Oaklawn’s spur of the Derby trail continues this Saturday with the Rebel Stakes. The race offers a purse of $900,000, in addition to Road to the Kentucky Derby points (50-20-10-5) for its top four finishers.
Inaugurated in 1961, the Rebel Stakes currently serves as the third of four steps on Oaklawn’s road to the Kentucky Derby. The race has constantly featured top-class horses. American Pharoah (2015) began his sophomore campaign in the race — a year that continued with a Triple Crown win, a Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) win, and both Champion Three Year Old Male and Horse of the Year honours. Though he is the only Triple Crown winner to have won the Rebel Stakes, a host of other three-year-old champions have won this race, including Temperence Hill (1980), Smarty Jones (2004), Curlin (2007), Lookin at Lucky (2010), and Will Take Charge (2013).
American Pharoah skims over the slop in the 2015 Rebel Stakes.
Other winners of the Rebel, though not three-year-old champions, have won the Eclipse for later work. Vanlandingham (1984) won Grade 1 races on both dirt and turf the next year, and was named 1985’s champion older male. Though Victory Gallop (1998) also won the Belmont at three, his Eclipse came the next year as champion older male, on the strength of wins in the Stephen Foster (G1) and the Whitney (G1). Lawyer Ron (2007) returned at four as well, and his 2008 Champion Older Male campaign was highlighted by a pair of Grade 1 wins at Saratoga, in the Whitney and the Woodward.
In addition to our preview of this race at Oaklawn, we also (only virtually, alas) visit Turfway Park to preview the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) and the Bourbonette Oaks (G3), their pair of three-year-old preps.
Saturday, March 17: Oaklawn Park
Race 10: Rebel Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 6:09pm CST
If recent years are any indication, it would be no surprise to wonder if the Rebel Stakes will take trainer Bob Baffert’s name someday. After all, his horses have won the race six times since 2010. Unsurprisingly, he comes in here with the one to beat: SOLOMINI. SOLOMINI brings west coast class, having held his own with the likes of McKinzie, Bolt d’Oro, and Good Magic at age two. The inside post draw at Oaklawn is a positive, and he has the forward yet tactical style that can keep him interested even if someone else (perhaps TITLE READY, PRYOR, or SPORTING CHANCE) seizes the lead before he does. Being by Curlin out of a Storm Cat mare, he also has plenty of suggestion in his breeding that he’ll be able to handle an off track, should the possible rain come to fruition.
The big question about SOLOMINI at a short price is the layoff. He has not raced since the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) on December 9. With regular works since early February, including several bullets, he should be fit; furthermore, Baffert excels with layoff horses. It would be no surprise to see SOLOMINI win, and you have to use him. Still, if there’s another credible potion, it makes sense to look.
Enter SPORTING CHANCE. The son of Tiznow was third in the Southwest Stakes (G3), and will have to improve to win here. But, he handled both Oaklawn and an off track well in that seasonal bow, and the D. Wayne Lukas trainee has several reasons he can take a step forward. That was his first race since the Hopeful (G1) back in September, and his first try at a route of ground. SPORTING CHANCE should also get a better setup here. He sat just behind a torrid pace last out; given how the other frontrunners in the field did, he held on well, and the front end should be more reasonable in the Rebel than it was in the Southwest. With every chance to improve here, this space will go for the minor upset with SPORTING CHANCE.
MAGNUM MOON is a newer face from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher. He graduated easily in a sprint at Del Mar, then stretched to two turns and proved he could take his form out of Hallandale with a win in an allowance at Tampa Bay Downs last month. With a relatively inside draw and tactical speed, rider Luis Saez should be able to work out a good trip on MAGNUM MOON once again. These are the toughest horses he has faced by far, and if it rains, he will have to handle an off track for the first time. But, his two previous races suggest he is fast enough to hold his own, and his off-track pedigree contains enough slop influence to suggest he’ll handle the footing. In short, MAGNUM MOON has upside, and it would be no surprise to see him take the Rebel.
#7 SPORTING CHANCE
#4 MAGNUM MOON
Longshot: The form of the Risen Star will be difficult to assess until the field runs back. But? It looked at first blush to be a merry-go-round, with Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair slugging it out all the way around, and those two surviving to a photo at the end. No one chasing off the pace, including #8 HIGH NORTH, could threaten that pair. But? It wasn’t a bad effort as a first race since November, and should help him show up to the Rebel fitter. HIGH NORTH is proven at a mile and a sixteenth, with a maiden victory at the distance last year. He has tactical versatility, running well from a stalking spot or from well off the pace. HIGH NORTH also shows up for high-flying connections: trainer Brad Cox and rider Gary Stevens, who have been good on their own and on fire together. It doesn’t requite an unreasonable step forward from HIGH NORTH’s effort in the Risen Star to be competitive in the Rebel, and he looks the value in the field.
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