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The road to the Arkansas Derby (I) and the Kentucky Derby (I) has been a trail of awesome contenders in recent years, and this year’s edition looks to keep that trend going. Saturday’s Rebel Stakes (II) welcomes fresh faces as well as usual Oaklawn haunts and improvers. Back on track and ready for another big win is Bob Baffert’s speedster Secret Circle as well as several Southwest divisional top runners who hope to topple him. Last year’s Rebel was won by the speedy The Factor, also Baffert-trained, so can this be a repeat win?
I’m not too heavy on my analysis here… thanks Oaklawn for posting the entries a day later than expected…
$500,000 Rebel Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Oaklawn Park. Post Time: Saturday, March 17 at 5:48pm CST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Unbridled’s Note - Channing Hill, 115 lbs, Steve Asmussen - The Unbridled’s Song colt bounced from a first-time-out maiden break to the Southwest Stakes (II) probably a bit too fast, placing 9th in the quieter division won by Castaway. He’s been breezing pretty steadily leading up to the race, but with the rail spot I think he’s going to get pinched out of contention quicker than usual.
2) Scatman - Luis Quinonez, 117 lbs, Michael Lauer - This Scat Daddy colt captured my attention, particularly seeing as how well Scat Daddy progeny are doing so far this year. He ran a good second behind Secret Circle in the Southwest Stakes (II) in his first stakes appearance. This guy’s got some bulldog tenacity, and I expect him to improve nicely here. Must watch list for me, but he might need another race to give him time to stretch out to the distance.
3) Cyber Secret - Robby Albarado, 117 lbs, Lynn Whiting - A closer that did not show up in the Southwest Stakes (II) against Secret Circle, the Broken Vow colt was a bit of a disappointment. He upgrades jockeys to Robby Albarado coupled with a bullet 5-furlong work in :59 2/5. He either wants to win or he doesn’t looking at his record, so it’s really hard to say where he’ll go without mind reading abilities. The jockey switch *ought* to help.
4) Optimizer - Jon Court, 115 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - A good two-year-old turned sour three-year-old, the English Channel colt failed to impress running a bumpy 9th in the Risen Star (II) and an uninvolved 6th in the Smarty Jones before that. For god’s sake, Lukas, what are you doing?
5) Jake Mo - M. Clifton Berry, 117 lbs, Allen Milligan - The Giacomo colt appeared to be in full bounce-back mode with a strong 2nd place finish to Castaway last out in the Southwest. He retains that same jockey and went a slick 1:00 3/5 in his most recent 5-furlonger. Is he ready to keep on improving as a three-year-old? He makes a decent case to land on the board again.
6) Sabercat - Corey Nakatani, 119 lbs, Steve Asmussen - The big Delta Downs Jackpot (III) winner has returned for his three-year-old debut, and boy am I excited. He threw in a quiet 4-furlong breeze in :50 4/5 upon arriving at Oaklawn a few days ago. Because of his earnings and this being his first time back in months, I am not expecting a win out of Sabercat here. Asmussen’s going to want to just tune him up for the Derby here, I’m thinking.
7) Secret Circle - Rafael Bejarano, 122 lbs, Bob Baffert - The high-weight and likely favorite here can be contributed to the Eddington colt’s recent Southwest Stakes (II) divisional win paired with the rabid success of Baffert trainees causing chaos every weekend. Logged a nice 6-furlong work at Santa Anita and despite shipping, he’ll probably fare okay. Never finishing off the board, expect more chaos from the speedy Secret Circle despite a loaded field and an extra sixteenth. He’s going to need every ounce judging by last time.
8) Atigun - Terry Thompson, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - Another promising Istan colt (sire of Mr. Bowling), he laid it all on the line in a large January allowance-op claimer against other colts in this field, winning in dramatic closing fashion at the distance at Oaklawn. A sharp 1:00 breeze over 5 furlongs recently shows Atigun’s ready to move up the ranks. Should the conditions favor closers, Atigun’s worth a good long look.
9) Reckless Jerry - Joe Rocco Jr, 115 lbs, Kenny Smith - The Smarty Jones runner-up returns to fight another day after a decent 3rd in Castaway’s Southwest win. He’s never been off the board in all 7 starts, winning twice, and is breezing very well. He gets a jockey change, however, and was slow to gain ground on the field last out so it’s hard to give him reasonable cause to win here.
10) Ring It Up - Lindey Wade, 115 lbs, Chris Richard - Just one win in 8 starts makes this Toccet colt a tough gamble. He didn’t have much left at the finish while 4th in Castaway’s Southwest win. Meh. I’ll pass.
11) Pee H Dee - Israel Ocampo, 117 lbs, Chris Richard - I’m going out on a limb here to say this Tale of the Cat baby is Chris Richard’s better entry. He was a modest 4th in Castaway’s Southwest victory and before that a gutsy allowance winner. He’s been working pretty well, too, with a very sharp 4 furlongs in :47 3/5. Maybe he has hope with that nice work, but nonetheless this is still a pretty steep challenge for him to master. Longshot, but not a terrible longshot.
12) Najjaar - Calvin Borel, 117 lbs, Daniel Peitz - Look, a baby Jazil! He broke his maiden at Oaklawn back in January, but has been a very game runner every step on the way to that moment. He’s looking to make it three wins in a row while being undefeated as a three-year-old here with a first-time step up to stakes competition. A ballsy proposition to suggest Najjaar can make the cut, but that’s what this horse has. He can already nail the distance and do well despite flawed trips, so this closer ought to be one to watch.
13) Adirondack King - Stewart Elliott, 117 lbs, John Servis - The trainer of Smarty Jones thinks he’s potentially got a Derby horse lurking in this Lawyer Ron colt, who ran a pretty good third in the Southwest Stakes (II) division won by Secret Circle. In that race, he ran a pretty wide trip— 6 positions out into the stretch— so there’s evidence he could improve a good deal here. Works are as consistent as ever. I like this horse a good deal and I think he could do pretty well here should the Lawyer Ron curse of late skip over him.
Predicted Trifecta: 1) Atigun 2) Secret Circle 3) Jake Mo (Yup, taking a chance here… I’m on the bench that says Secret Circle was all out and is a miler at heart)
Value Pick(s): Atigun, Adirondack King