2023 Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshots: Confidence Game

Welcome to 2023 Kentucky Derby Prospect Snapshots, where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail, usually from the Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule from which the racehorses earn points toward qualifying.

The 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will be held May 6, 2023, at Churchill Downs.

This week, we’ll take a closer look at Confidence Game, winner of the $1 million Rebel Stakes on Feb. 25 at Oaklawn Park.

Confidence Game earned 50 points toward qualifying for the 2023 Kentucky Derby with the Rebel win and moved into first place on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 57 total points.

Racing Résumé: With seven starts and one final prep race in the cards for Confidence Game, this Candy Ride colt would head into the Kentucky Derby as one of the most, if not the most, experienced 3-year-olds in the field provided things continue to progress smoothly for him in the coming weeks and months.

He won two races from five starts in 2022 as a 2-year-old with both wins coming at Churchill Downs, including a half-length win over Rocket Can. That triumph was flattered when Rocket Can followed with a win in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes Feb. 4, 2023, on the Derby trail.

Confidence Game’s lone stakes try at 2 was an unplaced finish in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes in his first attempt stretching out from a sprint to 1 1/16 miles around two turns. Trainer Keith Desormeaux also said he was a work in progress early in his development: “He started off pretty immature, but as the races went on, he has improved things mentally, and physically.”

Confidence Game seems to have turned a corner as a 3-year-old. He finished a distant third in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes, but a swift pace and a sloppy track proved a recipe for success in the Rebel Stakes as he scooted home a length clear after a sweeping rally on the far turn. Winning jockey James Graham said in a post-race interview that there was fuel left in the tank and he needed assistance from the outrider getting Confidence Game to pull up after another horse (runner-up Red Route One) had pulled alongside shortly after the finish line.

“He had a ton left down the lane,” Graham said. “He keeps maturing and doing things the right way. I think the sky is the limit for him.”

It’s tough to guess just how fast Confidence Game finished because, while he was only 1 ¾ lengths back after three-quarters of a mile, he was very wide on the second turn. His final sixteenth of a mile in 6.49 seconds was solid.

The Rebel was a massive step forward for an improving Confidence Game by any perspective, but he was still a bit green as he did not switch from his inside lead to his outside for the stretch drive.

Speed Figures: As I mentioned above, the Rebel was a huge jump for Confidence Game and that is supported by the speed figures. He earned Equibase Speed Figures ranging from 67 to 97 as a 2-year-old and an 87 for his Lecomte Stakes third before a career-top 104 figure for the Rebel victory. He improved his Beyer Speed Figure a whopping 11 points to a new best 94. Perhaps those were aided a bit by the sloppy track, but make no mistake Confidence Game earned that win with a wide trip after stalking a strong pace.

Running Style: Confidence Game’s two wins as a 2-year-old both came when setting the pace, but in most of his races he has relaxed early in a stalking position. He was within 4 ¼ lengths of pacesetter Powerful through an opening half-mile in :46.17 in the Rebel, so he has both tactical speed and a bit of versatility that should help his chances down the road.

Connections: Trainer Keith Desormeaux purchased Confidence Game on behalf of Don’t Tell My Wife Stables for $25,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September yearling sale, an absolute bargain given his Rebel win but also considering his pedigree (more on that in the section below).

Kirk Godby races as the humorously named Don’t Tell My Wife Stables and won the Bourbonette Oaks last spring with Candy Raid, who was unplaced in the Longines Kentucky Oaks. Don’t Tell My Wife Stables also was the co-owner of 2018 Southwest and Stonestreet Lexington Stakes winner My Boy Jack, who finished fifth as the second betting choice to eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

Keith Desormeaux, while known by many as the brother of Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, is a terrific horseman in his own right both in identifying bargains at sales and while racking up 779 wins as a trainer (through Feb. 26). He also seems to be pretty good at identifying which of his horses will excel on off (wet) tracks as Exaggerator won the 2016 Santa Anita Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes on sloppy tracks For Desormeaux and My Boy Jack aced the Southwest on a muddy track.

Jockey James Graham moved from his native Ireland to the U.S. in 2002 and earned his first win as a jockey in 2003. Now approaching 3,000 career wins – he has 2,957 winners through Feb. 26 – Graham earned a career-best $8,206,867 in purse earnings in 2021 and has amassed five Grade 1 wins in his career.

Pedigree Notes: Confidence Game is by Candy Ride, a track-record setter at 1 ¼ miles at Del Mar who was unbeaten in six starts. Candy Ride often passes along to his offspring his combination of speed and stamina and he has another talented colt on the 2023 Kentucky Derby trail in Withers Stakes winner Hit Show.

The bottom half of this colt’s pedigree also inspires confidence that he should thrive at longer distances as he was produced by Eblouissante, by 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini. Both of Eblouissante’s two wins came at 1 1/16 miles, but more importantly she is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to Hall of Famer Zenyatta, who defeated males to win the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic and won 19 of 20 starts. Eblouissante also is a half-sibling to multiple Grade 1 winner Balance.

Now that Confidence Game has grown into his body, he’s emerged as a true two-turn racehorse with loads of potential.

Derby Potential: There are a couple of pretty obvious quibbles when it comes to evaluating Confidence Game’s chances on the Derby trail, the first of which is that his breakout performance came on a sloppy track. It’s fair to question whether or not he can duplicate that type of effort on a fast (dry) track until he does so. The second concern is that even after seven starts, Confidence Game is pretty green, as evidenced by his failure to switch leads in the stretch … but he has one more prep race to iron that out and Keith Desormeaux is a terrific trainer.

Overall, Confidence Game boasts much to like as a Derby hopeful such as experience and foundation, two wins on the main track at Churchill Downs, improving speed figures, versatility as far as running style, a stout distance pedigree, and a quality trainer. And if the skies open and rain comes on Kentucky Derby day, you’d have to be a fool to leave Confidence Game off your tickets.