, who provided him with his best Derby finish when he placed second to Nyquist in 2016. He went on to capture the Preakness. Exaggerator had prepared for the Triple Crown series by winning the Santa Anita Derby (G1), part of the last round of Derby preps.
Confidence Game, a dark bay son of Candy Ride out of the Bernardini mare Eblouissante, debuted with a third-place effort July 2 at Churchill Downs. While other Derby candidates were freshened late last year, Confidence Game raced once every month except December as part of a schedule that led to the Rebel. His overall record stands at 7: 3-1-2 with earnings of $785,525.
In reading the colt’s needs, Desormeaux thought it best to back off a bit after the Rebel.
“I feel very comfortable with the decision. The horse looks outstanding,” he said. “I’m also leaning on his pedigree. I know he’s got that classic depth of pedigree to get the distance. That is probably the most important thing of all when it comes to getting the mile and a quarter.”
Kirk Godby, who manages primary owner Don’t Tell My Wife Stables, endorsed Desormeaux’s approach. “He doesn’t view that as a big deal. I don’t either,” Godby said. Both Desormeaux and Godby said soundness was never a concern.
Confidence Game drilled five times since the Rebel. He returned to the work tab March 18, coasting through four furlongs in 50.0 seconds at Fair Grounds. To help offset the layoff, the 3-year-old breezed one mile out of the Churchill Downs gate in 1:38.20 April 14.
“That work was really more a mile and a quarter than a mile. But it was posted at a mile,” Godby noted. “We got to the bottom of him. He needed that. He came back blowing pretty hard, from what I heard.”
Confidence Game turned some heads at Churchill Downs with a bullet move here on April 29. He posted the fastest time of 54 workers at the five-furlong distance when he was clocked at 59.0 seconds.
Confidence Game will break from post 4 for jockey James Graham. He is listed at 20-1 in the morning line.
Those odds do not concern Desormeaux or Godby. Desormeaux has often compared Confidence Game to Exaggerator, even though Confidence Game has much left to accomplish to justify that. The connections intend to run Confidence Game in each of the Triple Crown races.
“We’re going to come in fit and fresh,” said Godby. “We can compete with any of them.”
Especially if the track should be as wet as it was in the soggy Rebel two months ago.