A field of 11 3-year-olds is expected to head postward in Saturday’s lucrative $900,000 Rebel Stakes (GII) at Oaklawn Park, the last major prep for the April 15 Arkansas Derby (GI). The 1 1/16-mile event is by far the richest race for sophomores offered so far this year and the winner will claim 50 valuable points toward making the gate for the Run for the Roses in seven weeks.
The Saturday weather is expected to be beautiful and cool in Hot Springs, with partly cloudy skies and a high in the lower 70s. The rain in the area from earlier in the week is expected to clear out, so a dry track can be counted on by post time for the Rebel, which has been set for 7:06 p.m. ET.
Maybe it’s the rich purse and the race’s reputation as a solid Triple Crown prep (after all, American Pharoah won the Rebel two years ago before his legendary run) or maybe it’s that there is no clear division standout thanks to injury and setbacks, but, either way, the Rebel appears to be one of the more exciting races so far this year.
Some really good horses have taken home the Rebel trophy over the years; in addition to American Pharoah, we’ve seen classic winners and/or champions Smarty Jones, Lookin at Lucky, Curlin, Victory Gallop, Pine Bluff, Sunny’s Halo and Temperance Hill win, just to name a few. Maybe this year racing’s newest superstar will also emerge from the Rebel.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert has owned the Rebel this decade, saddling the winner six times in the past seven years and, this year, he sends out maiden winner American Anthem off a runner-up finish in the Sham Stakes (GIII) last out. The bay son of Bodemeister is a bit of a late developer and is light on experience, but the WinStar Farm and China Horse Club color-bearer has been nothing short of professional.
His mornings are filled with strong gallops and impressive works, including a six-furlong bullet in 1:11 3/5 at Santa Anita this past Saturday. Though in his last he went right to the lead and battled on the front end before settling for second, in his winning debut he stalked the pace and closed strongly in the lane while sprinting, so if jockey Mike Smith uses this asset to produce that kind of performance in this race with a legit pace expected, he looks a solid bet to give Baffert a record seventh Rebel winner.
Uncontested won the Smarty Jones Stakes before a dull sixth-place finish in the Southwest Stakes (GIII) last time threw his confident connections off a bit. He’s been back training exceptionally well since, posting two black-letter works following that debacle last out, and trainer Wayne Catalano believes he’s back to previous form. He’s earned some strong speed figures and is a confirmed frontrunner, so it’s likely that jockey Channing Hill will go right to the front and, if he can withstand the late charge better than last time, Uncontested looks like a good choice to hit the board.
Royal Mo burst onto the scene with his impressive win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita last month. Though the John Shirreffs-trained colt didn’t exactly beat the toughest field, he won with authority and runs here in an effort to keep him away from his highly regarded stablemate Gormley, who ran in last week’s San Felipe (GII) and finished fourth.
This son of Uncle Mo and a Saint Ballado mare has steadily improved with each start and won’t need much more to be effective here. All jockey Victor Espinoza needs to do is avoid an early speed duel so there’s something in the tank for the stretch drive.
Lookin at Lee doesn’t win often, but likes to pick up checks. His connections have been high on him for a while and while his fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) looks decent on paper, the horses who finished in front of him that day are either retired, on the shelf or non-productive in the division. He’ll need his best to have a say here.
Malagacy has won his only two starts by a combined 22 lengths and the son of Shackleford seems to be improving, even. The Sumaya Us-owned runner is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has had a ton of success in Kentucky Derby preps if not the Derby himself. This one is a stalker, which will only help in this field loaded with speed.
Untrapped has a pair of seconds in the LeComte Stakes (GIII) and Risen Star Stakes (GII), but seeks his first career graded win on Saturday. An off-the-pace runner, a battle on the lead from his highly regarded frontrunning rivals will only help his chances. Irad Ortiz rides for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Petrov ships in from Oaklawn Park off a pair of seconds in stakes company. He’s a good horse, but he may need to take a step down in class to reach the winner’s circle.
Sonneteer is another who ships in from California and will face winners for the first time here. It’s a tall task against this field to expect a win.
Silver Boullion was second in allowance company in his first start against winners. Although talented, a first-level allowance makes more sense for this son of Pioneerof the Nile.
Silver Dust and Appalachian Gem have some catching up to do.